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Chinook Health

Hips & OFA X-Rays
Eyes & CERF Exams
Neurological Disorders
Allergies & Skin Problems
Touchy Tummies
Other Issues
Health Guarantees

First, please bear with me, as I'm not a vet, a geneticist, nor a health expert in any way. The information here is strictly based on my own experience with my own dogs. For complete and accurate information, you'll want to talk with more knowledgeable people, such as a veterinarian. I've put many links on health, genetics, and related topics in the For More Information section of this website.

In general the Chinook is a very healthy breed compared to most other breeds. We're lucky in that respect. A health survey done in the late 1990s surmised that this is because the early selection was done based on working ability and not on the dog's looks alone. Plus the Chinook is a very natural breed. Not only is it natural in that we don't fool around with cropping any ears, docking tails, or spending hours foofing their coats but they are natural in that they have the general phenotype of the generic dog that evolved in the wild -- brown with pricked or semi pricked ears and a tail that is carried up with a partial curve when the dog is excited. (This same look is seen in the once wild Carolina Dog, a breed that looks very similar to the Chinook.) It is my opinion that this natural, uncorrupted physique helps to keep them a healthier breed.

However all dogs, both pure and random bred, have some genetic health issues that can crop up. With Chinooks we tend to focus primarily on three areas: hips, eyes, and seizures. Other issues crop up on a limited basis. If you do a survey of every Chinook alive today, you're sure to find a few unique health problems that I don't discuss here but that is true of every population of every species. The topics covered below are those that have cropped up in more than one Chinook of the Rain Mountain line.

Again, I want to emphasize that the Chinook is on average a very healthy breed. If you look at the work of George Padgett, DVM, the acknowledged expert on genetic health issues in dogs, he lists the various problems seen by each breed in his book Control of Canine Genetic Diseases. Compared to all the other breeds in the world, the Chinook has some of the fewest genetic health problems of any. Don't think that mixed breeds are more healthy than purebreds because they are not. With purebred dogs from known pedigrees, we simply have far more data on what genes they carry and what problems they are prone to. With mutts we just don't know unless the problem is actually expressed. Remember that just because a dog carries the genes for something, it may not be expressed. In fact, Dr. Padgett hypothesizes that every purebred dog carries six lethal genes that aren't expressed and every mutt carries twelve!

I am sometimes asked why I put this information up on the Rain Mountain website. After all, it might scare away someone who was thinking of getting a Chinook but sees this and decides not to. My opinion is that is the kind of person that I don't want to have one of my puppies. After all, what would happen if the pup had bad hips? Would they send the dog back to me? After all, I do give a lifetime guarantee on any and all genetic health concerns. I think it's important for people to know before they buy a pup what potential health problems could occur. These conditions discussed below are all the exception and not the rule. It is definitely NOT the case theat every Chinook has bad hips, cataracts, and neurologic problems.  But if a health problem does crop up, the more information you have ahead of time, the better prepared you'll be. 

Hips & OFA X-Rays

All dogs, especially those of medium to large size, can have hip problems, typically called hip dysplasia. What this means is that the femur is not perfectly seated in the hip socket. Experts think that the problem is both genetic transmitted and environmentally influenced. But it is polygenetic -- not controlled by a single set of genes -- which makes it difficult to eliminate from our breeding stock.

To minimize the possibility of hip problems, all our breeding stock has hips x-rayed at least once and the x-rays submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for rating. OFA has three board certified veterinary radiologists look over the x-rays and rate them. Excellent, Good, and Fair are considered passing with Borderline, Mild, Moderate, and Severe considered not passing.  The OFA website has a great deal of information on hip dysplasia, diagrams of what the various ratings look like, and a search engine that allows you to look up the hip rating of a given dog.  For more information, this website is the best source I've found.

Good hips on left, dysplastic hips on right

Hips don't get a permanent rating until the dog is at least two years old so that the growth plates are closed and the dog is physically mature. (This is another reason you're asked to defer spaying or neutering your dog until s/he is at least a year old so that the growth plates have had time to close and the joints have developed normally.) A "Preliminary" rating is available after a dog is four months old but they are read by only one vet radiologist. I sometimes use these to screen out dogs. Coping with a young bitch in season or male in love can be a challenge. Luckily I've only had one accidental breeding over the years but having Preliminary x-rays and ratings helps in these situations.  

