Congenital Diseases Concerning Airedales
By Dr. David Post, DVM, MS
Congenital diseases and conditions are problems that occur due either directly to the genetics of
the dog or because the genetic make-up predisposes a problem. All dogs can have congenital problems
and Airedales are no exception. Airedales are generally quite healthy dogs. Responsible breeders
try to avoid dogs with serious congenital problems and they pay close attention to existing problems
in the breed. There are a number of conditions that have been reported in Airedales and they are
discussed below. Some data from the 2001 Breed Health Survey is included. See the related article on the survey.
Allergies are common to all wire-haired breeds including Airedales. This is a
climate specific problem that varies in significance in different parts of the country. With
allergies, dogs exhibit itchy skin, flaky and dry skin, and a predisposition for "hot spots"
which are raw sores that break out on the skin. It is also frequently associated with ear and eye
infections. Most vets are very comfortable treating allergic dogs and the condition is generally
quite controllable. Breeders generally de-emphasize dogs with allergic tendencies in their breeding
programs. In East Texas and much of the Texas Gulf Coast region, I estimate that 30 to 40% of all
dogs (all breeds) exhibit some signs of allergies. For Wire-haired breeds, probably closer to 70%
are affected in these regions. Others parts of the country are much less affected. With selective
breeding, affected rates for wire-haired breeds can be reduced to around 20% in these areas. The
2001 Breed Health Survey reported allergies affecting 23% of the breed nationwide. The survey also
reported 19% with “hot spots” and 11% with problems with ear infections. These conditions are
often associated with allergies, but it is not clear from the survey results that these were dogs
already considered allergic.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia is a condition where an animal will start to destroy
their own red blood cells, without explanation. It is sometimes treatable, but death often results.
It is believed to have some genetic predisposition, but this is not proven. The evidence is strong
enough that affected dogs should not be used in breeding programs. The 2001 Breed Health Survey
reports a 2.3% affliction rate.
In the mid 1980s, we lost a very lovely bitch (CH. Briggsdale Baby Jane, a True Grit X Baby Gay
daughter) to this disease and consequently remain very aware of the disease. Only since the late
1990s have we finally been able to return to the level of quality of Jane in our breeding stock.
This illustrates how congenital disease can set a breeding program back, not to mention the
Cancers are more frequently reported in Airedales than most other breeds.
However prominent dogs dying prematurely is exceptional. Recently, a nationally-prominent show
dog did just that by dying of lymphoma at age 4 or so, shortly after several big wins. This
unexpected event has made most Airedalers more aware than usual of this class of disorders.
Cancers as a rule are more reported now in veterinary medicine than they were a few decades ago.
Many incorrectly believe that this is due to greater toxin exposures or other causes. A simpler,
and more likely explanation is that dogs are simply living longer than they used to. Improvements
in nutrition and dog care as dogs become more a part of the family rather than “just dogs” has
greatly lengthened lifespans. Cancer tends to affect older individuals more than younger animals,
so we now have more older pets and consequently see more cancers. With exceptions of dogs like
the example above, most dogs afflicted by cancer are older and are often great-grandparents in
breeding programs. Selecting against the tendency to get cancers under that circumstance is
realistically impossible. By the time a dog is a great grandparent, it is often an ancestor of
many dogs in many breeding programs. Selection against many of these cancers (if they have
genetic origins) will likely wait until there are identified genetic markers for these diseases.
Such genetic markers will likely begin to be available in veterinary medicine within the next 20
years. The 2001 Breed Health Survey found cancers to be the most common causes of death in
Airedales, but the vast majority of deaths due to cancer are in senior dogs. No particular
form of cancer stood out as particularly prevalent in the survey. Melanoma was reported most
frequently, followed by adenocarcinoma, hemangiosarcoma, then lymphoma.
Cataracts werereported by the 2001 Breed Health Survey as affecting 8% of
Airedales. The survey reports may be a misinterpretation of what is actually nuclear sclerosis
of the lens, a fairly common change associated with aging, rather than actually being cataracts.
