Health screening - a step by step guide for breeders

Responsible breeders consider the health of their puppies to be a priority. You, as a breeder, can and should take several steps to increase the chances of breeding happy and healthy puppies. These include DNA tests, health screening schemes and avoiding close inbreeding. Taking these steps helps you determine if two possible mates are compatible, giving your puppies the best chance to live longer, happier lives.

Why health screening is essential

Generally speaking, healthy parents are more likely to have healthy puppies. Although health problems can occur in any dog, by responsibly breeding from health-screened dogs, you and your puppy buyers can be reassured that every step has been taken to give your puppies the best chance of a healthy life. Health screening breeding dogs can help you understand the kind of genes they may pass on to their puppies and gives you the information you need to reduce the risk of producing dogs that are affected by health issues.

Which health tests are relevant to my breed?

If you’re going to breed dogs, you need to know which health tests you should do. You can look up all the health tests and screening schemes we recommend for your breed on our Breeds A-Z. We use information from Breed Health and Conservation Plans, which draw upon data from breed surveys, scientific research and health schemes to decide with breed clubs which health tests and screening schemes are important for each breed.

How do I get my dog health tested?

Once you know which health tests and screening schemes are relevant to your breed, it's important that you use these to understand more about your dog's genetic and physical health. You can do some tests at home (most DNA tests supply a swab test for you to use on your dog), some require you to go to a local vet (e.g., the BVA/KC Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes), and others may need you to go to a specialist centre for screening (e.g., our Respiratory Function Grading Scheme).

If you follow the links in the health section of our Breeds A-Z, you can find:

  • Laboratories that will test your dog for each DNA test
  • How to get your dog screened for any health scheme relevant to your breed

You can also find details about health testing clinics near you.

When should I think about getting my dog health screened?

If you’re thinking of breeding from your dog, then you should have them health screened well in advance of mating. This will give you the information you need to help you breed the healthiest puppies possible. So long as a dog is old enough for a mouth swab to be taken, then a DNA test can be done at any age. Some health screening schemes, such as the hip and elbow dysplasia schemes, require dogs to be at least one year old. Other screening schemes, such as the IVDD scheme for Dachshunds and the heart scheme for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, require dogs to be older.

How much does it cost to health test my dog?

The price will vary depending on how many and what types of health test and screening schemes you need to use. Some breeds may not need to use many health schemes, while others need more, and so will be more expensive.

How long does it take to get my results back?

It depends on which health test and screening scheme you use and who provides you with the results. Some laboratories may send DNA samples abroad and may take longer to get back to you than other tests. If you’re unsure how long it will take, always check with the organisation supplying your result.

Do both the sire and the dam need to be health screened?

Yes. Any dog that is going to be used for breeding should be health screened. Both the sire and dam each contribute the same amount of genetic material to their puppies, so it’s essential that both are tested and suitable for breeding.

Should I get a general health check before breeding?

Yes, before you breed from your dog, we recommend taking them to the vet for a general check-up. Your vet will be able to check that they’re up to date on their vaccinations, worming and flea and tick treatments. Your vet will also be able to check their general health and will be able to do a complete body check to ensure there is no reason for them not to breed.

How do I find out if a possible mate has been health tested?

Before agreeing to mate your dog with another, it’s important that you find out what health tests and screening schemes have been carried out for each potential mate you’re considering. You could ask to see any health certificates, or you can find the results for any DNA tests or screening schemes that are recorded by us on our Health Test Results Finder.

I’ve got my results, but where can I find breeding advice?

The amount of information on how to breed healthy puppies can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to breeding.

We've compiled a list of all the health screening that's recommended for your breed in our Breeds A-Z, but you can also find clear and simple breeding advice on our getting started with health testing and screening page.

What is a DNA Profile?

A DNA profile gives you a unique genetic code for your dog - a little like your dog’s very own genetic fingerprint. This allows your dog’s DNA to be accurately identified and can be used for parentage analysis. Unlike other types of identification, a DNA profile stays the same throughout your dog’s entire life and cannot be lost, manipulated, or destroyed.

Due to our laboratory’s cutting-edge technology, The Kennel Club’s DNA Testing Services offers the industry’s gold-standard SNP DNA profile.

Find out more about our profiling service here.

Should I avoid inbreeding?

Inbreeding is the breeding of puppies from two related dogs. High levels of inbreeding can affect the health of these puppies. In general, the higher the degree of inbreeding, the higher the risk is of the puppies developing health issues. The degree of inbreeding can be measured, and our inbreeding calculators use pedigree information from our registration system to work out how related two potential mates are.

Use our Inbreeding Coefficient calculator as part of your breeding decisions when choosing a potential mate.

Should I avoid popular sires?

Popular sires, or male dogs that produce large numbers of puppies, are one of the most significant contributors to a reduction in genetic diversity, an increase in inbreeding and increased levels of genetic problems within a breed. These dogs are often chosen because they have good characteristics, such as traits associated with good health, or they do well in the show ring. Breeders will use these dogs because they wish to improve the breed, but excessive use of any males can be harmful to the overall population. It's important to consider the impact that using a popular sire could have on your breed.

Find out more about popular sires and how to manage and maintain genetic diversity.

Should I avoid breeding from over-exaggerated dogs?

Regardless of what each dog looks like, its health and welfare should always be a priority, and it should be able to lead a happy and healthy life. That means being able to breathe, walk, hear and see freely without discomfort. Some exaggerated conformations (such as extremely flat-faces, extremely wrinkly skin etc.) can lead to health problems, such as skin infections, eye problems or breathing difficulties.

Ideally, you shouldn’t breed from dogs with proven health issues caused by over-exaggeration of physical features. Using these dogs for breeding could produce health or welfare problems in any, or all, of the puppies they produce. If in doubt, please contact your vet for advice.

Find out more about over-exaggeration and how to avoid breeding from over-exaggerated dogs.

Make balanced breeding decisions

Your breeding decisions should always be well balanced and you should take into consideration the qualities and compatibility of both the sire and dam that you’re considering using.

As well as thinking through the implications of a dog’s health screening results, there are other equally important factors to consider when deciding whether two dogs should be mated together, such as temperament, genetic diversity, conformation, the general health of the dogs etc.

Do I need to health screen my puppies?

Not usually. There are a few breeds, such as Dalmatians, where certain health tests should to be carried out on puppies before they go to their new homes. We recommend that you take your puppies to your local vet for a general check-up before they’re sold, but we don’t usually recommend they be health tested. You can find out which health tests and screening schemes we recommend for your breed on our Breeds A-Z.

Who can I talk to for advice?

If you have any questions about health screening, DNA testing or inbreeding, you can speak to us, other breeders, your local breed club or your vet.

Each breed has a breed health co-ordinator who works within the breed clubs and are experts on the health of their breed. You can contact your breed health co-ordinator by looking in the health sections of your breeds entry on our Breeds A to Z.