It's hypothesized that a girl dog's hormones can influence hip laxity, the looseness of the femur in the hip socket. So most breeders will take female x-rays midway between seasons. I've seen this have a significant impact on the rating a dog receives once. A female I bred was x-rayed but went into season only a few days later. We were all surprised when OFA said she didn't pass the review, as she was quite an athletic dog. The x-ray was repeated three months later and the new rating was OFA Good, quite a change from the first rating. Maybe it's not absolute proof but it's enough that I try to time hip x-rays on females. But I've also x-rayed bitches a couple weeks before they went into season and they got stellar ratings. 

Choosing a vet that has experience doing these also is important. I'm lucky that Dr. Dan has a practice that caters to breeders almost exclusivesly. You need to have the dog permanently identified with a microchip or tattoo before they are x-rayed and take your registration number along. (You will also need the registration numbers of the sire and dam for the OFA paperwork.) Some vets automatically knock dogs out to do the x-ray but I prefer that my dogs not go under anesthesia unless it's absolutely necessary so I use vets for OFA x-rays that believe the same. If the dog is uncomfortable with being held on its back on the x-ray table, it can be given a mild shot of valium or other tranquilizer instead of being knocked out completely.

Hip ratings can be influenced by environmental factors as well as genetics. I keep this in mind when raising pups. Contrary to what many dog food companies will tell you, I don't keep young dogs on puppy formula for a whole year. The mom dog gets fed puppy formula during the last couple weeks of her pregnancy and while she is nursing and the pups are started on it when they are weaned. But I transition them to either Large Breed Puppy or Adult formula food shortly after they go to their new homes or when they are about 10 weeks old. The theory behind this is that the super nutrition of premium puppy formulas can cause faster than desired growth. This in turn can cause a lack of strength in the hips and other joints. As far as feeding goes, the size of your Chinook is genetically predetermined and feeding it extra rich or large amountsof food won't make it a bigger adult. It may cause the pup to grow faster but the size of the adult will be the same. And again, the faster growth rate can make the joints weaker. I like to see young dogs (in fact, all dogs) kept very lean (not skinny, just lean) so that less stress is put on the joints and skeleton.  When you run your hand over their ribs it should feel like the back of your hand -- you can readily feel the bones with just a coating of skin. Almost all of our suburban pets can stand to loose a few pounds.

Many breeders will also use various vitamins and supplements during the growing months to help encourage sound hips. I haven't had much experience with this myself but am always willing to listen to new ideas. Primarily I encourage people getting pups from me to use a good quality food, keep the pup lean, and give it a lot of exercise that is fun, easy, and natural.

To prevent damage to a young dog's skeleton, I don't encourage excessive jumping. I don't worry about the natural Chinook jumping and bouncing they do on their own but I don't have them competing in agility or flyball until they are over a year old or I've checked their hips. They can do any exercise they want on their own, but I don't push them. I also try to keep their exercise on dirt more than asphalt or concrete, which is much easier to do now that we live in the middle of nowhere and don't have any asphalt or concrete on our property. They may start running with our sled team as adolescents but they start running next to the team without being actually being connected to the gangline and when they are first connected, they aren't asked to run far or to pull too much weight. As one year olds they start practicing weight pulling but only as novices with lighter loads.

OFA offers the following guidelines for breeders to minimize hip dysplasia:

Breed dogs with passing ratings to other dogs with passing ratings.

Breed passing dogs that have ancestors who also were passing.

Consider the littermates when you make your decisions and breed passing dogs from litters with a low incidence of hip dysplasia among siblings.

Select a sire that produces a low incidence of hip dysplasia.

Another method for testing hips is PennHip. In this process the dog is fully sedated for the x-rays and a number of shots are done with the hip manipulated into various positions. The dog is rated on a number of other factors in addition to how the leg bone is seated in the hip socket. I don't know of Chinook breeders relying solely on PennHip as a rating but some are using it in conjunction with OFA ratings.

When looking at the hips of the dogs in a pedigree and making a breeding decision, I also feel it's necessary to look at the hip ratings of a litter as a whole, not just the specific dogs I'm thinking of breeding to each other. If I have a dog that rates OFA Good but all it's littermates have failed, I'm probably going to be very careful breeding it, if it's bred at all. I would feel more comfortable breeding a dog that came from a litter where all of the siblings rated OFA Fair than one where one pup was an Excellent and the rest failed. In order to get this complete data on litters, I ask that everyone getting a pup from me have it's hips x-rayed and certified through OFA, even if the dog is spayed or neutered.

