Toller Health

A Guide of Toller Health Tests for the Breeder and New Puppy Buyer

with forward “Wanting a Toller Pup?” by Heather Gibson

Health Reporting Form

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You have made the exciting decision to add a Toller to your family so let The Toller Club of GB help you with what to look for when approaching a breeder.



By far the most important thing to look for is that both parents are FULLY health tested. There is a section on health testing later in this information).

Expect to wait for quite a long time for a well bred/socialised puppy. Demand for Tollers outweighs the number of pups born every year. It is not unusual to have to wait for more than a year.

Contact and meet as many breeders as you can so that you can be sure you will be happy to have them in your lives as well as your new puppy. Once you have your puppy, good breeders will regard you as part of their extended family! They will want to keep in touch, get regular updates and photos of your pup growing up and throughout his/her life.

Be prepared to travel. The most suitable puppy for you may not be the one bred closest to where you live. Getting a Toller pup isn’t like doing the weekly supermarket shop!

Look into the pedigrees of potential litters. Check out how many litters the mother has had. Look at the number of litters the stud dog has sired – just because a dog has sired dozens of pups it doesn’t necessarily mean he produces good quality Tollers! Over use of a stud dog does nothing for the diversity of the breed in future generations nor does multiple repeat matings of the same sire and dam. Ask breeder about any health problems in previous litters from these parents. Check that no pups have been returned or rehomed. If so ask why.

Ask the breeder what back up service they provide in case something goes wrong with the health of your Toller. Do they offer any financial or emotional back up? Breeders should have a section in the contract you get at time of ‘purchase’ stating that should something happen and you are no longer able to keep your dog the he/she must be returned to the breeder, not sold on or put into a rescue centre.

Ask if the pups will be Kennel Club registered. If not, ask why not. Also check if the pups will have any restrictions placed on their KC registration.KC registration should be handed over at time of collecting your pup. Many have breeding endorsements and export restrictions. This is normal and considered good practice to protect against puppy farming. Make sure you talk through these especially if your plan is to breed with your pup when old enough. Ask the breeder what would be required for a breeder to lift the breeding restriction. Expect to be told that all health tests must be carried out and taken into consideration, the pup has grown up to be a good example of the breed and be of good temperament.

Ask the breeder if they send the pup home with a puppy pack and, if so, what is included in it. You should get a folder with a copy of the contract, copies of the certificates of all the health tests done on both parents, information about the breed, details on grooming, training, socialisation etc. You should also expect to take home some bedding , toy or similar item that has the scent of the mother and siblings. You may be asked to leave something with your scent with the breeder for the pup to get used to it.

Ask what the puppy has been fed on and discuss your plans for feeding.

Check the vaccination protocol recommended by the breeder. Tollers shouldn’t be vaccinated early as it may trigger an autoimmune issue. Current recommendation is not before 12 weeks. This can have an effect on the socialisation side so discuss what you can do to help with this.

Check that the bitch and pups have been wormed regularly.

Ask what sort of socialisation the pups will have had before leaving the breeder. Pups should be exposed to as many different things as possible before leaving for their new homes. Trip(s) to the vet, journeys in the car to get used to travelling and going to different places. Have they been exposed to and handled by lots of different people of varying sizes and shapes along with other dogs and animals. Have they got used to lots of different sounds – traffic, airplanes, washing machines, hairdryers, loud bangs. Have they had their nails clipped.

Putting down a deposit for a pup in advance is unusual in the U.K however, some breeders will ask for one and, sometimes, that is just to put you on their waiting with no guarantee how long you will have to wait for a pup. It is always worth asking about this as most breeders will not require one.




When you first make contact with a breeder expect to be asked a lot of questions. Some will want to do a detailed telephone interview and some prefer you to meet them (and their Tollers) for a more informal chat, perhaps, over a walk and a cup of coffee. The type of questions will still be the same!

