Lappies are a healthy breed with relatively few health concerns. Their vigor is most likely related to both their wild ancestry and centuries of life as a working breed in the extreme conditions of Lappland, where the principle of 'survival of the fittest' no doubt played a major part.
Lappies have a life span of approximately 12 to 14 years, but dogs of 16 - 17 are not uncommon in Finland.
However, there are a few conditions that are seen in the breed (listed below). It should be noted that these conditions are not unique to Finnish Lapphunds but can occur in a number of other breeds, and in cross breeds. As a general rule, the incidence of problematic health conditions in the breed is very low, especially now that breeders have various tests available to screen the health of the parents before breeding from them. However, there are a number of particular conditions that have occurred in recent years (see below). It is therefore very important that you only buy from an ANKC/kennel association registered breeder, who has taken the time to research and where possible test the health and genetic background of your new pup, and that you ask your breeder to disclose any health issues in their lines.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (also known as PRA)
Put simply, PRA is an inherited disease that causes blindness in dogs. There are a few different types of PRA, which is essentially a progressive hereditary eye disease, and may occur early or late in life, depending on the type of PRA. The early symptoms in dogs are a loss of night vision, which gradually extends to a loss of day vision as well.In the early stages there may be an unusual greenish reflection in the animal's eyes in low light conditions. The actual loss of sight will then occur over a relatively short period of time, usually culminating in total blindness.
In Finnish Lapphund the most common form of PRA is late onset (known as prcd-PRA), with early signs often not appearing until 5 to 8 years of age. However, the incidence of clinically diagnosed PRA in Finnish Lapphunds in Finland is low, and with genetic testing breeders are now able to screen for this type of late onset PRA (it's important to note, however, that we can only genetically screen for this one type, and while other types have rarely occured in the breed, the form of inheritance is not yet understood).
In prcd-PRA, the disease is inherited via a simple autosomal recessive gene. What this means is that a dog carries either “Normal” genes, “Abnormal” genes or a combination of both, depending on what it inherited from its parents. The Abnormal gene is the one that causes the actual disease condition of PRA, but importantly, is recessive to the Normal gene. This means that whenever it is paired up with a Normal gene, the Normal gene will mask the expression of the Abnormal gene and the dog will not develop the disease. It is only when the Abnormal gene is paired up with another Abnormal gene, with no Normal gene to keep a lid on them, that these genes are free to be expressed and so the disease may develop.
This means that in terms of genotype (gene pattern), there are three possible pairings of genes that a Lappie could carry and that are revealed by the DNA test:
- Normal/Normal, known as Clear
- Normal/Abnormal, known as a Carrier
- Abnormal/Abnormal, known as Affected
Registered breeders in Australia do only two types of mating. These are Clear x Clear (all resulting progeny will be classified as Clear by Parentage), or Clear x Carrier (each pup has a 50% chance of being Clear and a 50% chance of being a Carrier). This means that there should never be prcd-PRA affected pups bred by registered breeders who test for prcd-PRA.
While for those looking for a puppy as a pet its prcd-PRA status is largely irrelevant, for breeders, this information if very important. All of our pups with a carrier parent are DNA tested for the prcd-PRA status by the time of purchase, and this information is shared with their owners as part of their general health information.
If, for whatever reason, a Breeder refuses to screen puppies from a litter where a parent is a carrier or the prcd-PRA status is unknown, we would NOT recommend that you purchase a puppy from them.
Hereditary Cataracts & Other Degenerative Eye Conditions
While prcd-PRA is the main concern in Finnish Lapphunds, there are a few other eye diseases that, while rare, can and do occur. Both the sire and dam of our litters are opthamologically tested by a vet qualified under the Australian Canine Eye Scheme (ACES) within the last 18 months, and we only breed with dogs cleared for breeding by the ACES vets. In addition, we ACES test our litters. This information is useful not only to us, but contributes useful results for any future research conducted on eye diseases in Finnish Lapphunds in Australia.
