Health Registries for Pets

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Do you have a pet with medical issues? Are his problems related to his breed, or age, or size? Are you interested in how genetics may affect his health? Pet health registries provide answers for many interested pet owners by gathering, organizing, analyzing, centralizing, and disseminating large amounts of information on a vast number of dogs and cats. This valuable information increases our understanding of health issues and facilitates research into animal disease. Here are a few important animal health registries.

Problem-Specific Registries

OFA (Orthopedic Foundation of America): The Orthopedic Foundation of America focuses on identifying and cataloging orthopedic problems in an attempt to reduce the incidence of genetic orthopedic disease. Historically, the OFA centered on hip dysplasia of dogs, but has expanded its scope to include other inherited diseases of both dogs and cats. Veterinarians follow a specified protocol to take radiographs and submit them to the OFA for assessment by a board-certified radiologist. Pets with healthy bone structure receive OFA certification and are listed in the registry. OFA certification is important in maintaining the integrity of a breed.

..."the OFA...has expanded its scope to include other inherited diseases of both dogs and cats."

CHIC (Canine Health Information Center): The OFA now sponsors an expanded database that includes listings for cardiac and eye diseases of pets. The OFA and CHIC work with companion animal organizations to formulate breed-specific health screening protocols and collect results of these screenings into a national registry. More information means healthier pets.

CAEF (Companion Animal Eye Registry): One of the groups collaborating with OFA is CAEF. CAEF was established by pet owners and breeders working with board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists to investigate inherited eye disease in dogs. Centralizing information into a national registry consolidated valuable data and promoted more efficient medical research, diagnosis and treatment of ocular disorders. Cooperation with OFA allows pet owners to locate this information more easily. To be listed on both OFA and CAEF registries, a dog must have an existing OFA record and current CAEF examination. CAEF transfers data monthly to OFA, so there may be a little lag time before information appears on both websites. CAEF registers dogs that are certified as free of hereditary eye disease and also collects data on normal dogs to identify disease trends in certain breeds.

ARCH (Animal Registry of Certified Health): Board-certified veterinary cardiologists and ophthalmologists examine pets and verify that they are free of both congenital and adult-onset diseases of the heart and eyes before listing them on this registry. ARCH works with ACVIM (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine) and Prelude Dynamics to provide validated health information for pet owners.

As you can see, many health registries focus on inherited eye, heart and bone problems. But there are registries that deal with other health matters as well.

Breed-Related Registries

Canine Breed-Specific Registries: There is a breed specific registry for almost every dog breed. (Poodle Health Registry, Jack Russell Health Registry, etc.) These registries focus on a variety of illnesses and genetic diseases affecting specific breeds. These databases gather lots of information by including diagnoses made by any licensed veterinarian, as opposed to only board-certified veterinarians.

Cat PHIR (Cat Phenotype and Health Information Registry): This registry is a voluntary cat health database that includes pure and mixed-breed cats. The information gathered covers a broad spectrum with the goal of helping investigators identify links between feline traits and diseases. The NIH supports the management of the database and storage of DNA samples. Cat owners are encouraged to submit samples from healthy and sick cats to the Cat PHIR inventory. The samples are stored until they are needed for a specific research project. When a sample is included in a study, the registry attempts to follow the medical progress of the donor throughout its life. That requires cooperation and commitment from cat owners. Unlike other registries, this information cannot be accessed by private individuals. The goal here is research-oriented but, of course, medical advances made with cooperation of Cat PHIR benefit the entire feline community.

"...medical advances made with cooperation of Cat PHIR benefit the entire feline community."

Private Health Registries

Many cat and dog owners have their pets microchipped to identify them in case they become lost. Although many lost pets have been reunited with their families in this manner, there were initial road blocks.

Some microchips required brand-specific readers, meaning microchip A would not be identified by Scanner B. The next issue involved accessing owner information. Each microchip company had their own individual database, which made matching lost pets with anxious owners an arduous task.

Now there are universal scanners and national registries that read and house data from all brands of microchips. National Pet Microchip Registration is one such national registry that allows entry of owner contact information and pet medical information for any dog or cat identified by ANY brand of microchip.

When a lost pet is rescued, a universal scanner identifies the number of the imbedded microchip. Manned hotlines or websites access pet owner information to facilitate the quick return of the lost pet. The national database may also provide important health care information to the interim foster parent. For example, if a cat is diabetic, the database may include prescription information for much-needed insulin. If a dog is deaf, the temporary caregiver can be alerted to his special needs.

The Importance of Health Registries

On an individual basis, registering the health needs of your dog or cat with a national database could save her life, should she become separated from you. Providing immediate, appropriate medical care could be crucial.

"...registering the health needs of your dog or cat with a national database could save her life,"

On a broader scale, accumulating health information about dogs and cats into large databases promotes research into a variety of health issues, allows identification of disease trends, documents genetic information, and promotes the health of the pet community overall.

These databases further our knowledge and improve the health of our pets. Sharing information with pet health registries can help pets and pet owners everywhere.

Related Articles