You will be asked about your lifestyle and how you see a pup fitting in with it, your previous experience of dogs, how long will your Toller be left on its own during the day (Tollers are not good at being left for long spells and will find ways to entertain themselves).

You will be asked about family members, your house, do you have a secure and safe garden, how you travel your dog in the car safely.

Expect to be asked about what sort of training you plan to do, what puppy classes have you found near to you. Do you plan to show, do agility, obedience, rally, flyball. If you don’t plan on any main activity then how will you mentally stimulate your dog throughout his/her life.

You will be asked about how much exercise you are able to give your dog daily and the breeder should discuss the protocol for exercising young pups as too much exercise can have serious implications later in life.

You will be asked if you have met Tollers before and what it is that attracted you to the breed in the first place.

You may find that, if you go to meet the breeder, you will be watched to see how you are with their dogs and how the dogs react to you.

You should be asked about where your pup will live (in the house or in a kennel), what sleeping arrangements you have planned eg in your bedroom, in a crate, in the kitchen etc.


In short don’t go for the first available pup you come across, or one that just happens to be on your doorstep. Research thoroughly to find a breeder you are truly happy with and be prepared to wait for a pup!


The club have always tried to keep our members up dated with all the conditions and diseases that affect Tollers. Here we are covering the very distressing condition of SRMA and what you can do to minimise the risk of your dog suffering from it.

Steroid responsive meningitis-arteritis (SRMA) in dogs is an ‘immune mediated’ or ‘auto-immune’ condition where inflammation occurs in the blood vessels in the lining of the nervous system (the meninges).

It most commonly appears to affect a few breeds of dogs including Beagles, Boxers, Bernese mountain dogs, Weimeraners and NSDTRs but dogs of any breed can be affected and generally first appears in dogs under the age of 2 years.


The cause is not fully known but seems to be a complex interaction between genetics and the dog’s environmental stimulation.


It presents as a stiffness in the neck with a high temperature with the greatest pain when the head is moved to try and touch the chin to the chest. There may also be pain in the lower back. Most dogs will have a lack of appetite and a reluctance to move.

Inflammation can affect other parts of the body – typically the joints. Swollen joints can cause a stiff and stilted way of walking. Rarely animals with SRMA can have inflammation of other inner body surfaces, like the covering of the heart (potentially causing abnormal heart rhythm), lungs and abdominal contents (causing the development of some fluid).


A diagnosis is normally made on the basis of first excluding other causes of spinal pain (like bone or soft tissue infections, immune-mediated joint disease, infections) by obtaining a blood sample and performing radiographs. A cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) sample may be taken under general anaesthetic to look for the presence of inflammatory cells.

If SRMA is strongly suspected then it’s essential to carry out tests and get a diagnosis ASAP so that steroids can be given without delay


Treatment is with a course of high dose steroids, which supresses the immune system and often results in significant and rapid improvement or resolution of the clinical sign, this in its self is a conformation of the condition. After the initial high dose of steroids the dose is gradually reduced over the course of 5-7 months. Unfortunately side effects are often seen with steroid use. Common dose-dependent side effects of steroids include increased thirst and hunger (consequently urination and weight gain), lethargy, panting, increased risk of infections (respiratory, urinary etc) and weakening of ligaments


The prognosis for SRMA is generally very good, with most patients improving after 2-3 days of treatment and entering clinical remission within 2 weeks. Treatment with steroids is normally required for 5-7 months, after which treatment can be stopped and a normal length and quality of life can be expected.

Relapses of SRMA are possible either during the course of treatment or after treatment has been stopped. Roughly 20% of patients with SRMA will relapse. If they do, the clinical signs will be similar or identical to the original syndrome. Normally with a ‘step-back’ in the treatment regime a relapse can be successfully treated.

Reference material:

How to reduce the risks

As yet there is no test for determining susceptibility to SRMA. The only way to reduce the risks are to be sure about the prevalence of the condition within the breed lines.

