Genetic Testing in Bichons

OFA EYE (previously called “CERF”):  Genetic cataracts continue to plague Bichons as the #5 health issue in the breed. To obtain eye certification, you need a canine ophthalmologist. The eye exam forms for certification will be located at the ophthalmology Clinic. Eye certification is only valid for one year and the Bichon cataracts can develop anytime from the age of 1 to 8 years.

At the exam, the staff will place a drop or two of dilating drops in your Bichon’s eyes. After approximately 20 minutes the canine ophthalmologist will exam your dog’s eye in a darkened room. The procedure takes approximately 10 minutes and is completely painless although some dogs do get nervous during the procedure.

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, find a veterinarian who is very proficient at achieving the proper xray, or utilize an orthopedic specialist. 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. OFA recommends sedation to obtain an optimal xray, but accepts precise xray films without sedation. The BFCA prefers no sedation because of the health risks of anesthesia and the compliance of Bichons.The xray is painless and takes less than one minute to complete.

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 canine cardiologist , 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. 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 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 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

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

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)