The Kerry Blue Terrier is generally a healthy breed with a short list of major health concerns. Part of this is due to the breed's moderate size and a gene pool large enough to provide some diversity of breeding dogs, and part is due to the efforts of conscientious, hobby breeders.
To assist breeders, the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club participates in the CHIC program and encourages its breeders to test all breeding dogs for hip dysplasia and eye disease. Results from these and other genetic/DNA tests are compiled and a database is maintained on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website.(www.offa.org) Visitors to this site can search the data by name of dog, breed or type of disorder. There is also a wealth of information and links about the various diseases.
The type and number of tests each breeder elects to perform is a personal decision. Most breeders strive to produce healthy Kerries that will enrich the lives of their families for many years. However, there really is no such thing as a health guarantee. The breeder can guarantee a puppy sold at twelve weeks is healthy at the time of the sale. The health of the pup's sire and dam can be guaranteed up to the time of the sale of the puppies. But, no amount of genetic testing can guarantee a dog will never develop disease.
There are several reliable DNA tests available for some of the disorders that affect Kerry Blue Terriers. The results of such tests are just one tool a breeder can use to produce healthy puppies. However, in our breed, testing is voluntary and reporting test results is also. The actual numbers of dogs tested, versus results listed in the OFA database show a substantial disparity. Results many breeders chose to report only reflect passing scores. In most cases, it is all but impossible to track health trends across lines within the breed. The honesty of the breeder is many times a buyer's only guide.
Cancer is not as prevalent in the Kerry Blue as in some breeds, but is a concern. As diagnostic tests improve, and dogs live longer in general, as in humans, more cancers are seen. Auto immune disorders crop up occasionally. There are no genetic tests for these. Clotting factor disorders, such as vonWillebrandt's disease, factor XI and factor VIII deficiencies have been seen in the breed. There are reliable DNA tests for these, but test results are under-reported. In the past two years, a genetic test for Degenerative Myelopathy has been made available. This disease is heartbreaking, but a dog testing at risk for it may never develop symptoms and live a normal lifespan.
Probably the most common health concerns affecting the breed are skin issues. Dermal and epidural cysts are very common and seem to have no cause. There is nothing verifiable that can be done to prevent them.
No health discussion about Kerry Blue Terriers can ignore PNA (Progressive Neuronal Abiotrophy). The last documented PNA litter was whelped in 1997. From this a pedigree tracing the probable origins of the disease was produced. This fatal neurological disorder usually shows up in puppies by the time they are 12 weeks old. Since most conscientious breeders are aware of PNA, puppies are rarely sold before ten or twelve weeks of age
In April, 2013, a genetic test became available, through OFA and the University of Missouri, to determine if a Kerry is clear or a carrier of PNA, now called CMSD (Canine Multisystem Degeneration). It is hoped breeders will test their breeding dogs and this disorder can finally be eradicated.
There was a health survey completed in 2010 by the Kerry Blue Foundation. While not scientific, it is a good indication of the health issues common in the breed today as reported by nearly 500 Kerry owners.