All breed lines have the condition in them but it is advisable not to double up on both breed lines where there has been a case/s within 2 generations.

For help determining these searches please contact the Health Coordinator for the club who can advise on breed lines whether its for prospective matings or potential puppy buyers.

The second influence on SRMA is an environmental stimulation in young dogs up to the age of 2 years.

Although not proven it is recommended that puppies are not vaccinated early before 12 weeks and that when being vaccinated they are given core vaccines and Leptospirosis (if given) at separate times. This reduces the stress put on the immune system of the puppy.

It is also wise to minimise any stress levels of the young puppy when first brought home at 8 weeks by keeping it calm for a few days before introducing it to a lot of stimulus.

Please take advice from your breeder as there have been cases of SRMA reported where the breeders advice was not taken and vaccination carried out early.

DNA Testing

The Club Committee has been concerned by the number of apparently incomplete health tested pups that have been bred in the past few years, and also wanted to keep abreast of the multiplicity of DNA tests available for Tollers.

Some of the genetic tests are now being offered by several labs mainly in the USA and European countries at widely varying prices. The Kennel Club does not recognise all these labs and does not get automatically notified of the results so it requires owners or breeders to submit the results to them for inclusion in the health registers. Some results it will not accept anyway.

Our club suggests that puppy buyers need to be sure that at least one parent is genetically clear for recessive diseases. For the pup to become ill it needs to a copy of the gene from each of its parents. “Genetically clear” means that the parent dog does not have the mutated gene.

Recessive diseases that must have a clear parent:

Progressive Retinal Atrophe,

PRA , ie earlier onset blindness, normally displaying symptoms at 5 to 6 years, but can be as earlier as 3 years. PRA – affected and blind Tollers have been born in the UK within the last 10 years despite the genetic tests having existed for close on 20 years!

Degenerative Encephalopathy,

DE or DEN, is a disease where the brain is gradually destroyed. The Toller becomes increasingly distressed, noise sensitive and has coordination problems and possibly epileptic like seizures. As the disease progresses they may become aggressive. Symptoms become apparent from a few weeks old to one to two years. Most sufferers are put out of their misery at 3 to 6 years.

There were several Toller litters born in 2017 from apparently untested parents and also where one parent was known to be, or at risk of being, a carrier. The worldwide stats suggest 12 % as carriers and the declared UK carriers are similar with a ten to one ratio between declared clears & declared carriers. The test is only offered by VGL, Davis University in USA, but costs about £45-50. It has recently been added as a “required test” under the assured breeder scheme with limited powers of enforcement/ assurance and test results are automatically reported in the KC records.


Juvenile Addisons Disease,

This disease is only seen in Tollers. It is a severe and rapid auto-immune reaction that destroys the adrenal gland that produces steroid hormones for the regulation of glucose metabolism and immune function (glucocorticoids), and that also regulates sodium and potassium levels in the blood (mineralocorticoids). It is genetic in origin and normally diagnosed before the pup is a year old. The laboratory that developed the test make a strong statement verifying that the disease is Toller specific, inherited and caused by a specific gene mutation. “The juvenile form of Addison’s disease is genetically distinguishable from the adult onset form in that all dogs that develop the juvenile form have two identical copies of a specific region within their genome and a specific mutation within a novel gene” (ref: VGL website).   The test costs $50 plus cost of posting cheek swab to the USA.

Worldwide some 15-20% of Tollers are identified as carriers. This is a recessive gene so that if 2 parents are carriers there is a 1 in 4 chance that any offspring will carry 2 copies of the mutated gene, and be at risk of developing the disease. Additionally a quarter of those at risk (carrying 2 copies of the mutated gene) do not go onto develop the full blown disease similarly not all PRA genetically affected dogs become blind. Affected Tollers that have offspring pass the mutation on but not the protection so their progeny are vulnerable to the disease.

