CERF is the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, located at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, in West Lafayette, Indiana. It was founded by a group of concerned breeder/owners with the stated goal of “eliminating heritable eye diseases in purebred dogs through registration, research, and education”.
CERF cooperates with the American College of Veterinary Opthamologists (ACVO), whose members examine dogs in an entierly non-invasive manner, and accurately diagnose any heritable eye disease. There is no minimum age for CERF registration, but the certification number is only valid for a one year period after examination, and the examination needs to be repeated annnually until seven years of age for the certification number to remain valid.
In 1992, when well over 100,000 Rottweilers were registered in North America by the Canadian and American Kennel Clubs, only 383 Rottweilers had their eyes examined and the results submitted to CERF in regards to heritable eye disease. Of these 383 dogs, 115 or 30%, showed evidence of one or more heritable eye diseases! Again, as in hip dysplasia, these results are skewed toward normal, as these are dogs owned by reputable, conscientious, concerned breeders who have their dogs eyes examined. Imagine how many other Rottweilers are out there that have a heritable eye disease and have never been examined, either through breeder/owner ignorance, fear or just plain stupidity! I, again, would hazard a guess that our breed’s incidence of heritable eye disease would be in the 40%-50% range.
WE WILL NEVER KNOW UNLESS WE HAVE OUR DOGS CHECKED!!!
The examining opthamologists that I have spoken with at local eye clinics (Dr. Sue West and Dr. Melanie Williams, both board certified veterinary opthamologists) have indicated that AT LEAST one in every 3-4 Rottweilers that they routinely examine is aflicted with some type of heritable eye disease. The most common problem seen is retinal atrophy, degeneration or dysplasia. This can sometimes be recognised as early as 2-3 months of age. It starts with a degeneration at the top of the light sensitive nerve layer in the back of the eye, and continues to spread downward, until after 4-6 years vision is lost almost completely. The second most common problem is cataracts, or opacity of the lens. The normally clear lens tissue becomes “cloudy” and vision is lost. The two major lid deformities that are mentioned as disqualifications in our Breed Standard are also seen with alarming regularity, those being entropion (in-rolling eyelid) and ectropion (out-rolling eyelid). Both of these conditions are painful for the affected dog and often require surgical correction. I am often alarmed when I attend dogs shows in my area, at the number of dogs (and Specials!) being shown, that I, as a veterinarian, would classify as having a lid deformity. Obviously, judges need to be better educated in order to recognize these defects, because they cannot disqualify a dog for having a condition they are not able to recognize.
It is very inexpensive to have your dog’s eyes examined by a board certified opthamologist, especailly if you take advantage of the eye clinics organized by various clubs. My home club organizes an eye clinic twice yearly and the cost is $25.00 per dog. I have each dog’s eyes checked at approximately 1 year of age, to determine whether they qualify at this point as “keepers” or “placers” (similar to OFA prelims). They are checked once again prior to first breeding, usually between two and three years of age, and thereafter are checked annually until 7 years of age. Any and all affected dogs are removed from my gene pool, and decisions are then made with the help of other knowledgable veterinarians who specialize in these diseases, as to the fate of close relatives. My first homebred champion bitch was diagnosed with juvenile cataracts bilaterally at 2 years of age, just prior to a planned breeding. She was immediately spayed and placed into a pet home. Unfortunately her dam had already been rebred at this point. She whelped 10 puppies, 9 of which were spayed/neutered and placed into pet homes. I kept the other bitch for myself, not knowing where the cataracts had come from, since the dam had continued to CERF clear up until this time (she was now 5 years old). However, upon finding out that a male from the first litter also had cataracts, and a sister to the dam had produced at least one dog with cataracts, I decided that genetically, these problems were a little too close for comfort! The remaining bitch, and the dam of these two litters were both spayed and retired into pet homes (none of my relatives will even answer the phone when I call…I’m always trying to find homes for less then perfect dogs!!). That was my first five years in Rottweilers…LIVE AND LEARN!
Dr. Cathy Priddle, DVM