People shopping for a purebred dog should educate themselves about all aspects of the breed in which they are interested.  Unlike many breeds, in which health problems exist but aren't talked about, most PWD breeders believe strongly that good health in dogs can only be maintained by the open discussion of health concerns.  The information below is presented for that reason.  Good breeders should be happy to discuss these issues with you.

When I began breeding PWDs in the early 1980's there were only 2,000 in this country. With such a limited gene pool it was necessary, for the preservation of the breed, to put almost any dog into our breeding programs. Today there are over  20,000 Portuguese Water Dogs in The U.S. With this vastly expanded genetic base and much more sophisticated health testing avaialbe, there is no good reason to breed a dog that is not two years old, or to breed dogs that do not have passing grades in hips and eyes, and who haven't been fully screened by all the available health tests.

The basic tests prior to breeding a PWD are a passing grade for hips from the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals),  which means an OFA number is given and a grade assigned of  Excellent, Good or Fair for the hips. Grades of "borderline", "mildly dysplastic", "moderately dysplastic" or "severely dysplastic" are considered to be Failing grades.)  The second test is a  passing CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation), which means a CERF number is given. It should be dated within the most immediate past 12 months to show that it's current as a CERF is only valid for one year.

The other tests are genetic tests. There is one for PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) and each sire and dam of a puppy you are lookingat should be tested for PRA. At least one parent should have the Gm-1 and JDCM test. More details on the tests are given below under the heading of the major issues in the breed today. Because some breeders today have decided not to perform all the health clearance testing, it is up to the puppy buyer to make sure the health tests are completed on the parents of the puppies you are considering.

The Portuguese Water Dog is overall a very healthy, robust, family companion.  But as in humans, and certainly all breeds of dogs, there are some health problems. Fortunately, the PWD has not had any major incidence of  liver, kidney, VWD, cancer or spinal disorders that have afflicted many of the most popular breeds.   Medical concerns we do face,  as of 2012,  are:


Infrequently reported eye problems include cataracts, entropian eyelids, keratoconjunctivitis and PPM (persistent pupillary membrane).  These and other eye problems can be identified by a CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) exam.  The CERF exam is performed by about 150 board-certified Veterinary Ophthalmologists throughout the country.  The examination is painless and normally takes about 10 minutes.   Eye drops are used to dilate the pupil and the eye is then examined through an ophthalmoscope on the awake dog.  Cost ranges from about $15-$80 per examination.  Many breed and kennel clubs across the U.S. run convenient, economical eye exam clinics in order to promote eye health.  ALL breeding animals should have a yearly eye exam and non-breeding dogs should have a CERF exam at least every 3 years.  Dogs who have had a passing grade CERF exam will have an official certificate that includes a CERF number and  the year of the exam. Only dogs that have a current CERF certificate should be used for breeding. Breeders who are selling puppies should make current CERF certificates of the sire and dam available to any prospective puppy buyers. All puppies should be examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist before purchase. This test can be done from 6 weeks onwards and checks for eye problems that may be affect the health of your puppy.

PRA:  Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a genetically transmitted eye disease found in about 80 breeds of dogs, including Poodles, Akitas, Labrador Retrievers, and the Portuguese Water Dog. PRA affects the dog's retina, which is the "picture screen" at the back of the eye. PRA causes the blood vessels of the retina to atrophy, or waste away. The end result of retinal atrophy is a gradual but progressive blindness. The condition is irreversible, and there is no cure.

There is a simple genetic DNA blood test to identify normal non-carriers, carriers and affected dogs:

A  DNA test for PWDs, known as the Optigen test, became available in January 1999. The test is designed to identify those dogs that do not carry the gene for PRA. Tested dogs are given one of three ratings - "Normal" or clear of the PRA gene; "Carrier", indicating the dog will not be affected by PRA but carries the gene; and "Affected" for dogs that are probably affected.  For breeding purposes "Normal" and "Carrier" and "Affected" rated dogs can be bred to "A" rated non-carriers, as the resulting litters will not produce affected dogs. At this time PWDCA is recommending that both parents of a litter be tested for PRA.


