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Health Issues  Health Issues Minimize

All purebred and mixed breed dogs are prone to hereditary health problems. The Portuguese Water Dog is no exception. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America encourages its members to be aware of health issues and responsible breeding practices to reduce or eliminate hereditary health problems. The information provided herein should help you in your quest for a responsible breeder.


The PWDCA, Inc. strongly recommends that any dog used for breeding be at least two years old, be examined for and evaluated free of hip dysplasia, individually tested for GM-1 status, Optigen rated for PRA status, and have an annual CERF test to determine overall eye health.


Addisions disease is a disorder found in both humans and animals and is caused by adrenocortical insufficiency. This means that the adrenal glands stop producing the hormones that control metabolism of sugar and maintain the balance of salt and water in the body. This disease can be difficult to diagnose, but once diagnosed, it is treatable.

The cause of Addisons is still being researched. It is likely hereditary, but the mode of inheritance is not known. Stress is thought to be a trigger for Addisons symptoms. These symptoms include weight loss, vomiting, depression, lethargy, weakness and shedding of hair. Untreated Addisons disease may lead to death. 


The Portuguese Water Dog's non-shedding coat makes it easier for people with allergies to live with this breed compared to double coated shedding breeds. If you have allergies, it is recommended that you spend several hours at a breeder's home or in a small confined area, such as a car, interacting with adult Water Dogs before you buy a puppy in order to test your allergic response.

Some Portuguese Water Dogs have an "improper" coat. This term relates to the nature of the coat and the resulting appearance of the dog. It does not impact the health, intelligence, or personality of the dog. It does, however, mean that they do not conform to AKC breed standard in their appearance. This would be of concern to those who are considering showing their dog or want to be sure the puppy they get will "look like" a Portuguese Water Dog. Improperly coated dogs and puppies may have a double coat that sheds and has dander similar to other double-coated shedding breeds. This may make them inappropriate for people with allergies to canine dander.

A trained eye can detect an improper coat on a puppy as early as four to five weeks old. It should be easily detectable at eight or nine weeks old.      


Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy (JDC) is an inherited fatal disease in the young Portuguese Water Dog that is caused by a recessive gene (both parents of a puppy must carry the gene to produce the defect). We do not have a genetic test to determine who are carriers at this point, nor do we know the exact biochemical cause of the disease. The signs and symptoms of JDC include sudden or rapid death of a puppy with the average age being 6 weeks to 7 months old (there have been cases reported younger than 6 weeks as well as older than 7 months). Some pups have no physical signs or symptoms and are found dead by the breeder or new owner. Some have a 12 to 48 hour onset of loss of appetite, decreased energy level, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. There is no known cure or treatment at this time.

The Portuguese Water Dog is very fortunate to have two researchers from different universities involved in studying JDC in the Portuguese Water Dog. It is important that all prospective owners discuss Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy with breeders. Ask if it has been produced in their breeding program or in the genetic lines they are working with. Since we do not have a way to test for this disease yet, this is not a guarantee but JDC should be on your list of genetic diseases to discuss with all prospective breeders.


There are various inherited and congenital eye problems found in all breeds of dogs including the Portuguese Water Dog breed.

Some of these problems are expressed at an early age (eight weeks) and others cannot be diagnosed until well into adulthood.

It is recommended that all pups have their eyes examined by a Board Certified ophthalmologist before going to their new home and that the owner receive a copy of the eye exam form from the breeder before the sale is finalized.

Some problems that may be diagnosed at eight weeks are: entropion, ectropion, distichiasis, PPM (puppy pupillary membrane), microthalmia, cataracts, and a few others. Some of these diseases may need to be surgically corrected. And for some there is no cure.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an eye disease that will eventually cause blindness. Unfortunately it cannot be diagnosed by an eye exam until the dog is an adult. For a dog to be affected with PRA they must get a copy of the gene from each parent.

We have a DNA marker gene test that can determine dogs that are NOT carrying the gene. These dogs receive a pattern "A" rating. A pup that has at least one parent with an Opigen "A" rating will never have PRA. Dogs that may be carriers are rated "B", and dogs that are rated "C" may be affected. Dogs with a "B" or "C" rating should only be bred to "A" pattern dogs to be sure that no pups will be affected with PRA. All pups from a litter that does NOT have at least one pattern "A" parent should be Optigen tested so that information can be available to the buyer before purchasing a pup. Pattern "B" pups will never be blind from PRA.

To ensure the overall health of the eyes, an annual eye exam by a Board Certified member of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists is recommended for dogs to be used for breeding. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation, CERF, issues a certificate to owners for dogs with normal eyes. The evaluation is only valid for one year. Both parents should have a current CERF exam and Optigen rating, and a copy should be shown to the prospective buyer.


GM-1 Storage Disease is a rare disease, which affects humans and Portuguese Water Dogs. It is a genetically transmitted fatal metabolic disorder. Affected puppies will not reach adulthood, and are only produced by breeding of two carrier dogs. Non-carrier, Carrier and Indeterminate Portuguese Water Dogs have a normal life expectancy.

There is a direct gene test available which determines the GM-1 status of the dog. NYU Department of Neurology issues certificates designating the rating of dogs as GM1 normal or GM1 carrier. In addition to these ratings, dogs that were blood assay rated before 9/1/99 may have a rating of N95L, N99L, N95A, N99A, C95, C99. In the GM-1 assay Rating "N" means Non-carrier and "C" means Carrier. The number following the letter indicates the probability of accuracy in rating. "L" or "A" following the number indicates the rating is more accurate because it is ancestor or litter confirmed. All dogs must be tested before breeding except for dogs listed GM-1 AP which is a permanent rating indicating that both parents are N95A or N99A.


Some Portuguese Water Dogs are affected with patterned hair loss or follicular dysplasia. This condition, which is believed to be hereditary, generally presents itself at between two and four years of age. The hair may fall out and grow back, or it may never grow back. It appears that most of the dogs that exhibit hair loss have curly coats and are the product of curly to curly coat breedings. However, it must be remembered that most dogs with curly coats do not have hair loss.


Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia occurs in most breeds of dogs including mixed breeds. A dog that has hip dysplasia is said to be dysplastic and has hip joints that are not formed perfectly. The imperfection can be slight or severe. The dysplastic dog may experience no pain or problems from its condition or it may experience mild to severe discomfort and have difficulty moving.

Veterinary prescribed antiinflammatory medication can control the symptoms in milder cases. Aging, arthritis and obesity can aggravate the condition. Surgery, which is costly, may be done but only in the most severe cases. Hip dysplasia can only be diagnosed by an x-ray.

OFA Hip Rating (sample below): The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is an organization of veterinary orthopedists that evaluate hip x-rays for signs of dysplasia. The service is provided for a modest fee. An x-ray taken of the dog less than two years old will receive only a temporary "Preliminary" rating. An x-ray of a dog two years old or older, evaluated as not dysplastic, will receive a permanent certificate with an OFA number. Along with the number will be a rating status of Excellent, Good, or Fair. If the dog is determined to be dysplastic, only a rating (no number) as to the degree of the dysplasia from Mild to Severe will be provided.

Some breeders submit elbow joint x-rays to OFA for evaluation to rule out the possibility of elbow dysplasia. The rating for elbow joints is either normal or not normal. At this time elbow dysplasia is not known to be a problem with Portuguese Water Dogs.


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