by Vickie Halstead RN, CVNS, CCRN, CEN
Some breeders may be confused about the process of completing OFA and CERF certifications for their Bichons, which certainly can be complicated. After reading all the material on the OFA web site www.offa.org and emailing them with questions, I hope this summary will help.
Breeders need to share health data with other breeders to facilitate wise breeding decisions, which can be accomplished by releasing the information to the public, i.e. it will be posted on the OFA web site. This site contains not only information and statistics about all of the diseases that can achieve an OFA certification, but also CERF and OFA reports on each dog and its relatives. To find a particular Bichon or breeder, just click on “search OFA records”. Many breeders routinely access the OFA web site when searching for a mate for their dog. Also, some wise pet buyers are consulting this web site to find reputable breeders that complete health clearances prior to breeding. If you do not submit the OFA or CERF forms to the appropriate certifying body, there will be no report on your Bichon on the OFA web site.
CERF: Genetic cataracts continue to plague Bichons as the #5 health issue in the breed. To obtain CERF certification, you need to find a canine ophthalmologist who will provide the forms at the clinic. You will need to complete the form with data on the dog from its AKC registration paper and the dog needs a microchip or tattoo for identification. Dr. Gelatt, who is researching Bichon cataracts, recommends the initial CERF exam at the age of 1 year, and annually thereafter since CERF certification is only valid for one year and the Bichon cataracts can develop anytime from the age of 1 to 8 years. Once the form and exam is completed, you receive one copy, the ophthalmologist retains one copy, and one copy is sent to CERF for research data whether the dog’s eyes are normal or abnormal. CERF sends data to me at the end of each year that contains the incidence of specific eye diseases in Bichons, but no names of dogs or kennels, so the data is anonymous.
If your Bichon’s eyes are normal and you chose to send your copy to CERF, the data will appear on the OFA web site as soon as the dog has some type of OFA certification completed. If you do not complete any OFA certifications on your dog, the CERF report will never appear on the OFA web site because OFA requires a database to be established on that particular dog prior to importing data from CERF. If your Bichon fails the CERF exam and you send your copy of the completed form to CERF, they will return it to you with a refund of the fee. Instead, you can send the form to OFA (their mailing address is on their web site) with a note that you want the results posted on their web site to share with other breeders.
OFA HIPS, ELBOWS: Hip and elbow dysplasia are rare diseases in Bichons, but do exist and are very debilitating. To obtain OFA certification of hips and elbows you should find a veterinarian who is very proficient at achieving the proper xray, or utilize an orthopedic specialist at a university veterinary clinic. Your Bichon must be at least 2 years of age for a permanent hip or elbow certification, but preliminary certifications can be completed if your dog is at least one year of age. If you plan to complete both OFA certifications, there is a price break if they are completed simultaneously. OFA recommends sedation to obtain an optimal xray, but accepts precise xray films without sedation. Personally, I prefer no sedation because of the health risks of anesthesia and the compliance of Bichons.
If your dog passes the OFA certification process as being free of hip dysplasia, then the hips are rated as fair, good, or excellent. A rating of fair does not mean your dog has hip dysplasia, which is a disease that the dog either has or does not have, like pregnancy—you either are pregnant or not. Breeding a Bichon with fair hips is the breeder’s option, however consider only breeding that dog to a dog with hips rated either excellent or good by OFA.
OFA PATELLAS (KNEES): Patellar luxation, a kneecap that pops in and out of place, can be evident at the age of 8 weeks and causes lameness and pain. Its incidence in Bichons has become pervasive, climbing from #9 in 1992 to #3. Patella certification only requires an exam by a veterinarian, not a specialist. Instructions on the procedure are contained in the application form. Your dog must be at least 1 year of age, and bitches must not be in season or pregnant to avoid the effects of hormone fluctuations. Patellar luxation can develop anytime before or after one year of age, so BFCA encourages you to do subsequent exams yearly. Puppies should be examined at the age of 6-8 weeks for patellar luxation prior to sale, but cannot be certified until 1 year of age.
OFA CARDIAC: The prevalence of heart diseases in Bichons has escalated from #11 to #7. To obtain cardiac OFA certification, the optimal method is to choose a cardiologist at a university veterinary clinic, the second choice is an internist, but a veterinarian can also perform the exam if they have received advanced training in congenital heart disease and detecting soft murmurs. The exam requires the vet to listen to heart sounds and examine your dog for signs of heart disease such as weak pulses, color changes in the skin, and an abnormal heart rate or rhythm. This certification can be obtained at the age of 1 year.