The vast majority of cases were senior dogs, but roughly 1% were affected as younger dogs when
juvenile cataracts would be suspected. The survey reported a very low incidence of other inherited
eye conditions in the breed.
Cerebellar hypoplasia is where the dog has difficulty walking and seems unaware
of where its feet are, but otherwise, appears normal. This condition is a brain abnormality that
is inherited (generally) as a simple autosomal recessive gene. Affected puppies typically exhibit
signs at 6 to 12 weeks of age. The problem is not commonly reported in the breed. Affected kennels
can test breed their breeding stock to identify and eliminate carriers from their breeding
program. The problem is under study at the vet school of the university of Missouri (Dr. Dennis
O'Brien) and a genetic marker for the problem in Pointers has been identified. The marker is not
useful in Airedales at this point but further research is planned.
Colonic Disease is a catchall phrase of large bowel problems (blood or mucous
in stool, diarrhea, constipation) and Airedales may be more predisposed to these various problems
than other breeds. Sometimes the term “sensitive stomach” is associated with this syndrome and
some dogs may have the tendency to puke more than most. The origin of these problems can be
multi-factorial. Allergies, nutrition, environment, and many other issues are often investigated
to identify causes. Often, simple solutions, like dietary modification, resolve the problems
without actually identifying the real cause. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reports about 10% of
Airedales have some form of problems consistent with the description “sensitive stomach”. This
is probably a little above average for breeds in general. Note that the Breed Survey found 4% of
Airedales had problems due to eating “foreign bodies”. I have done surgeries to remove tennis
balls and rocks from Airedale stomachs!
Heart Disease- The 2001 Breed Health Survey reported heart disease as the third
most common cause of death of senior Airedales. It reported that 13% of the participants in the
survey were affected by heart murmurs. Murmurs, unlike other forms of heart disease, are
generally a benign condition, but affected dogs should be monitored closely by veterinarians.
Hip Dysplasia is the degeneration of the hip joint causing discomfort and
lameness. All breeds of dogs can be affected. Smaller breeds compensate sufficiently for the
problem in that the condition causes only minimally (generally unnoticed) effects. Larger breeds
can be crippled by the defect. It is generally recommended that breeders of larger breeds of
dogs test their breeding stock by X-rays to assure that there is no problem. Airedales are
included in this recommendation.
There are two common ways to "certify" breeding stock as tested
for hip dysplasia. The main system is OFA certification . Under this system, a vet takes X-rays
(generally under sedation) of the dog when it is over two years of age. The X-ray films are
submitted to a board of three veterinary radiology specialists that score the hips as excellent,
good, fair, borderline, mildly dysplastic, moderately dysplastic, or severely dysplastic.
Any of the first three scores are acceptable without significant bias.
The second method of certifying hips is the Penn-hip system. This is a patented technique, run by a corporation and
is not as commonly used. Few vets offer the service, since special (expensive) training is
required and insufficient demand exists for the service. Those involved with the service
consider the system superior since it can be done on dogs as pups and they feel that since it
tests laxity in the hip joint, it is a better indicator of hip dysplaysia development, when
normal X-rays would not detect a problem. Scoring for the system is numerical with scores below 0.3
considered very good. The average score of Airedales tested in the system is currently about 0.5
and scores above this number are considered inferior. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reports that
11% of Airedales in the survey are dysplastic. This is probably below the actual breed affliction
rate due to the high percentage of intense Airedalers in the survey and the likely high average
quality of their dogs. They survey also reported that approximately 14% of Airedales in the
survey were arthritic.
Texter kennels uses OFA certification and still
regards this system as the gold standard of excellence in hip
certification. See more information in “Breeders Corner”.
Hypothyrodism is a defect in the production of thyroid hormone that typically
manifests itself as primarily skin problems in dogs. Breeding stock can be tested with a simple
blood test. All breeding stock at Texter kennels is tested. The disease tends to be
over-diagnosed in veterinary medicine. Many dogs with normal thyroid levels may appear to have
improved coats, be more reproductively efficient, or just seem to “do better” with thyroid
supplementation. But it is a misuse of the drug to use it under such circumstances. Selective
breeding for more vigorous dogs is a more appropriate approach. The 2001 Breed Health Survey
reports that 7.5% of Airedales in the survey were hypothyroid.