Most breeds have some dogs with hips that are called "dysplastic" - that is the hip joint is not formed perfectly.  The dysplastic dog may have no pain or problems, or it may experience mild to severe discomfort when moving. Treatment, if necessary, can consist of aspirin, anti-inflammatory medication, or surgery in the most severe cases.

Some "breeders" have been known to say, when being asked about hip certification:  "My dogs run plenty and my vet assures me that everything is perfect" and/or "My dogs are not yet two years old".  It is not advised to breed a PWD that does not have an OFA passing grade after two years of age. There is NO good reason to breed a dysplastic dog today, and although a breeder may not use the term "dysplastic" - they will not be able to provide you with an OFA rating of Excellent, Good or Fair.  A Preliminary OFA reading can be made before the age of two, but that can sometimes change and OFA only gives final grades are the dog is two years old. Preliminary readings can be graded in the same way a 2-year x-ray will be graded. A preliminary OFA gives you an idea of how the hip will be at two years of age. 
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) evaluates hip X-rays submitted to them to determine if there is any dysplasia present.  The X-ray can be performed at any age, but the OFA will only give a "Preliminary" rating on dogs under the age of two. Hip X-rays of dogs two years old or older will receive an "OFA number" and rating. OFA hip ratings for dysplasia- free dogs are: Excellent, Good, or Fair.   Dysplasia, if present, will be rated in a range from "Mild" to "Severe". Cost ranges from $100 to $400 for the X-ray, which can be performed by most veterinarians. The dog can be either sedated or anesthetized (cost varies accordingly).  While all veterinarians can "read" the X-ray, they do not do so with the experience and background of the OFA, and they cannot give an OFA number or rating. In the Portuguese Water Dog today, approximately 13% of all dogs X-rayed and submitted to the OFA are found to be dysplastic.  25 years ago, the dysplasia rate in the PWD was 35%, and this dramatic change has come about by not breeding dysplastic dogs.   Breeders should make sire and dam OFA numbers available to prospective puppy buyers, and no Portuguese Water Dog should be used for breeding today without a tw0-year OFA passing grade rating.
There are other hip grading system such as PennHip and the British Veterinary Association and various other overseas hip grading systems. These do not give a pass/fail so it is very difficult for the puppy buyer to determine whether the dogs' hips are of an equivalent "passing" grade when compared to OFA. Please be cautious when considering a breeding where the OFA hip evaluation has not been performed and a rating given.
Cutwater has gradually improved the rating of our Dogs over 25 years of breeding and althought we still get some dysplasia, for the most part  your dog stands a good chance of having good hips due to our solid breeding program. We will never breed a dysplastic dog. You can see all the results - we publish ALL of them - on the OFA website.


An OFA Registry is now available.  Approximate X-ray cost is $50 - $150. The X-ray can be done by most veterinarians. About 1.4% of the PWDs X-rayed to date have been found to have elbow dysplasia.

Dog club sponsored hip/elbow exam clinics are available in most parts of the country in order to promote the checking of hips/elbows.   Buyers of PWDs are often asked by breeders to OFA X-ray their "pets" (animals not being shown or bred) so that all occurrences of hip dysplasia can be detected.  This is extremely important because hip dysplasia is believed to be caused by a combination of multiple genes, rather than by a simple recessive genetic trait, and as such, there is no direct genetic screening that can be done at this time.  Hip dysplasia can surface in any given litter even after breeding generations of only dogs with OFA-certified hips.  It is only by the on-going tracking of all hips that responsible breeders can continue their efforts to reduce the chances of producing dysplastic dogs.


Addison's is a rare disorder found in animals and in people - John F. Kennedy and Jane Austen, among others, lived with the disease. Out of a living population of approximately 9,000 PWD's there have been about 130 reported cases.  Addison's disease is caused by adrenocortical insufficiency - that is, the adrenal glands stop producing certain hormones that control sugar metabolism and maintain the salt and water balances in the body.

Diagnosing the disorder can be extremely difficult. The symptoms are usually, but not always, a combination of depression, lethargy, weakness, vomiting, weight loss, and some hair-shedding. Stress is thought to induce these symptoms. Stress can arise from infection, breeding, kenneling, etc.  Addison's is a long-term but treatable disease - few PWDs die from addisons disease. A minimum amount of medication (usually a monthly shot) is used to maintain the salt/water balances.

