Lappies are a long lived breed and with good care and nutrition, most will reach at least thirteen years of age, with fourteen to fifteen years not an uncommon age for a Lappie. Given that the breed was developed in some of the harshest conditions on earth, most Lappies are tough and resilient dogs.

There are only a few health conditions that can affect the Finnish Lapphund and these are ones that affect most dog breeds and cross breeds. As a general rule, the incidence of problematic health conditions in the Lappie is very low, especially now that breeders have various tests available to screen the health of the parents before breeding from them.

The main conditions to be aware of are described at length below. Please keep in mind that these health problems are not common and occur only rarely. Checking the statistics provided will reassure you of this. FLCV breeders do all that is possible to maintain the good health of the breed and the first step of this policy is to fully inform prospective puppy buyers with the health information found here.

So, although at first glance there may seem to be a lot of information here, it certainly does not follow on that there are a lot of health problems with Lappies. In fact, the general health of the breed is excellent. The FLCV just believes that prospective puppy buyers should have access to all available information. This information is also extremely useful for those who may be thinking of breeding Finnish Lapphunds.

Health and Ethical Breeders

While there are no other health conditions known to be significant in the Finnish Lapphund breed, apart from those listed below, there is no such thing as a perfect organism anywhere. Problems (either congenital and/or environmental) can and do arise, although very rarely.

The difference between an ethical and a non-ethical breeder is that an ethical breeder will keep a track of anything that arises in the lines of their breeding, disclose that information to you, and actively work to ensure no problems are replicated, or are avoided as much as possible. If problems do arise, ethical breeders will want to know about it and will work with you to support you with information and advice.

In Victoria, anyone breeding a litter is bound by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 which provides restriction on breeding with heritable diseases. The Code of Practice for the Responsible Breeding of Animals with Heritable Defects that Cause Disease (2009) has been established by the Victorian government and goes a very long way to protect the interests of puppy buyers.

The Finnish Lapphund Breeding Program, has been developed under that Code by the FLCV and submitted to Dogs Victoria in line with the requirements of the legislation. It will provide you with information, health testing and practices you can expect when dealing with a Finnish Lapphund breeder who is a member of the FLCV and follows its Breeding Program. It even sets standards above and beyond those required by the above Victorian Code.

Health Certificates

Ethical breeders will ensure their breeding stock has all of the necessary health testing prior to breeding. Your breeder should be willing to talk to you about this and share health results and other information with you.

If you are considering purchasing a Finnish Lapphund puppy, it is on your best interests to ensure that you view copies of the following health certificates for each parent of the puppy. The importance of doing so will become apparent, as you read about the possible health conditions below.

The certificates concerned are:

Hip and Elbow X-Ray Form
PRA Status Certificate/Statement
Current Eye Examination Certificate

Hip Dysplasia

What Is It?

This is simply a poor formation of the hip joint. It is a condition that occurs in many species, including humans! The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. There should be a nice, neat and snug fit between the head of the femur (the “ball”) and the acetabulum (the “socket”). If this fit is too loose, the resulting wear and tear through everyday use can result in a range of attendant problems, including the development of arthritis and pain upon movement. This is the condition known as hip dysplasia.

The degree of looseness can vary in individual dogs from very little to a whole lot! Naturally, there is a greater likelihood of problems resulting, when there is a higher amount of looseness. However, just to complicate the issue, there are actually examples of dogs in all breeds, running around quite normally and pain free, with hardly a hip socket at all! Also, as Lappies are a light, medium sized breed, a Finnish Lapphund with any kind of mobility problems caused by poor hips is very rare. The diagrams below explain the different degrees of hip dysplasia. (Source: Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)

How Is It Measured?

To measure the amount of looseness (or sublaxation) in breeding dogs and its corresponding effects on the dog’s hip joint to date, their hips are X-rayed and sent to a specialist radiologist to be “scored” – that is, each hip is given a number. The higher the number given for each hip, the poorer the overall condition of the hip joint. Therefore, a hip score of 0/0 indicates perfect hips, while the highest possible 53/53 is really bad news!