In the UK we had several confirmed deaths from this disease around the time of the introduction of the test (2 or 3) and also have prior health records of young dogs dying from Addison’s disease which may also be cases of undiagnosed JADD.   JADD is a distressing, life limiting, and fatal disease in young Tollers. 75% of genetically affected Tollers (A/A) will be ill by a year old with reduced life expectancy and will need distressing and expensive palliative care.

Therefore anyone buying a pup from the UK litter MUST ensure that one parent has been confirmed as not carrying the affected gene for JADD, i.e one parent should be normal for JADD, expressed as N/N on breed browsers. This is summarised in the table below taken from the VGL web site.

N/N Normal – no copies of the JADD mutation are present
N/A Carrier – 1 copy of the JADD mutation is present. If carriers are bred together or to an affected mate, affected offspring can be produced.
A/A Affected – 2 copies of the JADD mutation. Dog has 75% chance of developing Addison’s disease by 1 year of age.
Degenerative Myelopathy,

DM. This is one of the tests included in the KC health test scheme. It is painless and is one of the causes of hind quarter paralysis in elderly dogs. Symptoms may become obvious any time after 7 years of age and typically once diagnosed the dogs are put to sleep about 2 years later due to DM. There are around 15% carriers in the worldwide toller population, and it is present in UK Tollers. The test is one of the cheaper ones and is offered at several labs, so given all the costs of a litter why would a breeder not test at least one of the parents and ensure that the litter will avoid any genetically affected pups?

Collie Eye Anomaly,

CEA, is a malformation of the eye and is observable in puppies. The gene is carried by tollers at about 20% of the population. Very few Tollers are reported as being clinically or genetically affected, despite a quarter of tested dogs reported as carriers. As this is a patented test OptiGen have a monopoly and set a high price test at £168 with consequent murmurings amongst some breeders about the value of the test, especially as other testable diseases are potentially more distressing. The same lab offer their own version of the test at £48. Potential puppy buyers need to watch out and make their risk assessment if this test continues to drop out of favour, and get copies of the health test reports from the breeders or go on-line to a breed browser to check out before they commit to buy a pup.

Cleft Palette & Cleft Palette/ Syndactyly,

CP1 & CPLS genetic mutations cause around 80% of cleft palette in Tollers (the carrier rate is 15% and 13 % respectively). The syndactyly bit is that the dogs carrying 2 copies of the mutation may also have toes fused together. I do wonder if this is an extreme version of the webbed feet our water-loving ginger dogs should have.

This is often seen as a breeder problem and is unlikely to cause distress to puppy buyers as pups born with cleft palette struggle to suckle and are often put to sleep in the first few days of life. Unlike the CEA above these DNA tests are relatively low cost (total for 2 test less than £100), especially if the lost revenue from one or two puppy sales in a litter is taken into account.

Puppy buyers maybe need to ask why would their chosen breeder not test for the causes of, and avoid 80% of cleft palette puppies?

Buff, Dilute gene, or D-locus is purely a coat colour issue. It is offered by many labs and costs between £27 & £60.

Genetic tests for Dominant Genes

Dominant traits such as rear dew claws are inherited if only one parent carries the gene. Any dog carrying a dominant gene will display that trait in some degree (which may be very lightly affected to heavily expressed). A breeder can expect half the offspring of a dog with a single copy of a dominant gene will go on to inherit the trait/disease. There are very few tests available for dominant genes but recently one developed in the USA by a genetic researcher, who is also a Toller breeder, has come onto the market. It is a fairly low cost test and has been taken up by interested breeders; it is generating a good deal of discussion about how to manage the information to reduce the incidence of affected dogs whilst not losing a wide range of other beneficial genes. No doubt this will rumble on for quite a while.


CDDY is a test of one of the causes of dwarfism in dogs. The gene involved causes early hardening of the cartilage at the growth plates and vertebral discs of young Tollers. It is present in other breeds. It does not explain the “Queen Anne” legs where the front feet turn outwards.