The cause of Addison's is unknown at this time. Some researchers believe Addison's has a hereditary link, while others believe that it is either environmental or of no known cause. Major research is continuing at both medical and veterinary institutions, especially through The Georgie Project.


Juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy (JDCM) did not acquire its name in our breed until about 1997. Prior to that a specific disease was not recognized and deaths were attributed to sudden puppy death or unexplained puppy death. It wasn't until about 25 affected puppies were autopsied on a more regular basis that a pattern began to appear. The words "enlarged heart", "failed left ventricle", "pulmonary edema", and "hepatic congestion" began appearing on pathology reports. The presenting symptoms also had a pattern: somewhere between 6 and 27 weeks, after completely normal growth and development, puppies would present with a   sudden onset of anorexia, lethargy, rapid breathing and pulse, and sometimes vomiting.   Sometimes, with no warning at all, an otherwise normal pup was simply found dead.  There is now a gene test offered by the University of Pennsylvania for all PWDS. This test will determine whether a dog is a carrier or not. At the present time it is recommended that at least ONE parent be tested for JDCM (Juvenile Dilated Cardio Myopathy), this will assure you that at least you will not get an affected puppy.


Some PWD's, almost exclusively dull, tight, curly-coated dogs have been found to lose their hair in a pattern-like formation when they are about 2 or 3 years old. About 25 cases of hair-loss have been reported. It has been reported that most hair-loss dogs have follicular dysplasia - in other words, improperly formed hair follicles. There is a simple skin biopsy test for follicular dysplasia, which can be run any time after the puppy is 8 weeks old. Several breeders report the elimination of hair loss by only breeding curly-coated dogs to wavy-coated dogs. It appears that the curly to curly breeding produces the greatest potential for hair loss.


GM-1 Storage disease is a rare disease which is only found in humans and the Portuguese Water Dog. It is a genetically transmitted fatal neurological disorder that is apparent at around 5 months of age.

The Neurogenetics Program of NYU School of Medicine offers a swab test which determines the genetic status of the dog for GM-1. The test is performed on puppies as young as one week of age and on older dogs at any time. The test results rate the dogs as Normal, ie non-carriers,  or Carriers of the GM-1 gene.

The ONLY way Affected puppies can be produced is by breeding a Carrier to a Carrier and NO responsible breeder does this. A Carrier bred to a Non-Carrier produces some Carrier puppies and some Non-Carrier puppies, but NO Affected puppies. Carrier and Non-Carrier PWD's are all equally healthy dogs.

To meet PWDCA current recommendations, the genetic status for all dogs being used for breeding should be known before being bred, and one parent of a litter should be tested and be normal/non-carrier.  The breeder should disclose the GM-1 status of the sire and dam to all potential puppy buyers. There is no reasonable chance your puppy could be GM-1 affected if one parent is a non-carrier.

General Note

While it may seem from the health issues listed here that the PWD is prone to many diseases, PLEASE DO NOT PANIC. As conscientious breeders, we simply feel that education is one of our responsibilities.

Any time one deals with a living, breathing being, the potential exists for health problems to occur. It doesn't matter if one is speaking of dogs, cats, birds or people. There is the element of risk that anything living, will, at some time in its life, have a health problem. The day has not yet come that we can always breed 100% healthy dogs. So, puppy buyers must be realistic in their expectations. No one can predict or guarantee the lifespan of a dog or if it will have a genetic problem, so to ask a breeder to make such a prediction is unrealistic. It is not unrealistic, however, to expect that the breeder has done everything in his or her power, and has used all the means available, to breed healthy parents with all the testing done to hopefully get a very healthy litter.

The vast majority of PWD's are very healthy.  Less than 2% of the breed are affected by serious illness. Please put this information into perspective and use it to guide you in the purchase or care of a PWD.
PWD Health Issues
A typical hair loss PWD 
- NOT a Cutwater Dog
Cutwater Puppy 2010
Photo © 2010 Harold Shapiro

Cutwater Puppy 2010
Photo © 2010 Harold Shapiro

Ch Cutwater Apple Apple OA OAJ WWD
Photo © Animals Only

OFA Excellent Rated hips
Copyright 2010 Cutwater PWDs
OFA rated Moderate dysplasia
Copyright 2010 Cutwater PWDS