The most current average hip score available for the Finnish Lapphund breed, available through the Australian Veterinary Association and Australian National Kennel Council’s hip and elbow scoring scheme is 12.73. (However, this has not been updated for at least four years). This is the total score when the averages for both hips are added together. It provides a guide to breeders, who can then concentrate on breeding with dogs whose total hip scores are lower than this average.

Some dogs will also have a hip grade as well as a hip score (number). The grades range from the best being an A grade to the worst being an E grade. However, a hip grade is not as accurate as an actual number score. For example, a B grade can be anything from 2/3 to 6/6, so you will get a better idea of the parents’ hips, if you ask to see a copy of the actual radiology report and check out the numbers. However, with imported adult Finnish Lapphunds, you may be able to see their hip grade.

The current distribution of hip scores in Finland (as of March 2010) is: 
Grade A – 38.1% Grade B – 32.2% Grade C – 22.8% Grade D – 6.8% Grade E – 0.2%

Finnish breeders studiously avoid breeding with dogs which have Grade D hips and certainly do not breed dogs with Grade E hips.

Factors Contributing to Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

There are three factors that contribute to the development of hip dysplasia – genetics, nutrition and environment.


To try to control the genetic factor, breeders take the hips scores of breeding dogs into account to try and minimize the risks of the resulting pups being affected by hip dysplasia.

Of course, the best scenario is mating two dogs, each with excellent hips. However, deciding matings just on the basis of hips scores alone may not always be in the best interest of the breed or the resulting puppies. For example, two dogs may both have excellent hips, but may be lacking in other important characteristics, such as exceptional temperaments or good breed type.

Just to complicate this issue further, the inheritance of hip dysplasia is by no means completely understood or straight forward. There are many instances (across all breeds) of two dogs being mated, both with good hip scores and with excellent pedigrees of good hips behind them, only to produce hip dysplasia in their offspring. On the other hand, two dogs with just adequate hip scores can produce a puppy with outstanding hips results. All breeders can really do at this point in time, is to approach the issue of hip dysplasia with the tools provided through X-raying their breeding dogs.


Nutrition is extremely important in reducing the risk of hip dysplasia. For example, giving calcium supplementation has now been found to contribute to abnormal joint development. Similarly, too much protein in the diet of a puppy can cause it to grow too quickly, interfering with correct joint formation. Most educated breeders will be aware of these issues and give you a diet for your puppy that will avoid these problems.

Environment and Exercise

This is really just common sense. If you liken your growing puppy to a human toddler, then these are some things you would not allow them to do:

  • Go on long walks before they are mature. Walks with a puppy are more for socialization than exercise.
  • Exercise vigorously on slippery surfaces
  • Exercise vigorously for extended periods of time on shifting surfaces (like sand)
  • Exercise vigorously in any way for continuous long periods
  • Run up and down stairs frequently In other words, self regulated exercise is great for growing pups, but anything excessive imposed on them by well meaning humans can contribute to joint problems.

Elbow Dysplasia

This term refers to a range of conditions which involve the malformation of the elbow joint. Like hip dysplasia, arthritis can result in the joint and cause pain and inflammation. As with hip dysplasia, both genetic and environmental factors play a part, although the hereditary element does appear to be more influential with elbow dysplasia.

Elbows are X-rayed when the hips are done and each elbow joint is given a score from 0 to 3. O means there is no sign of arthrosis. A score of 1 indicates minimal arthrosis, 2 indicates moderate arthrosis and 3 severe arthrosis.

There is very little evidence of an elbow dysplasia problem in the Finnish Lapphund breed. However, just to be sure, most ethical breeders will elbow score their breeding dogs. In the majority of cases the score is 0/0. However some 0/1, 1/0 or 1/1 scores have been seen, but only very rarely a worse result. As of March 2010, 6.49% of Lappies in Finland had elbow scores other than 0, most of these being a score of 1.