The physical effects are that Tollers carrying 2 copies of the mutant gene will have much shortened legs than they would have had all other, and Toller’s with just a single copy of the mutated gene will have somewhat shorter legs. Normal dogs will not have leg length shortened by this specific gene, but there are other factors that contribute to leg length so not all the variability in Toller height is explained by this mechanism. This is an example of semi-dominance.

The other disease associated with this mutation and also tied into the cartilage calcification is with vertebral disc disease, IVDD. One copy of the mutation leaves a Toller much more at risk of getting disc type back problems. It is not the only cause of these problems, but is the inherited one. Being a geek I have been tracking (working with two or three others in Europe and north America) dwarfism, genetic status which can be further deduced from test results of parents or progeny, and incidence of back problems and disc disease. The table below shows the results to date, but needs to be read with a “health warning” that this is based on voluntary declarations of back issue/disc problems in Toller’s made by their owners and/or breeders in the public domain and is likely to be an under reporting.

Incidence of back problems by genetic status: a “Wisdom of Crowds” approach to information gathering

CDDY / CDDY34720.6%8.0%7.5%52.4%

Note: “back problems” is any comment re stiffness, hydrotherapy as well as diagnosed disc disease

In summary worldwide Toller’s are likely to have a 4-5% likelihood of having some form of back problems during their lifetime. If their genetic profile is wild type (as in wolves) with no copy of the CDDY gene this is around a 1% likelihood of back problems and disc disease, rising to 6 % for a single copy of the dominant gene and 21% for the double dose.   As this is based on over 400 dogs it is getting to be statistically sound. However it is based on i) any type of back issue and not specifically disc disease; and ii) on voluntary reporting by predominantly breeders with a natural bias to under reporting this issues.

It is up to puppy buyers to inform themselves and decide how important this is to them. My personal opinion is to avoid matings that might produce double copies, given that a fifth of pups may go to develop back problems. And I think it is logical to maintain genetic diversity but through time try to reduce this gene if we do see this early scenario does represent the reality within our breed; I would not exclude matings that might produce pups carrying a single copy of the gene. It goes without saying that we are interested in reports of back problems and specifically disc disease, or of Toller’s that have no back problems whatsoever.

Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme

KC Assured Breeder Scheme

Having worked professionally in certifying Quality, Health and Safety and Environmental Management Systems I do have a degree of scepticism about such schemes. The title lulls us into a sense of expert knows best and this has to be better than puppy farming! Well yes it does, and is better than no scheme at all …BUT the devil is in the details.

Puppy buyers beware! Look at the words as there are very few sanctions in the scheme.

Both dogs have to be:-

  1. hip scored, but no definition of what is an un/acceptable score for breeding purposes what those scores should be;
  2. DNA tested for PRA & CEA (or be clear by parentage), but again no requirement to not produce potentially affected pups;
  3. DNA tested for DE/DE (latest addition thanks to request by the NSDTR of UK) but ditto ii) above.

If these are not in place the KC may not register the litter of an assured breeder. There have been cases of assured breeders having litters refused for registration, and nothing to stop a breeder resigning from the scheme to get a litter registered!

It is recommended that:-

  1. Breeding dogs are examined by vet optician annually;
  2. Bitches must be over two years when litter is born;
  3. Bitches must not produce more than one litter within a 12-month period
  4. Male dogs under two years not to be used at stud
  5. DNA test – Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) But no statement that producing affected offspring must be avoided.

You might be surprised to realise there are no sanctions associated with these latter recommendations, nor do any of these conditions (requirements & recommendations) apply to stud dogs owned by assured breeders.

In the world of professional standards this is a very low level of customer assurance with very light level of enforcement.

There are some very good breeders have joined the scheme because they feel it is better than nothing and a start. I do agree with them. However I hear from puppy buyers who feel it gives a guarantee of puppy health and breeding quality. Beware and inform yourself and make your own mind up before committing to your adorable bundle of ginger fluff.

Health Tests