OFA considers dogs with ratings of Fair, Good and Excellent to be "passing."    They recommend that breeders look at the dogs with Fair ratings equally with those that have Excellent ratings. "Do not ignore the dog with a fair hip evaluation. The dog is still within normal limits. For example; a dog with fair hips but with a strong hip background and over 75% of its brothers and sisters being normal is a good breeding prospect. A dog with excellent hips, but with a weak family background and less than 75% of its brothers and sisters being normal is a poor breeding prospect.

Eyes & CERF Exams

Almost all breeds of dogs have occasional problems with genetic eye defects, most specifically cataracts. Chinooks are lucky that they have not been affected by other eye problems, such as PRA, that may occur in other breeds. All my breeding stock has their eyes checked by a board certified veterinary  ophthalmologist prior to breeding. I've been very lucky with this to date and only have bred one dog (as far as I know at least) that has developed cataracts.  We use the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, known as CERF (and pronounced "surf") to record the status of our dogs' eyes.  You can get a lot more information on eye problems in dogs from the CERF website.

Cataracts in Chinooks can be classified as pinprick, indeterminate, or diffuse. Pinprick is not a concern; many dogs will have these and they do not affect whether the dog “passes” the eye screen or not. Diffuse means that the cataract is spread across the eye and will most likely affect vision in the long run. This is the overall cloudy look that you will frequently see in older dogs. Yes, it's normal in an old dog but we don't want to breed dogs that have diffuse cataracts at a young age.

Indeterminate cataracts are the middle ground. Some of these are serious and some are not. In this case you may see a dog that is considered “Breeder's Option” as far as its eyes go. For example, my male, Thunder had his eyes examined every year since he was a pup. He had a small, nearly pinprick cataract on the outside edge of one eye. It didn't change in the slightest over the years and none of his offspring to date have had any signs of eye problems. But the diameter of this cataract puts it one increment out of the pinprick category into the indeterminate category. So he is considered Breeder's Option – it is my option to decide if his eyes are of high enough caliber for breeding or not. So I have decided to go ahead and breed him though I'm careful to breed him only to bitches that have no signs of any eye problems. And just as with the hip health in the pedigrees of litters I breed, I disclose this to anyone that asks and in information that is sent out to people that are interested in using him for breeding or acquiring one of his offspring.

The eye exams also look for other heritable problems in addition to cataracts, such as retinal folds or corneal dystrophy.  A more complete list can be found on the CERF website in the section titled "CERF Categories."  If you explore the CERF website, you can probably find the most valid and accurate info out there on the subject of eye problems in dogs.

Neurological Disorders

The paroxysmal dyskinesias are a group of rare movement disorders characterized by attacks of hyperkinesis with intact consciousness

Unfortunately Chinooks can suffer from a mild seizure like disorder. Yes, it does occur in my lines. Yes, I'm doing everything possible to eliminate it, as are other Chinook breeders I work with. The causes are not known but genetics play a role. To the best that I can, I don't use dogs that has had a seizure like event in my breeding program. But because of the nature of this beast, it is hard to screen for. Typically the onset may not be until the dog is three or more years old. It can also be triggered by other factors. I have one female that was fine until she was six years old. At that time she was hit by a car and suffered a serious head injury. My vet cautioned me that she could seizure and she did. Since she was six years old, she had already been bred and had two litters. Luckily only three of her offspring (out of fifteen total) have had any seizures at all and only one of those has them on a regular basis, about once every six months to a year. But that's still too many in my book.  Again, I always disclose to anyone that asks, especially in the context of breeding decisions, the status of all the my dogs and those in their pedigrees that have had these seizure like events.

If you are talking to other Chinook breeders, be sure to ask them about this disorder in their lines. It's a tough subject to talk about for some reason. I don't use the term epilepsy, as I don't know for sure if that is what Chinooks have. You'll hear some people say that it's really hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). My opinion is that a seizure or seizure like event for ANY reason or cause needs to be revealed by the breeder/owner and tracked in health pedigrees and databasess. Yes, some have occurred after head injuries, some may be food allergies, some are isolated incidents. But they are still a neurological disorder and I would like to eliminate them from Chinooks to the best of my ability.

