Labrador breeders should deal
honestly with epileptic dogs
THIS article is not intended to be a scientific treatise. It is simply the collected thoughts of someone who has experienced this disorder many years ago in my own dogs. I should start by stating that epilepsy in the breed is well documented and its origins date back to the founding kennels of the breed. I firmly believe that anyone who has bred enough litters will have produced at least one epileptic Labrador.
In 1984 I imported a Labrador bitch from Australia and in late 1986 she whelped a litter of seven puppies. The end result of this litter was three epileptics. Naturally enough I had my bitch de-sexed and approximately six months after the surgery she had her first seizure. The mystery was then solved as to where the epilepsy had originated from, but how easy it would have been to blame the sire and sweep the whole mess under the carpet! None of her progeny were ever bred from (not even the non-epileptics) as geneticists agree that it is highly inadvisable to breed from the siblings of an epileptic dog.
|A healthy puppy like this one is a lifetime of joy, and that is exactly what buyers expect when they pay a good price for their breeding or pet Labrador. Unfortunately some unscrupulous breeders know there is epilepsy in their stock and keep breeding anyway.
So .... what have I learned from this experience? It would take far more space than this publication allows! Here are a few examples:
1. Don't believe everything the "experts" say! Conventional wisdom has it that true epileptic dogs only fit when they are in a relaxed state (often at night when the owners may not even be aware of it if they are kennel dogs). My Labradors would have seizures at any time and often when they were active, e.g. I have hauled a Labrador mid-fit out of a river where he was in danger of drowning.
2. Don't consider that it is acceptable to breed from a dog that has only a couple of mild seizures a year. These dogs can (and do) go on to produce severe epileptics. My bitch was a mild epileptic when she commenced fitting at the age of six years after being speyed. Of her three epileptic progeny one was a severe epileptic and the other two were like their dam. If you have ever watched your beloved dog fit continuously for hours on end necessitating emergency veterinary intervention then you will realise how heartless it is to contemplate breeding from an epileptic animal.
3. Most dogs respond very well to the standard drugs and their epilepsy is well controlled but others are refractory cases. They don't seem to respond to any drug or combination of drugs and prove to be a costly burden financially and emotionally to their owners. Even the dogs that respond well to medication are in danger of liver damage from long-term drug usage.
4. There is no conclusive test for epilepsy. It is a process of eliminating every other possibility such as tumours, head injury, metabolic disturbances, heart problems, poisoning etc.These diagnostic tests are expensive so be prepared for your bank account to take a hammering! With advances in DNA research perhaps, one day, tracking down epilepsy sufferers or carriers will be child's play!
5. Seizures in many Labradors are often not the classic "grand mal" type where the dog convulses quite dramatically. Some Labs just become rigid with the muscles contracting forcibly but not releasing in the typical tonic/clonic spasm. One of my Labs would remain conscious and aware of his surroundings but unable to move during a fit. Sometimes the muscle contractions would be so severe that he would pull a muscle and be lame for several days afterwards. After one lengthy series of seizures he became semi-paralysed for at least 24 hours. In light of the severity of his case he was euthanised to spare him further suffering.
6. The age of onset of seizures in Labradors is often different to the textbook descriptions. Some start at puberty while others can have their first seizure at the age of six or seven years. Even epileptic littermates can differ markedly in the age of onset of seizures. No doubt, like myself, many breeders have unwittingly bred from an epileptic Labrador that didn't show any symptoms of the disorder until a comparatively advanced age.
I would like to offer the following advice to the caretakers of this lovely breed: As soon as you discover epilepsy in your bloodlines you should draw a line in the sand and say "here is where this pedigree stops". No matter how much you paid for your breeding stock or how well-performed they are in the show ring, hunting field or obedience competitions, an epileptic dog must be regarded as a non-starter in the breeding stakes! Spare a thought for the unsuspecting puppy buyers who could end up with an animal that requires a lifetime of veterinary attention and expensive medication. Even worse is the scenario where a much-loved family pet must be euthanised due to severe and refractory epilepsy.
There is no doubt that during the course of the development of the Labrador retriever there have been people who have not had the welfare and reputation of the breed at heart. These are the breeders who have knowingly continued breeding from epileptics due to a distorted values system based on self-aggrandisement, financial gain and ignorance. Thank goodness that the majority of Labrador breeders would not countenance the propagation of epileptic bloodlines and take positive steps to eliminate suspect animals from their breeding programmes. From a personal point of view I hope that the breeding stock that I now own and love will remain free from the curse of epilepsy. - Lyndsay K. Wilson