This page is intended to help prospective owners navigate what may seem at first like an overwhelming task finding a well-bred Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy whose breeder has made health a top concern in his or her breeding program.
Locating a Reputable Breeder
A good place to begin your search for a breeder is the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States’ (RRCUS) Breeders’ Directory.
While membership in a parent club is not a guarantee that a breeder is reputable (just as not being a member does not mean a breeder is disreputable), RRCUS breeders are exposed to a variety of educational materials and club-sponsored seminars that are aimed at increasing their knowledge, especially regarding health and genetics.
At minimum, a breeder should a.) perform health screenings b.) require in writing that all pet-quality puppies be spayed and neutered; c.) request health updates on the pup at regular intervals, and d.) request immediate notification if a health concern (or any other concern) presents itself.
Remember that a breeder is more than just someone who whelped your puppy and raised it for the first eight weeks of its life. A breeder should be a resource and a mentor, someone to whom you can turn if you have a question or concern at any point in your dog’s life. And while a breeder can never guarantee that your dog will be free of problems, a good one will want to know what those problems are, so they can be avoided in future generations.
Ridgelessness and dermoid sinus are the two most common congenital conditions seen in the newborn Ridgeback puppy.
Because of the manner in which the ridge is inherited, some Ridgebacks are born without the signature trait that gives the breed its name. Healthwise, these puppies are no different from their ridged siblings. But because they lack this hallmark breed trait, ridgeless puppies cannot be shown or bred. Many breeders will sell their “slickbacks” as pets on limited AKC registrations and should mandate that they be spayed and neutered.
A reputable Ridgeback breeder will never tell you that a ridge will “grow in later.” A ridgeless puppy will never develop a ridge. In ridged puppies, the ridge that is present at birth is the same ridge that the dog will have its entire life. From length to width to the placement of crowns, or whorls, the ridge will grow proportionately into adulthood.
Dermoid sinus is a dermatological defect in which a tube-like opening onto the skin will become repeatedly infected and abscessed unless surgically corrected. Many veterinarians remove the dermoid when the puppy is 8 weeks or older; however, some veterinarians experienced at performing this surgery on dozens, if not hundreds of Ridgebacks advocate operating as soon as possible a few days after birth for the best results.
Breeders should have dermoid surgery performed on affected puppies before they go to their new homes, and the pups should be well on their way to recovery before you take them home.
For any breeder, performing health screenings is an important part of the breeding process. In general, reputable breeders do not want to breed affected animals that have a very high likelihood of passing the disorder on to their offspring. This is why they perform health screenings.
The following health screenings are the requirements of the Canine Health Information Center, or CHIC, for health-testing Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and are a helpful guideline for the kind of health testing you should inquire about on the sire and dam of a litter. Having a knowledge of these tests can help you formulate and ask questions of the breeders you speak to, and help you find the breeder whose approach is right for you.
Responsible breeders screen all their breeding stock for hip and elbow dysplasia using an independent registry such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (Penn-HIP) or the Ontario Veterinary College Hip and/or Elbow certification program (OVC).
All these registries rely on a panel of independent orthopedic specialists and radiologists to review and grade the X-rays submitted by the breeder’s veterinarian. This is much more accurate and impartial than a letter of “clearance” issued by a regular vet, which is not considered adequate by most purebred-dog parent breed clubs.
At minimum, a reputable Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder screens for hip and elbow dysplasia and will be pleased to show you the OFA, Penn-HIP or OVC certificates on both the sire and dam of the litter and often of their parents and grandparents as well.
Hip and elbow screenings are required only once in the life of the dog.
This testing is done to ensure the dogs are free from heritable thyroiditis. While hypothyroidism is not life-threatening and is easily treated with daily medication, its prevalence in the breed is a concern: Ridgebacks rank # 8 in the OFA’s list of breeds most often diagnosed as affected, and hypothyroidism is the #1 health problem reported in the RRCUS health survey.
While some breeders have their thyroid panels interpreted by the OFA (and subsequently have the results posted on the OFA web site), others do not, instead choosing alternate means of interpreting the panel results. Because the three values required for a “pass” on the thyroid panel can fluctuate, and because some values are more important for the accurate diagnosis of heritable thyroiditis than others, some breeders choose to have a veterinary endocrinologist or pathologist assess their dog’s thyroid status. Other may turn to a veterinarian with a nuanced and breed-specific understanding of thyroid disease (such as Dr. Jean Dodds of Hemopet), a Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder-veterinarian, or their personal veterinarian familiar with autoantibody profiles.
In the absence of an OFA Thyroid clearance, a breeder should be able to discuss the results of current and previous thyroid panels on the sire and dam of the puppy with you and present authoritative documentation of the normal thyroid status and lack of evidence of heritable thyroid disease. This should be plainly written and easily understood.
Thyroid evaluations are recommended regularly on dogs in active breeding programs.
Though vision-impairing eye problems are not widespread in our breed, there is an incidence of juvenile cataracts. While this disorder does not progress to cause vision impairment or blindness, researchers tell us that breeding affected dogs can and will lead to more serious manifestations of the disease down the line. A breeder screening his or her breeding stock for eye disorders and not breeding dogs with cataracts or other eye problems ensures that such disorders will not become entrenched in the breed.
The independent registry that screens dogs for ophthalmologic disorders is the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, or CERF. You can search this link for eye exams on the sire and dam. CERF exams are recommended regularly on dogs in active breeding programs.
As with thyroid, not all breeders choose to pay additional funds to have their results posted to the CERF registry, relying instead on the assessment given by the ophthalmologist performing the examination. Again, as with thyroid, a breeder should be able to discuss the outcome of this eye exam, and show you paperwork that demonstrates the dog in question has passed.
In addition to the four areas of testing mentioned above, some breeders obtain clearances to show that their dogs are free of heart problems (OFA Cardiac clearance) as well as hearing deficiencies (Brain Auditory Evoked Response, or BAER, test).
Heart abnormalities and deafness are relatively uncommon problems in the Rhodesian Ridgeback, though cases do exist. Breeders who choose to do these tests are indeed going the extra mile for the breed.