Blood Tests for FN and prcd-PRA

Because I didn’t know if Peggy was clear or a carrier of FN or prcd-PRA I had to book her in for some blood tests which then had to be sent off to Antagene and Optigen for testing. Antagene is a laboratory in France.  They test for FN. Optigen is in the States and they carry out the test for prcd-PRA.   There isn’t a laboratory in the UK that is licensed to do these tests, so you need to allow plenty of time for the results to come back.  It takes about 2 weeks for the FN test to come through and between 4 to 5 weeks for the Optigen test.

I booked an appointment at my Vets on March 7th for Peggy to have some blood taken.  My vet Honeybourne Vet Practice in Cheltenham were brilliant.  They hadn’t taken blood for these specific tests before and Toby from the Vet’s Practice did some research to ensure he took enough blood and that it was put in the right containers for sending off to the labs.  Toby also downloaded the relevant forms he needed to complete from the Antagene website and talked me through what I had to do with the blood samples once they were ready to go.

I’ve never had to have blood taken from Peggy before and so was a little nervous about the whole thing.  First of all Toby shaved some fur off Peggy’s neck as he wanted to take blood from the vein in her neck.  I had to hold Peggy’s head at an angle so he could get a good view of the vein.  Peggy was obviously very unhappy and apparently the pulse in her main artery was beating so much that it made it difficult for Toby.  He didn’t want to hit her main artery so we stopped.  The next plan was to take blood from Peggy’s front leg.  Toby shaved some fur off her right leg and called in the receptionist to help.  We both held Peggy and Toby managed to insert the needle and draw off two phials of blood.  Peggy was not happy at all and tried to get away.  To be honest I felt really awful.  It was my fault that I was putting my dog through this and at that moment I felt like just walking away.  Then Toby said he would really have liked some more blood but the vein in Peggy’s leg had collapsed.  I had to make a decision.  Did I put Peggy through another few minutes of discomfort or just hope that we had enough blood for both the tests?

I decided that we’d come this far and what would have been the point of putting Peg through all this, including the eye tests if I stopped now.  Toby shaved some fur off her left leg and we started again.  Peggy really didn’t like that at all, she whimpered and tried to pull away and I felt like crying.  In fact when I got home, I did.  But it worked.  Toby managed to get 4 good phials of blood and asked me to come back later to collect it once he’d labelled them and packaged it up.

When I got home, I cried, gave Peggy a big hug and sat down with a cup of tea.  The hard part was over, now all I had to do was download the forms from the Antagene and Optigen website, fill them in and send them off with the blood samples.  It’s pretty self explanatory, you need your dogs pedigree name, registration number and results of any previous tests to fill in the form properly.  I decided to send all the blood to Antagene first.  They would then extract the DNA and send if off to Optigen.

Later that afternoon I walked to the Post Office with my precious cargo.  This would determine whether I could let Peggy have puppies or not.  If she was affected by either of these diseases, not only would it mean that I could not breed from her, but also I would know that one day my beautiful Peg would become seriously ill.

Fingers crossed for the results.  I needed them quick as Peggy was now in season and I didn’t want to mate her with another dog until I knew.

Next Blog:  The results are in!

FN, PRA, Glaucoma, prcd-PRA

Having watched a programme on TV about Pedigree Dogs and the horrendous diseases that can be passed onto puppies if the parents carry certain genes, I thought I should find out which diseases affect Cocker Spaniels and if my dog could pass anything nasty on to her puppies.

My first stop was the Cocker Spaniel Breed Council website.  This was really helpful and gave me all the following information:

The Cocker Spaniel is generally a healthy breed with no major problems.

However there are some inherited conditions that do affect the breed. The most significant conditions are PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), and FN (Familial Nethropathy or shrunken kidney) which are both recessive (meaning both parents must carry the faulty gene to produce affected progeny). Some Hip Dysplasia is also seen in the breed. Hip Dysplasia is more complex and it is likely that several different genes are involved. It is also likely that environmental factors (exercise, growth rate, nutrition) play a contributory role in the development of the disease.

Kennel Club health schemes, as listed below, have been set up to help breeders try to eradicate some of these problems.

Kennel Club /British Veterinary Association eye test for Glaucoma, Generalised PRA, and Centralised PRA. This is a requirement for all people breeding for both the dog and bitch on an annual basis. Only animals tested clear should be bred from. This test is performed by one of the recommended panel of eye specialists. More information on the eye scheme and a list of eye panellists can be found at

There is also now a DNA test for GPRA (also known as prcd-PRA) which is available from the American company, Optigen. It is a one-off test done from a small sample of the dog’s blood, which is sent away to the US for analysis, resulting in the dog being declared clear, a carrier, or affected with the disease. This is now a recommended test for Cocker breeders who are members of the Kennel Club Accredited Breeder Scheme. For more information on the Optigen test, visit

Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association Hip Scoring scheme, recommended by the Kennel Club for all dogs and bitches prior to being bred from. This is a one off X-ray done by any veterinary surgeon under anesthetic, usually performed before the age of 18 months, and then submitted to one of the Kennel Club’s panel of assessors. When a dog is hip scored, the degree of hip dysplasia present is indicated by a score assigned to each hip. The hip score is the sum of the points awarded for each of nine aspects of the X-rays of both hip joints. The minimum hip score is 0 and the maximum is 106 (53 for each hip). The lower the score the less the degree of hip dysplasia present. An average (or mean) score is calculated for all breeds scored under the scheme and advice for breeders is to only breed from dogs with scores well below the breed mean score. The current breed mean score for Cockers is 14 (as at November 2008).

More information on the Hip Dysplasia scheme can be found at

FN is a recessively inherited disease which leads to kidney failure in affected Cockers typically between 6 and 24 months of age. In May 2006, it was announced that the research team at Texas A&M University had located the gene mutation which causes FN in Cockers and a gene test has now been developed. The French company, Antagene has the exclusive licence to offer the FN test to owners and breeders in Europe. Information on pricing and how to obtain sampling kits can be found at   More detailed information about FN and the American research can be found at

Another useful link for information on the Cocker Spaniel breed can be found at