Juvenile renal dysplasia syndrome is kidney failure in young dogs. The problem
has been reported in Airedales. A genetic marker has been identified for this disease in Shih
tzus, Lhasa Apsos, and Soft-coated Wheaton Terriers. A genetic marker allows a laboratory test
to identify carriers of the disease. The disease is more common in the breeds mentioned than in
Airedales. The requirements to develop a marker for Airedales is samples from 20 families of
Airedales where two or more individuals have been diagnosed by wedge biopsy and finding the gene
would cost from $150,000 to $200,000. This study is not currently underway.
Renal failure was identified by the 2001 Breed Health Survey as the second most
common identified cause of death in senior dogs. However, the survey identified zero dogs dying
of juvenile renal disease of any form.
Malocclusion (teeth that don't meet correctly) occurs in the breed and can
develop in pups up to one year of age. Generally, this problem has no medical implications.
Unfortunately, some carriers of this trait have been widely used in the Airedale and the problem
is unfortunately common. It has been stated that it takes at least 5 generations to get rid of
this problem, and this statement does not seem to be an underestimate! Some Airedale breeders
have reacted to the difficulty in ridding their lines of this fault, by putting (unethical)
veterinary dentists on their speed dials, that are profieient at braces and other devices to
"fix" bad bites. Of course, nothing is fixed, the genes are the same, the offspring continue
with the problem...... for at least 5 generations.
Sacralisation and Lumbalisation (spondylosis) are where bony abnormalities
develop along the spinal column and may lead to some discomfort, lameness, or stiffness. If
often manifests itself as the dog ages. The 2001 Breed Health Survey identified 3% of the
participants being affected by spondylosis.
What should I know about Airedale temperaments?
In addition to the
intelligence, sense of humor, courage, faithfulness, and playfulness
described elsewhere, there are several Airedale characteristics that
fall under "behavior".
First, be aware that these dogs are very stoic and can be in a great
deal of pain or distress and not show it outwardly. This means they can
be in more serious condition due to illness or injury than might be
Second, these dogs can become "dominant" and be deliberately disobedient
toward individuals they consider submissive. This is not a breed for
the mild-mannered or casual dog owner.
Third, they easily become bored and restless, particularly if left to
their own initiative as "backyard dogs". They can become destructive or
escapists or just so independent that they seem not to care. Once these
events occur, it is VERY difficult to correct. These dogs thrive as
family members, particularly after appropriate training.
Fourth, with some people, including some vets, Airedales have had a
reputation for aggressiveness. When I first discovered this, I was
surprised since it was the opposite of my rather extensive experience
with the breed. Historically, the breed has had periods of great
popularity, and this often results in inferior dogs being bred. Bad
temperaments result and I think this has occurred in Airedales in the
past. To get some perspective on current opinions of dog breeds by
veterinarians, I conducted a survey of other vets around the world via
the Internet. The question was regarding which breeds were most
troublesome visitors to their clinic, with each breed given a numerical
rating. Most dogs at vet clinics are quite good, especially under the
circumstances. The vet clinic is a very stressful environment for a dog.
It smells strange, it is noisy and strangers restrain, poke and prod at
the dogs. Some breeds handle it with grace, some try to attack the vet
and the staff. However, worldwide vets agreed that Rottweilers and Chows
typically were terrible. Chihuahuas were almost as bad,
temperamentally, but they were so small, no one cared. Labradors were
the example of good-natured, non-problems in the survey and this held up
worldwide. Labs are popular and should be. Even an idiot has a hard
time messing up a lab! Other "bad" breeds at vet clinics were Shar-pei's
and Fila brisilias. Cocker spaniels are either wonderful or awful
without much middle ground, and they were frequently mentioned as
problems at the vet clinic. Pit bulls also got mixed results. Most with
experience with the breed regarded them well.....unless the owner was an
idiot that encouraged aggressiveness. Dobermans scored well, despite
the reputation. Had the same survey been done at the height of the
breed's popularity a few years ago, they would have scored poorly. Now,
the popularity fad has passed and the breed reputation has been
restored. Boxers did surprisingly well, almost the same as labs! The
point to the story, of course, is Airedales....they scored well, about
in the middle ("typical dog that comes to the clinic") range. For scale,
Labs and boxers scored about 1.8, Rottweilers (the current fad breed)
scored about 4.5 on a scale up to 5 for bad behavior at the vet clinic.
