Boston Terrier Health Information

Although Boston Terriers are the BEST breed around (of course, I may be just a tiny bit partial to them…), they, like all purebreds, have health issues that are inherent in the breed.  The most prominent health concerns include deafness, juvenile cataracts, hemivertebrae, and luxating patella.  The best any breeder can do is the best he/she can do and in doing so, testing is imperative to make intelligent, informed breeding decisions.  Testing will not guarantee that affected puppies will not be produced, but it will increase the chances for a healthy, sound puppy.  It also gives the breeder accurate health information about their breeding dogs, so they are better equipped when deciding which dog to breed to which bitch and vice versa.  Below is a brief highlight about testing in those areas of biggest concern as well as those that simply may be, or may become, an issue.  Also included is where to find additional information.  Many reputable breeders not only test, but submit the results to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for certification and to be included in the associated databases so that statistics can be maintained and possible research instituted.  You can search the OFA database for most of the information, though the Spine Database is currently closed and not available for searches to the public.  If a breeder says he/she tests, do not be shy about asking to see the test results, especially if you cannot locate the information online in the OFA database at

BAER Testing for Deafness

Every dog should be tested for deafness by means of the Brain Auditory Evoked Response, or BAER, test.  This test is best administered by a board certified neurologist or audiologist.  A “regular” vet can perform the test, but I can speak from personal experience that many of these well-meaning vets have misread the results, which does no good to the breeder or new puppy owner, so I always use a specialist who has been specifically trained to use and read the results produced by the special equipment.  This test need only be performed once in a lifetime as a dog is either hearing, bilaterally deaf (deaf in both ears), or unilaterally deaf (deaf in one ear).  All puppies should be tested prior to leaving for its new home and should be tested no earlier than 7 weeks of age.  You can read more information about deafness in Bostons and the BAER test on the Boston Terrier Club of American’s (BTCA’s) Boston Terrier Ears web page and on the OFA Congenital Deafness web page.

CERF Testing for Genetic Eye Disease

In addition to the above testing, all breeding dogs and puppies produced should be Companion Animal Eye Registration (CAER) tested for genetic eye disease, and in particular, juvenile cataracts.  Cataracts affect many Bostons and can occur as early in life as just weeks of age, resulting in early blindness, to being clear until old age sets in and slow growing cataracts begin.

This test should be performed by a board certified veterinarian ophthalmologist EVERY YEAR for all Bostons in order to establish a history of existing carriers and affected dogs.  Tests can be administered as early as 8 weeks of age on puppies and should be done each year until the dog is at least 8-9 years of age.  You can find more information about cataracts and genetic eye disease on the BTCA’s Boston Terrier Eyes web page and on the OFA website.

In addition to CAER testing, there is also a DNA test that can identify if your Boston is clear of the early onset Juvenile Cataract genes, is a carrier (has one of the two genes) or if he/she is affected (has both genes and WILL develop Juvenile Cataracts).  This type of cataract is a "fast acting" cataract and if affected, the dog will likely be completely blind by two years of age.  Testing is performed by using DNA "swabs" to gather skin tissue from the dog's inside cheeks. DNA swabs can be taken as early as 8 weeks of age on puppies and only needs to be done once in the dog's lifetime.  For more information about obtaining the Hereditary Juvenile Cataract Mutation DNA test kits, please visit the University of Kentucky website.

Testing for Patellar Luxation (“Slipping Knees”)

And for reputable breeders, the testing continues as it includes patellar luxation examinations on all breeding dogs.  Luxating patellae, simply put, are knee caps that slip in and out of the socket area.  There are grades of luxation, depending upon the severity.  Puppies can be tested as early as 12 weeks, but the results cannot be “certified” by the OFA until they are at least one year of age, but breeders should still have a “pre-lim” performed before sending puppies to their new homes.