There are many types of cataracts, which essentially is the lens or the lens capsule becoming opaque. Causes may be due to a congenital abnormality, an infection in utero, trauma or injury to the eye, a metabolic disorder, the result of nutritional disorders or as a result of the influence of certain drugs. Cataracts may also be hereditary; while rare, there have been a number of instances of this occurring in Finnish Lapphunds. As cataracts develop over time, periodic testing is necessary.
Unfortunately, the genetic inheritance of hereditary cataracts (HC) in Finnish Lapphunds is not currently known or understood, although there is research underway at Helsinki University. Consequently, although there are genetic tests available for HC in other breeds, this is not the case for Lappies. It appears from the research conducted so far, that HC found in Lappies has a different mode of inheritance than that in these other breeds, for which a test is available. As a result, these tests cannot genetically determine whether a Lappie does or does not have HC, or whether it carries the condition.
Dogs used for breeding should have their eyes checked and cleared by a specialist vet, an ophthalmologist registered with ACES (AVA-ANKC Australian Canine Eye Scheme). This needs to be done prior to mating and thereafter at least every two years, so that the current status of the dog’s eye health is known. Any affected dogs can then be withdrawn from the breeding pool. This is not a foolproof way of ensuring eye diseases are not produced in offspring, but is the best method currently available.
Hereditary cataracts in the Finnish Lapphund usually appear after the first year, although there have been some isolated cases of juvenile cataracts in the breed. In Finland, the proportion of hereditary cataracts was 3.59% as of March 2010, making it the most common of the eye conditions to impact on the breed in its native country.We have not had any HC reported in Finnish Lapphunds in Australia as yet.
There are three forms of retinal dysplasia, which are all types of abnormal development of the eye's retina, present at birth. There are two layers in the retina and if these do not form or gel together properly, damage to the inner surface of the retina results. While these conditions may be hereditary, they can also be the result of a viral infection or some other event prior to birth.
The three types of RD are listed right, along with their effects on a dog’s eye sight and breeding recommendations from the Lapphund Club of Finland.
Many breeds and cross breeds exhibit retinal dysplasia, but this condition is very rare in the Finnish Lapphund breed, with a rate of only 1.08 % in Finland as of March 2010.
Currently, there are two recorded cases of MRD in Australia, out of 27 Lappies whose eye test data is currently publicly available from ACES.
Multifocal retinal dysplasia (MRD)
Multifocal retinal dysplasia is diagnosed when the retina is afflicted with many small dark lesions. Each of these dark lesions is where the retina has not developed normally. While most dogs with mild RD do not show any clinical signs (their vision is essentially normal, despite the RD causing small blind spots) dogs affected with multifocal retinal dysplasia (MRD) are at risk of retinal detachment resulting in vision loss. In severe cases, clinical blindness occurs.
These two conditions, Persistent Hyperplastic Tunica Vasculosa Lentis (PHTVL) and Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous (PHPV), are congenital eye anomalies, which affect the lens of the eye. When the eye is developing in utero, a system of blood vessels coats the lens, feeding the eye structure during its development. In normal development, these blood vessels break down prior to birth and disappear without a trace, but in these conditions the blood vessels remain beyond birth and can interfere with the dog’s sight.
There are various levels of these conditions which can be diagnosed, from Grade 1through to Grade 6. There will generally be no impairment to vision with Grade 1. In grades 2 to 5, there is increasingly poor vision. A Grade 6 condition means there is a total cataract across the lens and the dog is completely blind.
The condition is known to be hereditary in other breeds, but no research has been done regarding Finnish Lapphunds. The incidence in the breed is very low, being 1.56% as of March 2010 in Finland. To June 2009, there were no recorded cases in Australia, according to ACES data, out of the 27 Lappies included in that data.
The Lapphund Club of Finland advises that only dogs with a Grade 1 or 2 should be bred from. They recommend that any dog diagnosed with a Grade 3 to 6 form of PHTVL/PHPV should be excluded from breeding.
Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM)
The pupillary membrane covers the puppy’s pupil during its foetal development. Normally, this membrane completely dissolves before the puppy is born, but sometimes small strands of the membrane can still persist. They can disappear by the time the puppy is 4 to 5 weeks old, but if they don’t, the puppy is said to have PPM (Persistent Pupillary Membrane).
The strands of membrane can be attached to different points of the eye and this will determine how the dog’s vision is affected.
Canine Hips Dysplasia (CHD)
Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) occurs in most breeds of dogs (including mixed breeds) and can result in debilitating orthopedic disease of the hip. A dog that has hip dysplasia is said to be dysplastic and has hip joints that are not formed perfectly (caused when the femoral head does not fit properly in the hip socket), which causes instability of the joint. Over time, this malformation can cause degenerative joint disease, resulting in increased pain and immobility. CHD is not apparent at birth, and any imperfection can be slight or severe. A dysplastic dog may experience no pain or problems from its condition or it may experience mild to severe discomfort when moving.
Although CHD is not common in Lappies, we test for hips and elbows, and make this information freely available to those interested in our Lappies.
What are Hip Scores?
A hip score is a numerical score that is generated by scoring different physical aspects of the hip joint and adding these values together. Generally, the lower the score the better, although numbers vary in different countries as different assessment systems are used.
In Australia, the system used to grade hips scores is know as the BVA/KC (this system is also used in Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand). The process scores each hip joint based on the severity of changes of 9 specific features of the joint (known as morphological radiographic criteria). Each joint element (criterion) is scored from 0 (ideal) to 6 (worst). These different elements are added together and the final hip score is calculated as the sum between 0 and 53 for each hip joint, and then as an overall sum of both hips (0-106). To illustrate, a score of 2/3 (2 in one hip and 3 in the other) will be an overall score of 5. In Finnish Lapphunds, the breed average is 12 - 13.
The figures below give a visual representation of the different variations in hip-joint placement. The table below gives the international equivalents.
Is CHD Genetic?
It should be noted that CHD is not only an inherited condition and that other factors such as feeding, exercise and environment, including over exercise at an early age, may play a part in the development of the condition. We also do not recommend that Lappie puppies undertake rigorous physical activity (eg Agility) until they are over 12 months old.
More information on CHD
For more information on CHD and scores, see the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website - the OFA has been around for over 40 years and has excellent information on CHD.
In addition to screening for canine hip dysplasia, lapphund breeders will also test for elbows (usually at the same time as hips) to ensure that there aren't any concerns. Like CHD, arthrosis occurs when the ball and socket joint do not meet tightly, resulting in pain and movement problems for the affected dog over time. While it is considered rare for a case of elbow dysplasia to arise in Lappies, there have been a few instances in the breed and as such most breeders will screen for elbows as part of their pre-breeding assessment.
In a process similar to the assessment of hips, elbows are X-rayed and each elbow joint is given a score from 0 to 3; the lower the better. A score of 0 means there is no sign of arthrosis, while scores of 1 - 3 indicate minimal to severe arthrosis. In the majority of cases the score is 0/0, although there have been some instances where scores of 0/1, 1/0 or 1/1 scores have been seen. Only vary rarely have any higher scores been seen.
As with hip scores, you should also be able to view the elbow scores of your pup's parents. We make public our dog's scores and are happy to discuss these.
Other Conditions found in the Breed:
In Finland, Lappies with the following conditions have been recorded - please note that these conditions and diseases are often common across many, or most dog breeds (and cross breeds), and so while incidents have occured occassionaly, these are not specific to the breed but rather reflective of the general dog population.
- Addisons Disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Monorchid/chryptorchid dogs
- Some heart conditions
- Various cancers
Important note: In Australia, there have been instances in recent years of heart conditions (both confirmed and unconfirmed but suspected), Addison's disease, non-genetically testable PRA, Cryptorchidism (undescended testicle/s), epilepsy and skin conditions in the breed. While not usual, some of these cases may have a genetic link, so talk with breeders about the health issues they know of in their lines.