Phenotypical tests and what they say

Phenotypical tests and what they say

The rest of the most common tests for standards are phenotypical only, meaning they assess the physical state of a dog at the time of the test but give no specific information about their genetics. Unfortunately, tomorrow could bring a different result from the same dog - for all sorts of reasons. Passing these tests does NOT guarantee offspring won't develop those diseases. In many ways, these tests give the wrong impression, implying that somehow a dog who passes will only produce puppies who pass. This is absolutely untrue. Passing them does not give us an idea of the genetics of a dog. Some diseases are also highly influenced by environment, and these tests cannot tell us how much of a disease is due to environment and how much is genetic.

Some of these tests have a very broad range of normal, but in their pursuit of excellence, some breeders will only breed what they consider the very best, which, again, limits diversity unnecessarily.  The sounded practice is to select from all dogs within a normal range based on many criteria. Good breeders know the difference between a robust dog and a less robust one, so it's important to pick a knowledgeable trustworthy breeder.

Phenotypic tests recorded to date by OFA:

Baer Hearing Test: used for white dogs, usually different breeds. It's weird that OFA includes it since a white poodle is not the same white as a white boxer or dalmatian.

  • OFA stats: 4 dogs tested, all normal.


Cardiac: There are differing levels of testing and different heart issues, but OFA lists them under one heading.  This testing is fairly expensive and helpful for particular lines, as it can be caused by a dominant mutation. It is, however, very rare.

  • OFA stats: 1338 tested, 99.5% normal, 0.1% abnormal, and 0.4% something else, perhaps inconclusive, perhaps just the margin of error.  Some lines seem to have specific heart issues.


Elbows: As with all retrievers, elbow dysplasia can be an issue, but it's not common for it to be a problem in poodles, and as with joint disease in all dogs, body weight affects the clinical symptoms.

  • OFA stats: 1857 dogs tested, 96.8% normal, 2.9% abnormal, 0.3% something else.


Eyes: OFA just started tracking this. CERF has reports by breed and year but they are not online. 

  • OFA stats: 53 dogs tested, 98.1% normal, 1.8% abnormal. Which probably means one actual dog in the 53 was abnormal. I wish I could find more actual statistics on this. It's a cheap, non-invasive test, and is helpful if repeated yearly, but it can identify inherited issues.


Hips: OFA and PennHip in the US, OVC in Canada, and FCI in Europe has a rating system. In 60 years of testing like crazy, the frequency of the disease in most breeds may have lessened (or breeders only list passing dogs, or they test only clinically normal dogs) but by no means has the disease been eliminated. This disease is both the most tested-for disease in poodles, and has the highest frequency of abnormal dogs. Research shows the age of onset of clinical symptoms can be cut in half - from age 6 to 12 - by feeding dogs 25% less food than they would eat on their own, an approach which, oddly enough, is exceedingly more effective at preserving dogs' quality of life than the breeding efforts of the last 60 years!

     We suspect the genes that cause hip dysplasia also convey - or are bound to other genes which convey - important positive health traits which breeders select FOR in their breeding dogs, even as they select AGAINST the genes that cause hip dysplasia. Otherwise it seems as though there would be far less of this problem by now.  

    As for breed specific research, one very interesting study from the University of Pennsylvania studied four large dog breeds, including standard poodles, and showed that even poodles with hips what we would consider bad PennHipp scores have relatively low risk of ever experiencing actual clinical symptoms of osteoarthritis, the painful condition caused by loose hips. We have to ask - if half of symptoms can be eliminated by keeping a dog very lean, and only a small percentage of dogs will experience negative affects, is this a disease breeding can cure, or a test worth building a breeding program around? Meanwhile, breeders continue to breed for ever tighter hips, even when their dogs have passing results, without any idea what else it may cause. Nature never selects for extremes unless there is an immediate advantage. So why should breeders? A dog with an OFA Fair rating will live a normal life, and will most likely produce dogs with normal lives. 

  • OFA stats: 22,785 poodles tested, 86.8% normal, 12% abnormal.


Legg-Calve-Perthes, chiefly a disease of minis, but seen in at least one standard we know of that is one quarter mini.

  • OFA stats: 732 poodles tested, 99.3% normal, 0.7% abnormal.


Patellar Subluxation, also chiefly a disease of toys and minis, involving dysfunctional kneecaps.

  • OFA stats: 1974 poodles tested, 95.6% normal, 4.4% abnormal.


SA (Sebaceous adenitis) punch test. Recently, thorough studies show that what causes this autoimmune disease in which the sebaceous glands are destroyed remains unclear. The researchers write that "there is no evidence for a single mutation causing the disease" and that in their most current research, "the data further strengthen our belief that SA is a more complex condition with perhaps several genes involved." 

Breeders still do this test, though frankly until there are further conclusions from researchers, this test offers little particularly helpful in making breeding decisions. The test is somewhat invasive, results can depend on which millimeter of skin is tested and which day, and a dog can be positive in some areas and negative in others. Certainly there are no reputable breeders who would breed a dog with full blown SA, but whether the cause is environmental, has an environmental trigger along with a specific but complex combination of genes, we cannot know yet. This test should be done based on comfort level, and known instances in a dogs line, but in no way does a negative result for a dam or sire on this test offer puppy buyers any indication their puppy is less likely to contract the disease. 

  • OFA stats: 4,972 poodles tested, 89.4% normal, 2.9% abnormal, which means 7.7% of the dogs were likely equivocal.


Thyroid testing also shows whether a poodle has a healthy thyroid that day, and is no guarantee of continuing health or health of offspring. The inheritance of thyroiditis is unknown, though it is an autoimmune disease and could in some way related to other autoimmune diseases in poodles. This also means it is almost definitely a complex genetic disease and may well have an environmental component to it. There's a comparatively high frequency of abnormal results in standard poodles, though, surprisingly, it is not widely discussed among breeders.

  • OFA stats: 2745 poodles tested, 87.5% normal, 2.3% abnormal, which means 10.2% are equivocal or inconclusive.

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