OFA CONGENITAL DEAFNESS: According to OFA “Congenital deafness has been reported for approximately 80 breeds, with the list growing at a regular rate”. Bichons are included in this list, most of which are dogs with light colored coats that may indicate a pigment-associated genetic link. Dogs that have unilateral deafness are at as much risk to pass this to offspring as dogs with bilateral deafness. However, a dog with unilateral deafness shows no signs of hearing loss (since the other ear is functional) but DOES pass the gene, indicating the need to test dogs that appear to have adequate hearing.
The test for deafness is the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER), which can be performed by preferably a veterinary neurologist or an experienced veterinarians/audiologists at the age of at least 35 days, with chemical restraint optional. Three of my dogs, the only Bichons ever BAER certified, completed this test without problems. It involves attaching tiny electrodes to the scalp and placing earphones in the ears, all attached to a monitor that displays a waveform with each sound introduced to the dog. The dog must lie still to avoid artifact from movement, which was easily accomplished on my adult Bichons, but may be a challenge for puppies.
OFA THYROID: This certification is accomplished by sending a blood sample to an approved laboratory that tests the dog for hypothyroidism, most commonly caused by autoimmune thyroiditis. The onset of the disease is variable, most commonly at 2-5 years of age. However, the blood test measures autoantibodies for this disease that are most often present in the blood by the age of 3-4 years. Testing at 1 year of age and retesting yearly is recommended, and bitches must not be in season or pregnant to avoid the effects of hormone fluctuations. Hypothyroid disease is rare in Bichons.
OFA Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCPD): LCPD is another hip disease that can be included in OFA certifications, free of charge as long as the dog’s hips have been OFA certified. The same xray can be used to evaluate for hip dysplasia and LCPD, however a dog that has LCPD will not pass OFA certification of the hips. The LCPD form, which can be downloaded from the OFA web site, is submitted either with the hip OFA form or separately. This hereditary disease is more serious and more common in Bichons than hip dysplasia. The femoral head that sits inside the hip socket becomes necrotic from lack of blood supply, which results in degeneration of the bone. If your dog receives an OFA hip certificate, it does not have this disease. If your dog does not have OFA hip certification you can obtain LCPD certification after the age of 1 year by submitting an xray and the LCPD form to OFA with the required fee. You can read more about this disease at www.bichonhealth.org/HealthInfo/LeggCalvesPerthes.htm.
FORMS: The forms for OFA certifications can be downloaded from the OFA web site by clicking on “OFA applications”. On these forms there is a box where you can sign to authorize the abnormal results to be published:
If you chose not to sign this area, and later you wish to publish abnormal results, there is a form you can download from the OFA web site by clicking on “open database authorization”. If you chose to publish abnormal results, the veterinarian must send the xray and a copy of the form to OFA. If you do not chose to publish abnormal results, please assure that the vet sends the xrays and forms to OFA so the data can be utilized for research, which remains anonymous. Data obtained from the OFA reflects the incidence of these diseases in Bichons and helps us determine research priorities. If abnormal xrays and forms are not sent to OFA, showing a false low incidence for that particular disease will skew the data.
OFA and VPI: OFA recommends that all dogs examined for OFA certifications have their identity verified by the examining veterinarian, evidenced by an addition to their new forms this year—the area where the veterinarian indicates whether they verified the identification of the dog via the tattoo or microchip:
If the examining vet has the old OFA forms without this VPI (verification of permanent identification) area added, a separate VPI form can be submitted with the old OFA form, which can be downloaded from the OFA web site: http://www.offa.org/pdf/vpiapp_bw.pdf.
As of January 1, 2008 AKC will no longer accept OFA data from hip and elbow certifications into their registry unless the VPI requirements are met. This means that your Bichon must have permanent identification (tattoo or microchip) verified by the examining vet, indicated in the VPI area of the hip or elbow OFA form or on a separate VPI form, in order for the OFA numbers for hips and elbows to appear on official AKC pedigrees and registration papers. If you have any doubts about the identity of a dog certified, refer to the suffixes of the OFA numbers for a dog that is listed on the OFA web site:
NOPI = number issued to a dog without any permanent ID
PI = number issued to a dog WITH permanent ID, but the ID was not verified and signed off by the examining veterinarian
VPI = number issued to a dog WITH permanent ID, and the ID was verified by the vet, and these results go to the AKC (as of 1/1/08)