There is currently no mandatory health testing requirements for Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Australia. However most of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Clubs do recommend Hip and Elbow x-raying & scoring. 

Most Australian breeders have taken a proactive approach and do undertake other health testing of their breeding stock on top of the x-raying of hips & elbows. This does not mean these conditions are a problem in the breed here, but those breeders are striving to keep the breed free of these things and are taking advantage of the availability of these additional tests.  

The number of tests available to breeders in Australia is limited compared to overseas countries, such as the USA. So if in your research you see a long list of conditions tested for and wonder why we are not testing here, ii may be that we don’t have access to the test and it is not a problem within the breed here so the testing company have not yet added the test to their list of available tests. 

The following is a list of the common tests conducted in the breed in Australia. 

Hip Dysplasia (HD) 

Hip dysplasia (HD) occurs when the hip joint (ball and socket) develop abnormally as the dog is growing. There are many factors that may contribute to HD in dogs; there may be a genetic factor where the dog has inherited the genes for the condition, or it might be non-genetic or environmental in cause. There is evidence that shows injury, weight & exercise play a large role in the development of HD.  Things like over exertion of the hip joint or ligament tear at a young age or repetitive motion on the forming joint, such as jumping, running or playing on hard surfaces. Just because generations of dogs in the pedigree may be free from HD, does not guarantee the puppy will be, but it does increase the likely hood of it being HD free. 

Dogs are x-rayed any time after they turn 12 months in Australia. In other countries they must reach 24 months. The x-rays are then submitted to a specialist vet who scores them over 9 measurable criteria (different angles within the hip joint). The maximum total score is 106, with the higher the score the more likely the dog has or will develop HD. The lower the score the better the hips are. 

There is no mandatory guideline as to what score is acceptable for breeding. But breeders will  use these scores as a tool to decide breeding matches, for example a slightly higher than breed average score would be mated to a lower than breed average score.  The current breed average score is 5. 

PennHip – PennHip is another form of x-raying for HD. These x-rays may be done on puppies 16 wks and over.  PennHip measures the hip laxity as it is believed that excessive hip laxity contributes to HD. PennHip x-rays can only be done by certified PennHip vets. 

Elbow Dysplasia (ED) 

Elbow Dysplasia occurs when the elbow joint does not develop properly as the puppy is growing. As the dog matures, the joint may deteriorate due to wear and tear and this will result in loss of mobility of the joint. This will cause varying degrees of pain, stiffness and lameness.  The first signs of ED often present between 5 to 7 months of age. 

Elbow dysplasia has a high inherited component, but it is also affected by environmental factors, such as injury, over exertion of the elbow joint or ligament tear at a young age, excessive weight and over exercise or repetitive motion on the forming joint, such as jumping, running or playing on hard surfaces. 

Most breeders will x-ray the elbows at the same time they are getting the hip x-rays done.  The same specialist vets will score the elbows.  The elbow is scored from 0 to 3. There is no mandatory guideline as to what score is acceptable for breeding. But it is generally considered that dogs with grade 3 should not be bred and dogs with grade 2 should be considered a risk. 

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) 

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs, with the onset normally being between 7 to 14 yrs. The dogs own immune system attacks the spinal cord sheath, causing inflammation which destroys the myelin sheath leading to progressive nerve damage.  It starts with loss of coordination in the hind limbs, the dog will wobble when walking and knuckle over dragging its feet.  There are many conditions that may resemble DM in symptoms. Correct diagnosis of DM can only be confirmed at post mortem examination. 

DM is inherited and there is a DNA test which will show if the dog carries the gene that will cause it.  Dogs can be tested at any age and the test will show if the dog has a normal set of genes, has one normal & one DM gene (is a carrier but does not have the disease) or has two DM genes (is an affected). Breeders can use these results in their breeding program, for example if your bitch was a carrier you would only use a non-carrier on her. 

This test is available in Australia; so many breeders are doing it. 

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME) 

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME) is a form of epilepsy characterized by sudden muscle spasms or jerks. The spasms often take place when the dog is resting or beginning to sleep.  Affected dogs will start to show symptoms between 6 weeks to 18 months of age. 

JME is inherited and there is a DNA test which will show if the dog carries the gene that will cause it. The test will show if the dog has two normal genes, has one normal & one JME (is a carrier) or has two JME genes.  Dogs that are carries will not have the disease, but should only be mated to non-carriers.  

This test is not available in Australia at the moment, so samples are sent overseas for testing. 

Early Onset Adult Deafness (EOAD) 

Early Onset Adult Deafness (EOAD) is an inherited form of deafness where affected dogs will lose their hearing by 1 year of age.  Puppies may start to lose their hearing as early as 4 months of age and males seem to be affected earlier than females. 

A DNA test will show if the dog carries the gene. The test is not available in Australia at the moment , so samples are sent to the USA. 

Heart Conditions 

There are a number of heart conditions that can affect dogs including the Ridgeback. Most are not considered genetic, but are either congenital defects the puppy is born with, acquired either as a result of an illness or just the wear & tear of old age.  There are a few that might be considered genetic, although there are as yet no DNA tests for them. 

Congenital defects, such as a hole in the heart, are normally picked up by the time of the 6wk vet check and depending on the severity may greatly impact the lifespan of the dog. Some of them can be corrected by operation and result in the dog living a normal active life. It is common for baby animals to be born with a slightly irregular heart beat or murmur, and as the heart grows in relation to the dog the heart beat becomes normal. Some murmurs may not completely disappear and depending on the cause & severity, may or may not impact the dog at all.  A puppy with a heart murmur at the time of the 6wk vaccination / health check will not normally be cleared as fit for sale and would require further investigation as to the cause. Often this will be done by a vet that specialises in hearts or the use of the ultrasound. 

Although any vet can listen to your dog’s heart, only a specialised Cardiologist vet can certify your dog free of any condition. That certificate however will only state that your dog is free of that condition at that time and it does not mean the dog will not later develop it. If a particular heart problem is listed a known condition in that breed, dogs should be certified before breeding and then every 2 years to re-certify the dog as clear.

Dermoid Sinus (DS)

 This is a genetic condition where a very fine tube of skin grows down from the surface of the back into the spine (it’s like a funnel). It is classed as a Neural Tube Defect simular to Spina Bifida in humans. The incidence of DS in Rhodesian Ridgebacks is only around 3-5% of pups born, so it is not that common. It is even rarer in other breeds. Due to the rarity of DS, most vets have never seen it. Detection of a sinus is by gently lifting the skin and feeling for the tube or by shaving the skin to show the opening.  Breeders check and consonantly recheck for sinus. On very rare occasions the sinus may be so small it is missed. Reputable breeders will guarantee against DS and should be consulted if this happens.

Depending on the severity of the sinus (the depth it goes down or position) it may be surgically removed. This is normally done before the puppy leaves the breeder. Dogs with DS must never be bred from and should be desexed.