Tibetan Spaniels had to be a hardy breed to survive in the cold, harsh climate of Tibet. Fortunately Tibbies are still not overly large in numbers in Australia and therefore there is less chance that they fall into the wrong hands of so-called "backyard breeders". This can lead to indiscriminate breeding where the breeder has little idea (or concern) of what health issues may be underlying in their dogs pedigrees. Dedicated registered breeders do their best to ensure the Tibetan Spaniel is able to maintain their status as healthy, hardy little dogs. Of course, like any dog, Tibbies can get cancer, diabetes, liver disease and heart problems, etc.

Although rare, some of the anomalies that may be encountered in the breed are as follows:

PRA is a well-recognised inherited condition that many breeds of dog are predisposed to.  The condition is characterised by bilateral degeneration of the retina which causes progressive vision loss that culminates in total blindness.  There is no treatment for PRA, of which several genetically distinct forms are recognised, each caused by a different mutation in a specific gene.  The various forms of PRA are typically breed-specific, with clinically affected dogs of the same breed usually sharing an identical mutation.  Clinically affected dogs of different breeds, however, usually have different mutations, although PRA-mutations can be shared by several breeds.

Mutation Identified

Geneticists at the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust have discovered a mutation that causes a form of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) in Tibetan Spaniels. We are calling this form of the disease PRA3 to distinguish it from other, genetically distinct, forms of PRA that are caused by different mutations.  The PRA3 mutation accounts for approximately two thirds (2/3) of Tibetan Spaniel PRA cases that we investigated during our research. The mutation(s that cause PRA in the other third (1/3) of cases remain(s) unknown and cannot therefore be detected by any DNA test at present.

The PRA3 mutation is recessive, meaning a dog needs to inherit two copies of the mutation to be clinically affected with PRA.  PRA3 is a late-onset condition and clinical signs can usually be detected by an ophthalmologist from 4-7 years of age. Current estimates suggest that up to 25% of Tibetan Spaniels carry a single copy of the PRA3 mutation, but will not develop PRA, while 3% of Tibetan Spaniels have 2 copies of the mutation and will therefore develop PRA. However, these estimates are based on samples submitted to the AHT for the purposes of research and are unlikely to be representative of all Tibetan Spaniels. During the latter half of 2013 the AHT will collaborate with the Kennel Club (KC) to screen a random subset of KC registered Tibetan Spaniels to determine the mutation frequency more accurately.

A DNA test for PRA3 is now available from the Animal Health Trust (UK)as at July 2013. Breeders using the test will be sent results identifying their dog as belonging to one of three categories:

CLEAR: these dogs have two normal copies of DNA.  Clear dogs will not develop PRA as a result of the PRA3 mutation, although we cannot exclude the possibility they might develop PRA due to other mutations they might carry that are not detected by this test.

CARRIER: these dogs have one copy of the mutation and one normal copy of DNA. These dogs will not develop PRA themselves as a result of the PRA3 but they will pass the mutation on to approximately 50% of their offspring.  We cannot exclude the possibility that carriers might develop PRA due to other mutations they might carry that are not detected by this test.

GENETICALLY AFFECTED: these dogs have two copies of the PRA3 mutation and will almost certainly develop PRA during their lifetime.

Click here to see a list of Australian Tibbies which have been tested for PRA. If your Tibbies have been tested please email us their show name and Authentication Code for publication on our web site.

This is a genetic abnomaly that affects the blood flow around and/or through the liver. Research is underway to find a genetic marker for this disease. At the present time the only option available to breeders is to use a “screening tool” referred to as “bile acid” testing. This test can only give an “overview” of current liver health and is not a definitive test.

Legg-Perthes disease is a non-inflammatory, non-infective death of the cells of the femoral head (hip joint) that occurs in young dogs before the growth plate of the femoral head closes. The disease results in the collapse of the femoral neck due to the interruption of blood flow. Fortunately the prognosis for dogs treated surgically for Legg-Perthes disease is very good to excellent, as long as owners are diligent about post-operative physical rehabilitation and supportive care. After treatment and rehabilitation, most dogs regain pain-free function of the affected hind leg and hip and are able to enjoy normal canine activities such as running, jumping, walking and playing throughout the course of a normal life span. Affected dogs should be spayed or neutered.

Tibetan Spaniels can have a variety of hernias which can be either inherited or developed. The most common is an umbilical hernia. The tissue surrounding the umbilical area may be weak causing the hernia. The dam or an owner pulling on the cord at birth can also lead to an umbilical hernia, even if it isn’t inherited. It is common in the Tibetan Spaniel, although, it is usually very small, about the size of the tip of your little finger, and in most cases will close over by about 4 to 6 months of age. So though not usually a cause for concern they can be easily repaired when the pet is spayed or neutered. Inguinal and scrotal hernias can also occur, and are usually a bit more serious than umbilical hernias, and again can be repaired with surgery.

HD is a congenital malformation of the ball and socket joint that makes up the hip. It is a badly formed socket of the cup and ball hip joint. Rare in the Tibetan Spaniel, HD is more common in large and heavier breeds. The loose joint leads to abnormal wear on the joint. HD exists in varying degrees to severe that it causes pain and lameness, to very mild that it has virtually no effect on the dog throughout its life. Diet can play a part in hip malformation, overfed puppies that are grown too fast and are too heavy for their bone structure can influence the hip formation into being an abnormal joint.

This is an inflammation or swelling of the “third” eyelid and appears as a red protrusion in the corner of the dog’s eye. It usually happens around the time of teething in the Tibetan Spaniel. In mild cases it can be put back in by gently pushing under the rim of the eye towards the inner corner of the eye. It may need to be done a couple of times a day during teething, however, if you can’t do it get your vet to show you how. In some cases it may require surgery.

Watery eyes are common in the Tibetan Spaniel. Windy, dusty conditions or digging can all contribute to the condition. Puppies tend to get watery eyes during teething, as does the bitch leading up to and during her season and after having puppies. Allergies to grasses and pollen can cause weeping eyes. If the tearing is excessive, or your Tibbie is rubbing his/her eyes, talk to your vet.