Notice that I don't call these "seizures."  They are different and far milder.  The typical seizure like event in Chinooks doesn't show itself until the dog is one to three years old. The events are usually mild.  Usually what you will see is that the dog's leg stiffen, they lie down, and tremble. They don't usually loose consciousness or bladder/bowel control though may lick compulsively during the episode. It will last about five minutes, and then the dog will be back to its normal self as if it never happened. They may want to take a long nap. The episodes may happen only once every six months to a year but some have them more often, as much as weekly; these are the exception, most will have them only occasionally. They may be triggered by the dog being startled or over stimulated. But I have also seen a Chinook have one in her sleep. For the normal mild episode there is nothing you can do except comfort the dog. I stroke and talk to mine and maintain eye contact with them. Some people find that giving the dog some honey will shorten the seizure.  A vet can't do anything unless they see the seizure happenning. If it is severe, Valium can be given to lessen it. None of my Chinooks that suffering from this disorder have ever required medication as they have them so seldom. I do feed twice a day though to minimize blood sugar fluctuations.

This subject is being actively being researched and if you'd like more information, please ask and I will refer you to people that are more knowledgeable than I am.  Rain Mountain Chinooks is participating in the Canine Epilepsy Project sponsored by the AKC Canine Health Foundation.  We're getting more and more infomation every month on this disorder in Chinooks.  Dennis O'Brien, DVM, PhD ACVIM, (Specialty of Neurology, University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine) is the lead reseearcher on this project and spoke at the 2005 Chinook National Specialty.  He has written an article entitled "Chinook 'Seizures'" which I encourage you to read.


Cryptorchidism (and Monorchidism)

These are big names for a genetic condition that can affect young male pups. When boys are born their testicles are still up inside the abdomen and will descend as the pup grows up. Usually they have descended by the time the pup is eight to ten weeks old.

In some cases the testicles will not descend fully, either one or both. If one is retained, it is considered monorchidism and if both are retained it is considered cryptorchidism. In pet quality pups this is not a concern since the testicles are removed when the dog is neutered. However it can cut short the show and breeding career of a promising pup if there isn't a matched set. (Dogs with no or only one testicle are disqualified from the show ring.)

Because there is the occurrence of this disorder in Chinooks we frequently will place male pups where they will be kept intact until we know at what age the testicles descend. Some Chinooks are very slow about this and will be up to nine months old before they drop. That's not ideal but we will sometimes give Mother Nature time to work her magic in the case where one has descended.

If the testicles are both retained in the abdomen, the dog will be sterile even though he has all the urges that would go along with being intact. The testicles are outside the abdomen because the heat within it is too high for any sperm to be viable.

Allergies and Skin Problems

Allergies are difficult to diagnose and pin down as to the source.  I have quite as few myself, including general hayfever, house dust and molds, dogs, and cats.  Luckily they are mild and easily controlled with antihistamines.  An allergy is essentially the body's immune system deciding that something totally harmless such as tree pollen, is actually a deadly invader so the system goes into high gear to kill off the invader though all that results is we are miserable with runny noses, watery eyes, and sneezing.  Okay, enough about my allergies.

A few Chinook owners have told me of allergies that their dogs have.  These fall into two categories:  food and subsequent upset stomachs or other resulting in dry skin and possible hair loss or dry skin.  Of the dogs in my house, I've only had one with any allergy sort of problem.

If your dog gets sick every time it eats something, then it probably does have either an allergy or some sort of intolerance to that food.  Heck, I have problems with dairy problems myself so I don't eat much of them.  Here with my gang, they have never met the food they didn't like.  Beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, venison, fish, and every other kind of meat you can think of are high on their list.  They get a varied diet which I think helps them to tolerate different foods without a problem.  But I have heard of one or two owners that have Chinooks with beef intolerance.  So where gastrointestinal problems and food allergies, my only experience is anecdotal.

As far as allergies that affect the skin, I have heard of two Chinooks that had this type of trouble.  One has just recently been diagnosed and I don't have many details yet.  Another is one that seems to have quite a few health problems in addition to allergies.  I know that one or two other breeders are doing research on allergies so if you'd like more information, I will direct you to these folks.

