Health Matters: Eye Wars?

The Canine Eye Registry Foundation has been synonymous with detecting genetic/inherited eye problems in purebred dogs for the past 30 years. Now the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals is getting into eye exams.

The acronym CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) has been synonymous with eye exams for genetic/inherited eye problems in purebred dogs for the past 30 years. That is about to change with OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) jumping into eye exams with a new partnership with the ACVO (American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists).

Interestingly, few exhibitors and breeders at a recent show cluster were aware of the changes.

The OFA has been the main site for tracking many genetic problems in purebred dogs — best known for hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia but branching out over the years into cardiac, thyroid and other problems. Meanwhile CERF has concentrated on eye conditions. OFA announced that as of November 1, 2012, the ACVO will endorse the OFA’s Eye Certification Registry as its primary registry.

What does this mean to you as a breeder and/or fancier of purebred dogs? Not as much as you might think.

The examination protocol will remain the same. Both groups require exams to be done by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists. Clubs are free to set up health clinics for eye exams using either registry. At this time, costs and all fees are identical between the two organizations. Certainly the forms will be specific for each organization — though rumor has it that the “fill in the circles format” will be used by both organizations. Currently both organizations will accept forms from the other registry for their own registry as long as payment indicates the correct registry and the form is accompanied by a note from the owner stating they wish to include the results at the other registry. Both registries consider exams current for a period of one year.

CERF will continue to send results for normal dogs to the OFA site so that the eye exam information can be included in both the CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) listings, on the OFA site and on pedigrees. Breed clubs that have designated CERF for their eye exams up until now will probably simply add the OFA option and CHIC will accept eye reports from both organizations. AKC will add information from both registries to pedigrees if permanent identification of the dog is provided.

There are a few differences that might influence your choice when planning which registry to use. CERF has data going back 30 years. While the data has not always been as accessible as many people would like, it has a huge history of eye conditions in many dog breeds. The forms submitted by the veterinary examiners have included any abnormal findings, which go into the CERF database. Breed clubs have been able to purchase complete yearly reports that list all dogs of that breed that passed that year and separate listings of abnormal conditions found over the year. Those reports are free to dog owners who have a current CERF on file. CERF has updated their system so statistics are now “live.” This means that as soon as 2012 ends, the statistics for 2012 will be available.

Dogs with a current normal CERF report (or abnormal) if signed off on by their owner can be found on the CERF website via name or registration number. CDs can be purchased which include all the back data for a breed so trends can be detected and followed. Currently 20 years worth of data are available.  OFA will use the reporting style they have used for their other registries. All normal results will appear on their website. If you do a search on a dog by number or name, you will find their eye results along with their hips, elbows, etc. CERF results will continue to be located there as well. An advantage to OFA is that relatives of the dog you searched on also come up.

OFA has also chosen to automatically include all dogs not only with totally normal results but also dogs with eyes that pass the exam but may have a condition listed by the breed club for that dog as “breeder option.” Those are defects that do not directly cause vision loss but do not represent ideal eye conformation and anatomy. As their info brochure states, “There is no option to keep a passing observable breed option code condition confidential while releasing the passing certification number.” Abnormal (nonpassing) results are only posted with owner approval.

An example of a breeder option defect might be distichiasis or abnormally located eyelashes. In most cases, these lashes will not cause any discomfort to the dog or affect the vision. Still, the lashes are not totally normal, so a breeder needs to decide if they want to potentially produce more dogs with this problem or not.

CERF has maintained a huge database that veterinary ophthalmologists and other researchers have tapped into over the years. OFA is now establishing a Clinical Database of Ophthalmic Diagnoses to “capture the data from ACVO diplomats on canine eye exams in an institutional or practice setting where the dog is presenting for reasons other than a certification exam.” So if your dog goes to a veterinary college for bloat surgery but has a cataract, that should get noted and added to the OFA database. The hope is that this will add even more data to the system and cover dogs that may not get an official eye exam through their registry.

OFA will also be sharing a percentage of the eye registration fees with the ACVO’s Vision for Animals Foundation that supports research on ocular diseases. This foundation supports work on eye disease in all animals, not just dogs.

So, at this point, are there big advantages to one eye registry over the other? Not really, so most breeders and fanciers will go with whatever group is offered at the local eye clinic.


From the November 2012 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the November 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.

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