A DNA Test for Shaking Puppy

Spongiform LeucoEncephaloMyelopathy (SLEM) in Border Terriers

From the time puppies begin to support weight and attempt to walk Border Terriers with SLEM show severe tremors predominantly in the hind limbs creating a characteristic side-to-side shaking sometimes called “rump shaking” or “rocking horse” movements. Most affected pups die at a young age or are euthanized due to quality of life issues.  In some rare cases, with extensive supportive care, affected pups can improve with time. Collaborating researchers at the University of Missouri, at the Animal Health Trust and at Wisdom Health identified the gene harboring the mutation responsible for this disease. The disease is a simple autosomal recessive trait, which means that affected puppies have inherited a defective copy of the gene from the sire and a defective copy of the gene from the dam. The researchers have developed a DNA test that identifies which dogs are genetically normal (with 2 normal copies of the gene), which dogs are otherwise healthy carriers of the disease (with one normal gene copy and one mutant gene copy), and which dogs suffer from SLEM (with 2 mutant gene copies).

The key individuals involved in this research include Dr. Ana Kolicheski and Dr. Gary Johnson (University of Missouri), Dr. Louise Burmeister (Animal Health Trust), and Dr. Oliver Forman (Wisdom Health). This research was possible because of support from the AKC Canine Health Foundation with funds from Border Terrier Club of America Donor Advised Fund, Wisdom Health and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust. In addition, Marg Pough, Health Chair of the Border Terrier Club of America, deserves special credit for providing the researchers with key samples and persistent encouragement.

Border Terrier breeders wishing to avoid producing affected puppies in future litters can use the DNA test to ensure that at least one member of a breeding pair has a normal DNA test result. In addition, the DNA test can be used to confirm a diagnosis of SLEM.  If your bitch has not been SLEM tested, breed only to a clear (normal) male.  Same with a stud dog, only breed to normal bitches if the male has not been tested.

OFA Clear by Parentage (CBP) requires that the sire, dam, and puppy have AKC DNA profiles, as well as the sire and dam having normal (clear) DNA results.   OFA accepts CBP for only one generation.

Testing your litter of puppies.

  • Register the Litter
  • Assign a registration number to each puppy (using whatever means you use to differentiate the puppies.)
  • Order microchips and then assign a chip # to each registration #.
  • Order the SLEM tests, and use the registration #, the Chip # and your puppy identifier (collar color or puppy “name”). You do not need the registered name at this point as long as the registration# is there.
  • SLEM swabs are big. It is easier to wait until the pups are six weeks old to swab them.
  • At that point the puppies can also be microchipped with the chip that you have associated with their registration number. The registration # and microchip # assure that the SLEM results will follow the pup through its life as health tests are done.

Testing is through a partnership with OFA (www.OFA.org.)  Click the “ORDER DNA TESTS” on the top bar. Orders placed through OFA use a cheek swab & barcoded card to collect DNA.  Testing is done by University of Missouri. The OFA staff will send a kit and complete instructions for all orders. This test has been available since October, 2017.