This test can be performed by any experienced veterinarian and should be performed bi-annually for all Bostons in order to establish a history of which dogs have or produce dogs with this problem.  Luxating patella is generally inherited unless it is due specifically to an injury, in which case, it will likely occur in only one knee rather than both.  You can find more information about patellar luxation on the BTCA’s Patellar Luxation in Boston Terriers web page and on the OFA Patellar Luxation web page.

X-Raying the Spine for Hemivertebrae

Boston Terriers can be prone to hemivertebrae.  Hemivertebrae are vertebrae in the spine that are shaped more like triangles than blocks.  Many Bostons are asymptomatic and appear not to be affected for their entire lives, while others may become crippled later in life.  This is a serious problem in Bostons and is now being studied by OFA, where they have set up a database dedicated to Boston Terriers and French Bulldogs.  The x-rays can be taken by any experienced veterinarian as early as 12 weeks of age.  This needs to be done only once in the dog’s lifetime.  You can find more information about hemivertebrae on the BTCA’s Hemivertebrae web page.

X-Raying for Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is not considered a problem in Bostons at this time; however, I wonder if this is because very few breeders have x-rays taken and submitted to see if there are any problems.  The reason I wonder this is that OFA has identified Legg-Calve-Perthes, another hip defect, as an issue in Bostons.  Also, I can't help but wonder if hips are negatively impacted when we continually bred for short backs.  Based upon the few Bostons that have been x-rayed with results submitted to OFA for public access (less than 110 since 1976), only five have been given an "excellent" rating, with the majority of Bostons obtaining "good" results, so perhaps it is not an issue.

The x-rays can be taken by any experienced veterinarian and submitted to OFA for certification at 2 years of age or older, but preliminary x-rays can be taken as early as 12 months of age; however, these will be not "certified".  OFA recommends recertification every 2 years, but generally if the hips are "good" or "excellent", I suspect there is little need for recertification unless there appear to be symptoms indicating a problem.  The OFA website has great information regarding hip dysplasia.


Per the OFA website, Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCP) is a disorder of hip joint that it is most often seen in miniature and toy breeds.  LCP is believed to be an inherited disease, although the mode of inheritance is not known.  Because there is a genetic component, OFA recommends that dogs affected with LCP not be used in breeding programs.  Bostons are listed as one of the breeds at high risk for LCP.  For more information about LCP, visit OFA’s LCP webpage. 

Cardiac Testing

Heart disease is another problem that isn't considered significant in Bostons, but again, very few (less than 70) and all that are on the OFA site are "normal", so at least that is good.  There are several ways to test for heart disease.  The most common, but least reliable is an auscultation (listening to the heart with a stethoscope).  The most reliable, but one of the most expensive is an echocardiogram (basically an ultrasound of the heart).  The auscultation and echocardiogram should be performed by a board-certified veterinary cardiologists.

Canine Health Information Center

There is also the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), which maintains an online searchable database of Bostons (and other breeds) that have had the tests performed as recommended by the parent club – in this case, the Boston Terrier Club of America.  This does not mean that the dog “passed” the tests, simply that the tests were performed.  To determine if the tests were “clear/normal,” you need to search the OFA database.  The certificate that is issued, is a method of recognizing those breeders who not only care enough to test their dogs, but also to register the results with the appropriate organizations.  CHIC certificates are issued every year to those dogs that are tested as recommended, so if a breeder says their dog has received the prestigious CHIC certificate, ask what the issue date is as they are only valid for one year (this is because the CERF test is only valid for one year as well).

While some of these tests are inexpensive (for example, the patella exam shouldn't cost anything extra as it can be performed by your regular vet during any normal office visit), many of these tests can be expensive (for example, an echocardiogram can be as much as $450).  One way to save on the costs of these tests is to check dog shows in your area, as they often have "clinics" where these tests can be performed at a greatly reduced price.  You can check dog show premium lists to see if there are any available clinics in your area.  Premium lists are generally available on the dog show superintendents' websites.  You can also check the OFA Health Clinic web page for a list of upcoming health clinics.