The score for the "average" dog that walks into the clinic is 2.1.
Airedales scored about 2.1. Most mentioned problem seen with Airedales
is hyperactivity at the clinic. A lot of vets had no experience with the
breed or their opinion was shaped by exposure to one or two dogs.
How long do Airedales live?
Typically, Airedales live 11 to 14 years. They
frequently remain active even late in life. Two prominent studs serve as examples. CH. Bravo
True Grit was (at his time) the top winning Airedale of all time. He lived to be 15 years old
and was seen chasing a squirrel the day before he died. His son, CH Finlair Tiger of Stone Ridge
beat his dad's show record and lived a healthy 14 years. Both these dogs from the 1980's are
common in current Airedale pedigrees, including the Airedales at Texter Kennels. "Jack" discussed
in the stories section of our website was a Finlair Tiger son, and also lived well past 14 years.
I specifically mention True Grit and Finlair Tiger as examples of longevity for reason. They are
so common in current pedigrees, that any dog that has a rare congenital illness is very likely
to have these dogs in their pedigree...perhaps numerous times. Both of these dogs have been
(probably incorrectly) implicated as carriers of a number of genetic diseases. They probably
carried some, ALL DOGS DO CARRY SOME GENETIC BAGGAGE, but we always take such stories with an
element of skepticism. We incorporate the information as part of the total evaluation of breeding
stock. As the illustration shows, three generations of Airedales living past 14 years is pretty
dawg-gone good! Below is a copy of an article on a related topic.
Longevity and Genetics
The question of dogs dying young(er) comes up periodically with lots of diverse opinions. I have
a unique background to access these events and opinions. I have a masters degree in
geno-toxicology (toxins causing birth defects/cancers) and spent a number of years doing research
on the molecular biology of aging. I am currently a practicing veterinarian.
Certain breeds of dogs clearly have a problem with premature deaths due to cancers. Cancers are
known to have genetic predispositions, although the mechanism of the predisposition is not known
for most cancers. Boxers very commonly die at age 7 to 10 from cancers. Twelve year old boxers
are the exception. The same is true in Scottish Terriers. Golden Retrievers are also clearly
predisposed as well. There is some evidence to support the idea that Airedales have some
predisposition to cancers, but the problem is not nearly as pervasive as in some other breeds.
Many breeders are producing dogs that live to 13 to 15 years old in our breed. However, I suspect
this is luck, not design. Usually, by the time a breeding dog gets cancer (a disease of the
aged!), it is frequently a great-grandparent! Are there ANY breeders that will cull 4 generations
of breeding stock because one older dog died of cancer? Not likely, and probably not appropriate!
We will have to await genetic tests for certain predisposing genes to screen young breeding
stock for disease potential. Those screens will probably be available for many diseases within
the next 20 years. Some are already available for some breeds and diseases.
for the observation of "more cancer", it is true. However, it is
probably not for the frequently voiced concern of "toxic exposure".
Cancer is a disease of aging. Youth is infrequently effected. Since pets
are living longer generally now (see below), we see more cancers as
vets. Living longer? Yep! It is a factor of the success of progress in
veterinary medicine and pet husbandry. In the 1960s, most vets saw more
"hit by cars" in a week than a typical vet sees now in a year! Why? More
and better fences, and pets considered as family members rather than
"just dogs". They are kept safer. Nutritional problems in the 1960s?
