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Hereditary Problems

The vast majority of dogs of all breeds (as well as mixed breeds) can live long, healthy lives if given proper care and routine veterinary attention. Nevertheless, any dog can fall victim to a wide range of acquired problems, just as humans can that range from acne to viral diseases, from allergies to cancer, and so on. in addition, each pure breed of dogs has its own particular hereditary problems some minor, some impairing, and some possibly fatal Some may show a very strong hereditary basis and others not much more than a tendency to run in families". The Flat-Coated Retriever is no exception and unfortunately, the problems multiply as the breed continues to increase in popularity and there is an increase in indiscriminate breeding. Flat-Coats are seeing an increase in reported cases of Hip Dysplasia, Hereditary Cataracts and Hypothyroidism. Failure to screen for these problems before breeding often results in the " doubling up"' of unfavorable genes, and the results are distressing for the buyer and dog alike.


Cataracts are a common hereditary eye problem in the Flat-Coat. "Cataract" by definition is any opacity within the lens of the eye. At least one type of hereditary cataract appears at an early age in affected FCR’s, and while these may or may not interfere with the dog's vision, some do progress into severe or total loss of vision. There are also non-hereditary cataracts which sometimes occur, and examination by a Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary to determine if the cataract is or is not of concern from a genetic standpoint If there is any question, the dog is certainly not to be recommended for breeding.

Entropion and ectropion are the turning in or turning out of the eyelids. Trichiasis and distichiasis involve eyelashes or hairs rubbing on and irritating the eye. Surgery may be needed to correct these problems, and while it is a fairly simple procedure, such dogs should not be bred and are ineligible to be shown under AKC rules.

Examination of breeding stock should be done annually, until at least eight years of age and preferably longer, as hereditary eye problems can develop at varying ages. The examination should be made by a Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist who has the special equipment and training needed to properly examine the dog's eyes.

Dogs that have been examined by a Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and found to be free of hereditary eye disease can be registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). CERF assigns the dog a number which, when properly understood, helps to make eye clearances more meaningful.

Dogs with hereditary eye disease should not be used for breeding.


The term hip dysplasia means poor development of the formation of the hip joint and describes a developmental disease in young dogs of many different breeds. Unsound hip joints are a common problem in the larger breeds, and hip dysplasia can be a serious problem in any dog, especially if that is to be trained for a demanding activity.

Hip dysplasia is an inherited defect with a polygenic (" many genes") mode of inheritance. The degree of hereditability is moderate in nature, meaning that the formation of the hip joints can also be modified by environmental factors such as over nutrition, excessively rapid growth, and certain traumas during the growth period of the skeleton. As with any quantitative trait hip joint conformation can range from good to bad with all shades in between.

Signs of hip dysplasia cannot be detected in the new born puppy, but usually appear in the rapid growth period between four and nine months of age. Signs of the disease can vary widely from slight irregularities of gait to crippling lameness. Improvement or even apparent disappearance of lameness can occur as the dog matures, as a result of the joint stabilizing, inflammation subsiding, and musculature strengthening. However, the dysplastic dog will usually develop arthritis later in life.

The only accurate means of determining the condition of the hip joints is by proper radiographic (X-ray) examination. Sedation or a short-acting anesthetic may be needed to restrain the dog so that a diagnostic film can be made, as positioning is of great importance. Signs of hip dysplasia found on X-ray include shallow sockets, irregular shape of femoral heads, looseness of the joint and degenerative joint disease or osteo-arthritis.

Hip dysplasia may be diagnosed by X-ray between six months and a year of age, but this is not entirely reliable, and dogs intended for breeding should be X-rayed when fully mature in order to select for sound hips. Two years of age is considered to be the minimum age for accurate radiographic determination of desirable conformation.

X-rays should be sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) in Columbia, Missouri (See Appendix H), for a diagnostic evaluation. The charge is $15 for a preliminary evaluation (,.or dogs X-rayed prior to two years of age), I and $20 for the assignment of a permanent OFA Registry number (for dogs two years of age or older).

The dysplastic dog should not be used for breeding. During the acute phase of the disease, your veterinarian may suggest rest and supportive care. Moderate and regular exercise, control of weight and perhaps anti-inflammatory are helpful in the management of arthritis associated with hip dysplasia in the older dog. Many dogs with hip dysplasia will show no outward signs at all until perhaps 7 or 8 years of age when muscle tone decreases and arthritis and wear and tear on the joint become more noticeable. Flat-Coated Retrievers often seem to have high pain thresholds, and do not show signs of pain when other breeds might be very uncomfortable. An X-ray does not always show you how your dog feels, as many dysplastic Flat-Coats are completely unaware that they have a problem.


This is a generalized metabolic disease characterized by atrophy or malfunction of the thyroid gland. Clinical symptoms include obesity, lethargy, and/or coat problems. Affected animals may also have various reproductive problems, including irregular or absent estrus (heat cycle), and lack of fertility in both male and female.

Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is by laboratory tests measuring levels of T3 and T4 (produced by the thyroid gland) in the blood. Treatment consists of daily administration of L-thyroxine orally and, when successfully treated, the prognosis is excellent and the dogs life span is normal although the dog may require lifelong thyroid supplementation.

Dogs with Hypothyroilism should not be used for breeding.

Updated 09/24/98