As far as skin problems go, my only experience has been with Thunder and the lick granuloma, also known as a lick sore, that he had for many years.  As is typical, it started with a small cut on the inside of his left hock.  As dogs do, he licked it to keep it clean but he licked it so much that it never could heal completely.  The licking became compulsive.  I tried many different approaches to clearing it up and all of them with no success.  He was too big for an e-collar as he could still reach around it to lick.  I tried a neck brace that would keep him from turning but he was just too long necked for it.  I tried a basket muzzle but hated that it made him look like a vicious dog.  I tried bandaging it.  I tried putting just about everything under the sun on it to make it taste bad but nothing was bad enough to break his licking habit.  I tried treating him for allergies and it didn't work.  I tried treating him for obsessive - compulsive behavior but the medications made him sleepy and lethargic so I had a dog that slept all the time and I was concerned what the meds were doing to his body in general.  I tried a bunch of natural treatments and never did find one that worked.  And just to fool me, every now and then he would stop licking it of his own accord and it would clear up for a while.  In the end we declared a truce that as long as it was smaller than a quarter and he didn't try to lick other parts of his body excessively, I wouldn't screw around with it.  If I saw it get red, he would get antibiotics and some ointment.  He was better about it as long as life was calm.  He also didn't like to be crated more than he had to so I had to be prepared that if he was going to be crated for any reason, he was going to lick.  Mind you, he took frequent naps in the crates around the house every day but only with the doors open.  And he was such a trustworthy dog that I rarely needed to crate him.

According to my vet and all the reading I have done, this type of skin problem is not really an allergy but instead is a neurological problem.  So far, I only know of one other Chinook that has a lick sore along the lines of Thunder's and this dog is one of his nephews.  None of his offspring have had the slightest skin problems though one of his grand pups is one of the two Chinooks I mentioned at the beginning of this section that has recently been diagnosed with environmental allergies.

Hopefully I'll be able to rewrite this section in the future and put up more conclusive information.  As of this time though, I just don't know a lot about allergies in Chinooks and my personal experience is only with Thunder's lick sore as far as skin problems go.  Occasionally I will see a bit of dry skin on some of the dogs, usually coinciding with them shedding, and I simply take care to add more oil and fat to their food in some way, shape, or form.

Fetal Edema

Luckily birth defects in Chinooks are rare.  Over the years and many litters, I've seen a few and all of them are sad so you may want to skip this section.  Most of the birth defects I've seen are one of a kind and are never seen again.  The exception to this is fetal edema, also known as water puppies or walrus puppies.

Fetal edema is when a puppy in utero has fluid going in -- blood, food from the mom dog, etc. -- but it can't get out.  This typically happens in the last couple days of the pregnancy, possibly even in just the last day or so.  It can't be seen on ultrasound or x-ray other than you may see the spine of the pup be almost perfectly straight rather than slightly curved (we typically x-ray the bitch just a couple days before the pups are due so that we can see how many there are and with a first time mom, make sure the size of the heads will fit through the pelvic opening).

When a bitch is in labor and labor suddenly seems to stop, we may be dealing with a fetal edema pup that has put a halt to normal labor.  The pup is probably twice the size of a normal pup and it is nearly impossible for the bitch to pass it through the birth canal so a c-section is called for.  These pups die almost instantly even if they are born alive.  My vet is only working part time these days and travels quite a bit so I check with him before I even do a breeding to see if he is going to be in town when the pups are due.  (He's a whiz with c-sections and can have the pups out and squealing within 12 minutes of the mom dog going under anesthesia.)  The last week of the pregnancy I carefully monitor the mom dog's temperature as it will drop when labor is ready to start.  And if there is more than two hours between pups, I'm on the phone with the vet checking in, regardless of the day of the week or time of day.

No one knows what causes this problem but luckily it is usually only one pup out of a litter and if a c-section is done in a timely fashion, all the other pups will survive successfully.  We see it run in some famililes. 

Health Guarantees

I do the best I can to provide you with healthy, happy, and sound Rain Mountain Chinook pups. I do provide a health guarantee in our sales agreement. But I cannot promise you absolutes.


Touchy Tummies

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Welcome Meet the Family
What's a Chinook? Getting Your Chinook &
Our Breeding Program
Chinook Health For More Information

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Copyright  Ginger Corley, Rain Mountain Chinooks, 1988 to present.  No material may be reproduced without permission, though permission is usually granted.  Logo by Susan Fletcher, Frontier Chinooks, used here with permission and much appreciation of her great talent.