Common. Commercially available, quality diets have all but eradicated
these issues. Distemper in the 1960s? Daily event at vet clinics. Now? A
handful of cases a year unless the practice is in an impoverished area,
where vaccines are not given. Vaccines for distemper and parvo are
extraordinarily effective when appropriately used. Why do vets notice
these things? Income! Over the last 30 years, vets have had to replace
the hit by car, poor nutrition, and infectious disease income! What do
we replace it with? Geriatric medicine. Pets are living long, vets have
to develop new skills. The vet industry pays a lot of attention to these
trends. Yea, not what you often see on Internet lists, but things are
dramatically better for dogs now than ever before and they are living
longer and living better! And vets are glad!
During the 1920's, Airedales were among the most popular breeds of dog.
Anytime a breed goes
through a popularity fad, people trying to make a buck are attracted to
the breed and the general
quality of the breed suffers. During that popularity swing the largest
Airedale kennel in the
country was the Oorang Kennel. They advertised nationally with the
slogan "A dog of any size for
any purpose". This slogan, combined with the general Airedale brag of
"my dog can do anything
your dog can do, then lick your dog!", stimulated the breed to
popularity. The Oorang Kennel
even used the famous American-Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe, to advertise.
Their operation was so
large that they farmed out brood bitches, bringing pups back for sale.
At their peak, the kennel
produced thousands of dogs every year. In today's terminology, they were
similar to a large scale,
one breed puppy mill. The dogs varied greatly in quality and size. They
did produce some (traditionally) respectable dogs that won AKC
championships and some extraordinary hunting stories exist about their
dogs' exploits. The kennel faded from existence as the breed popularity
fell in the 1930's. However, since they were so heavily advertised,
demand for Oorang and "Oorang-type" Airedales exists to this day, and
some kennels still produce this type of Airedale. They are not a
separate breed, just a variation in type within the breed. Typically
they are over the standard size for Airedales (often 25 to 28 inches and
70 to 100 pounds), and are advertised as "working/hunting" Airedales or
"mountain" Airedales. Some of these large-type Airedales are
descendants from the Oorang dogs and some are not. (The Airedale
standard calls for a 23 inch dog, which usually weighs from 50 to 65
pounds.) The large type dogs do have typical Airedale personalities and
are very suitable pets for some. They do not conform to several aspects
of the AKC standard and their breeders are excluded from the Airedale
Terrier Club of America (the national breed club). Members of the
national breed club most frequently come in contact with these Airedales
through breed rescue activities and general quality of the oversized
Airedales in rescue is poor.
There are a few
other “variant” forms of “Airedales”. There is a “redline” strain of
Airedales, “black Airedales”, and even red Airedales. Most of these
variations have only one or
two significant advocates and are of minor significance in the breed.
Occasionally, a different
pup will appear in a litter even of well bred dogs. It will grow bigger
than average or have less coat or have more black or less black than
average. (It would be genetically extraordinary for a whole litter to
have some unique trait that had not been previously selected for.) If
you select those different pups to continue breeding, you will see more
of those traits in subsequent litters. However, if you continue to pick
atypical traits, at some point you have very large, short coated, black
dogs and they are not Airedales. They are a new breed. In the case of
“black Airedales”, they are not eligible for AKC registration. The
national breed club has a standard that describes what an Airedale is
and quality breeders tend to try to select for traits consistent with
that description and de-emphasize dogs that fail to adhere to the
Like most Airedale breeders, Texter Kennel breeds to the national standard for the breed. The
national club has a very active and successful working/hunting group that trains and competes
with these activities with standard Airedales. A number of current AKC (conformation) champions
Airedales also have working/hunting titles.
Socialization: Exposing your puppy to as
many new and different positive experiences as possible.
0-7 Weeks - - “All In The Family”
This is a time for the puppy to be with its mother
and siblings. A lot of training is obtained with this family dynamic and the pup will learn to
moderate its aggression and behavior by correction from mom and sibs.
