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Overview and Prevalence of Genetic Defects in the Rhodesian Ridgeback

By Cynthia Roethel, Senior Chair
RRCUS Health and Genetics Committee

In 1996, the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States undertook the task of coordinating a nationwide health survey for the breed. The purpose of that survey was—and still is—to develop a better understanding of the health issues affecting Ridgebacks.

Since the survey’s inception a decade ago, there have been two tabulations of the data: the first after the initial data collection in 1996 and another in 2001. The information the health survey gives us is an invaluable tool: Besides identifying health issues, it allows us to monitor changes that might indicate an increase or decrease in the occurrence of a particular disease.

At the 2002 Rhodesian Ridgeback Specialty in Lansing, Mich., the late canine geneticist and veterinarian Dr. George Padgett, DVM, presented a seminar on the “Control of Canine Genetic Disease.” Dr. Padgett was given our health survey to analyze, and he tailored his presentation to Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Going through our health survey, Dr. Padgett highlighted those diseases and conditions known to be heritable (genetic). His criteria for including a genetic disease were very straightforward: There had to have been an occurrence in at least one member of the breed that was confirmed by a qualified veterinary diagnostician.

Dr. Padgett acknowledged that there is a chance of error, but he asked us to consider that the best time to stop a genetic disease is when there is only one or perhaps a few cases of it in the breed. He reminded us that if 1 percent of the population is affected with a genetic disease whose mode of inheritance is recessive, it means that 18 percent of the population are carriers.

Dr. Padgett and I discussed where the Rhodesian Ridgeback stands in terms of genetic disease, and he commented that the breed is in the lower middle range in terms of number of genetic defects in purebred dogs.  Dr. Padgett also confirmed a hunch I have had for a long time: That clubs that actively pursue getting a handle on the health of their breed by doing comprehensive health surveys will always have a higher number of genetic defects identified, and that number will always be higher than what was previously assumed. (For more information about purebred dog breeds and genetic defects consult Dr. Padgett’s book, “Control of Canine Genetic Disease.”)

The Rhodesian Ridgeback health survey was designed to monitor trends over time. If all Ridgeback owners provide surveys on all Rhodesian Ridgebacks born after January 1, 1984 (healthy or not), and updated them when necessary, a diagnostic error would very quickly become obvious, as the disease frequency would decrease to nearly nothing. The need for health surveys on all Ridgebacks cannot be over-emphasized. This includes healthy, unaffected dogs, as well as dogs with health problems.

The health survey is a tool for us to critically evaluate the health of the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed as a whole. No survey is perfect – there can be numerous errors in the reporting of disease, starting at the veterinarian’s office and ending at the table when you fill out the survey. NONETHELESS, this is the best tool we have to assess the health of our breed.

The diseases, modes of inheritance, frequency of each disease and Dr. Padgett’s guesstimation for gene frequency in the Rhodesian Ridgeback are listed below. These are in the order in which they appear in the health survey and are in no way prioritized. Also, the severity of the diseases varies widely. Some have little to no impact on the life of the dog with treatment, while others are severely debilitating.

Based on the data in the health survey, Dr. Padgett determined that each Rhodesian Ridgeback carries genes for approximately 6.6 of these genetic defects, which is about the same as we carry as humans. Dr. Padgett asserted that knowing which 6.6 genetic defects your Ridgeback carries, prioritizing them and then breeding away from them is the key to controlling canine disease.

Age at
Disease Mode of
Guesstimation of
(% carriers )
1<8 yearsHypothyroidismR5.0/10034.7%
2<5 yearsAddison's diseaseUND0.2/1008.4%
3<8 yearsHyperadrenocorticismUND0.1/1006.0%
4<3 yearsDiabetes mellitusUND0.06/1004.7%
5<4 yearsHyperparathyroidismUND0.06/1004.7%
6<4 yearsAutoimmune hemolyticanemiaUND0.1/1006.0%
7<6 yearsImmune mediated polyarthritisUND0.06/1004.7%
8<10 yearsImmune mediated thrombocytopeniaUND0.06/1004.7%
9<9 yearsSystemic lupus erythematosusUND0.06/1004.7%
10<1 yearVon Willebrand's diseaseR,Dinc0.06/1004.7%
12>4 yearsMast cell tumorPOLY3.5/10030.5%
13>4 yearsHemangiosarcomaPOLY0.6/10014.2%
15<3 monthsDermoidsinusR4.7/10033.9%
16<1 yearDemodicosisUND1.5/10021.4%
17<1 yearAtopic dermatitisUND3.6/10030.6%
18<1 yearFood allergiesUND1.2/10019.4%
19<5 yearsSeasonal flankalopeciaUND0.1/1006.0%
20<10 weeksEhlers Danlos syndromeD0.06/1004.7%
21<10 weeksUmbilical herniaR/Poly0.5/10013.1%
22<6 monthsMegaesophagusR/UND0.9/10017.0%
23<7 yearsPancreatic hypoplasiaR0.06/1004.7%
24<1 yearGastric Dilatation/VolvulusUND0.9/10017.0%
25<1 yearSubaorticstenosisPOLY0.2/1008.4%
26<2 yearsCardiomyopathyPOLY0.1/1006.0%
27BirthPersistent right aortic archPOLY0.06/1004.7%
28<1 yearPulmonary stenosisPOLY0.06/1004.7%
29<1 yearLaryngeal paralysisD0.06/1004.7%
30<1 yearTracheal collapseUND0.1/1006.0%
31<3 monthsCryptorchidismR/UND1.0/10018.0%
32>1 yearSeizures(epilepsy)R/UND0.7/10015.2%
33>1 yearDegenerative myelopathyUND0.5/10013.1%
34<6 monthsDeafnessUND0.3/10010.2%
35</=1 yearWobbler syndromePOLY0.1/1006.0%
36<9 yearsCaudaequina syndromeUND0.06/1004.7%
37<3 monthsHydrocephalusPOLY0.06/1004.7%
38<1 yearLumbar stenosisUND0.06/1004.7%
39<2 yearsHip dysplasiaPOLY2.20/10025.2%
40<1 yearDental abnormalitiesUND1.40/10020.8%
41<1 yearOCD/FCP (elbow dysplasia)POLY0.7/10015.2%
42<1 yearLuxating patellaR0.10/1006.0%
43<1 yearOsteochondritis dissecansUND0.4/10011.7%
44<1 yearCongenital vertebral abnormalitiesUND0.3/10010.2%
45<3 monthsOpen fontanelleUND0.2/1008.4%
46>1 yearSpondylosis deformansPOLY0.2/1008.4%
47<4 monthsPectus excavatumUND0.1/1006.0%
48BirthCleft palatePOLY/UND0.1/1006.0%
49<8 monthsHypertrophic osteodystrophyUND0.1/1006.0%
51<6 monthsEntropionUND0.6/10014.2%
52<3 monthsPersistent pupillary membranesUND0.2/1008.4%
53<3 yearsGlaucomaUND0.1/1006.0%
54<6 monthsEctropionUND0.6/1004.7%
55variesCorneal dystrophyUND0.6/1004.7%
57<=3 yearsExcessive aggressionUND1.8/10023.2%
58<1 yearExcessive ShynessUND0.8/10016.2%
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