- 7-9 Weeks - “Welcome Home”
Puppies are mentally mature enough to go to their new
homes at this age. Expect your breeder to have given the pup one or two rounds of vaccinations
and dewormed if the fecal showed any types of internal parasites.
- 8-16 Weeks - “Places To Go, People To See”
can begin at this time. Take the puppy out and around to see new sights
and sounds. Try to take the puppy with you to a new place at least once
a week. Let him play with other dogs. Beware of a fearful stage at
around 8 to 10 weeks of age and try to avoid anything that might be
traumatic for the dog. If the puppy acts scared of something, avoid this
something until after 11 weeks of age. A pup can be thoughtful about a
new experience but you don’t want it to be frightened. After 11 weeks of
age, try to be around the “scary thing” as much as possible.
DON’T baby your dog and pet him, try to comfort him when he acts scared
though. This will
reinforce his reaction to the “scary thing”. Also, don’t hold tight on
the lease when he gets
frightened, this tells the dog that you, too, are scared.
- 4-6 Months - “Installing Controls While Still Out and About”
Keep working on
socialization - obedience classes can begin and keep taking the dog out and about to see as much
as possible. Teething will be an issue during this phase. Encourage Housebreaking during this
age and look forward to less accidents as the pup approaches six months of age.
- 6-12 Months - “Those Wacky Teens”
This is the beginning of adolescence and at
around 6 months of age, the pup can be neutered/spayed. By the end of 12 months, housebreaking
should be mostly successful.
Those gums and teeth are developing and boy! do they hurt. And boy! it feels good to chew on
things. Putting things, all sorts of things, in your mouth when you are a puppy is fun and
exciting. Everything has a taste and texture and it lots of fun to chew on.
Use redirection and No! with your puppy when it comes to chewing on undesirable
objects. Also remember this –don’t encourage your pup to do things as a puppy that you don’t
want to see him do as an adult.
For redirection, you can give rawhides (they come in all sorts and shapes and flavors)
to your puppy. And give her many during the day so that she have something to work her gums and
teeth on. You can also use stuffed animals and dog toys. (Understand that your dog will
probably not distinguish between your children’s stuffed animals and theirs—you might ask your
kids to keep their beloved stuffed animals out of reach of the dog.) A key part of teething
though is…Do Not Allow Your Puppy To
Chew On Your Fingers Or Any Other Body Part.
- For pups who insist otherwise, try using a
technique called “Curl A Lip” to discourage the puppy from
going for your fingers. When
the pup takes your fingers in his mouth, quickly curl her lip under her
tooth and press quickly
and with firm pressure. Puppies don't like this sensation and if you
try it on yourself, you'll see that the pressure on the inside
of your lip isn't pleasant. The quick
pressure on soft lip tissue and tooth will be a negative reinforcement
for the pup. Then in a high, happy voice,
say something like, “What happened?” This will put the negative on the
finger and not on you.
- Another tactic is to spray Apple Bitter (a product sold at pet supply stores) on your
hands before you play with your puppy
- With Household Items and Cherished Belongings that you don't want the puppy to accidentally destroy:
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Move your treaured items out of reach of the dog - much like you would childproof your house when a toddler is present.
Here's a funny story to go with the safeguarding your treasured items. A couple who had recently acquired an English Setter
hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. They left their dog in the kitchen with the freshly baked
turkey resting on the kitchen counter as they entertained their guests in the living room.
Yes, the dog helped himself and ate the turkey before the couple could say, "Dinner served." Can
you blame him?
Your breeder is the first place to start when considering ear gluing. The
Airedale's ears are glued into a position on the head to help train the ears to hold that
nice position (pointing toward the corner of the eyes). This id done around the time the puppy
teething and discourages the ears from being held away from the head (fly-away ears). If you
live close to your breeder, he/she will
glue the ears. Otherwise, ask your breeder for a recommendation of someone in your area that
do the job. Veterinarians are often able to help in this matter. (There is an excellent website
composed by Airedale
breeder Barbara Schneider at http://members.tripod.com/~SerendipityAiredales/setears.html that
explains ear gluing in more detail.)