Like hip scores, breeders will use the elbow scores of their dogs as a tool to help them with their breeding decisions. Generally speaking, only dogs with elbows scoring 0 and/or 1 should be bred from. This is also the recommendation from the Lapphund Club of Finland.

Eye Conditions

prcd-PRA (Progressive Rod Cone Degeneration – Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

As the name would suggest, this is a disease where the retinal tissue of the eye gradually dies over time, causing gradual blindness in the dog. The first symptoms usually noticed is a loss of night vision, which gradually extends to a loss of day vision as well.

There are various forms of PRA, however the one proven in Finnish Lapphunds to date is the type known as PRCD or progressive rod cone degeneration, common in many breeds. It is possible that there may be other, much rarer, forms of PRA in the breed, with a handful of suspect cases around the world, however the other types or PRA, for which there are already DNA tests, have not been found in Finnish Lapphunds.

The age of onset of prcd-PRA varies amongst different dog breeds, but in the Finnish Lapphund it is quite late, with first signs often not appearing until 5 to 8 years of age. The incidence of clinically diagnosed prcd-PRA in Finnish Lapphunds in Finland was low, even prior to there being a test available. Now there is a DNA test available, meaning that breeders can avoid this condition appearing entirely.

Prcd-PRA is inherited through a simple autosomal recessive gene. What does this mean? Well, many traits in dogs (and humans too) are under the control of a pair of genes. With prcd-PRA inheritance in Lappies, there are two varieties of this gene – the “Normal” gene and the “Abnormal” gene. The Abnormal gene is the one that causes the actual disease condition of prcd-PRA, but luckily, it is recessive to the Normal gene. This means that whenever it is paired up with a Normal gene, the Normal gene will mask the expression of the Abnormal gene and the dog will never develop the disease. It is only when the Abnormal gene is paired up with another Abnormal gene, with no Normal gene to keep a lid on them, that these genes are free to be expressed and so the disease develops.

* In terms of genotype (gene pattern), there are three possible pairings of genes that a Lappie could carry and that are revealed by the DNA test:
* Normal/Normal, known as Clear
* Normal/Abnormal, known as a Carrier
* Abnormal/Abnormal, known as Affected
Again, it is only this last pairing of genes that will cause prcd-PRA to develop.

Each parent contributes one of their pair of genes to their offspring, making up a pair in their puppies. As you can see from the above, as long as a puppy inherits at least one Normal gene from either of their parents, they will never suffer from prcd-PRA disease. Responsible Breeders will only produce litters from parents where no Affected puppies can result. If you are looking to purchase a puppy you should always ask to see the PRA results of the parents and/or the puppies.

If you are purchasing a Finnish Lapphund pup to be a desexed pet, whether your pup is prcd-PRA Clear or a Carrier is totally irrelevant, because it will never develop the disease.  However, if you are looking to purchase a pup for breeding, you should discuss your options with the breeder of your puppy, keeping in mind that a Clear puppy can be bred to either other Clears, a Carrier or even an Affected dog without the risk of creating Affected puppies, whereas a Carrier puppy must be bred to a Clear dog to avoid producing puppies Affected by prcd-PRA .
To date there are no known cases of a Finnish Lapphund in Australia genetically or clinically diagnosed as ‘Affected’ with prcd-PRA. Therefore the likelihood of an Affected dog being used for breeding in Australia is highly unlikely to occur.

Recommendations of the FLCV:
It is a recommendation of this club that the prcd-PRA status of any Finnish Lapphund intended for breeding should be known. Furthermore, all puppies intended for breeding or showing (which are therefore registered on the Main Register of Dogs Victoria or interstate equivalents) will have been DNA tested for prcd-PRA by their breeder, by the time of purchase. It is also recommended that puppies which are not from a Clear to Clear mating and are destined to be desexed pets are tested for prcd-PRA status by the breeder. You should never purchase a puppy where the breeder has no idea of the genetic status of both parents.

Hereditary Cataracts (HC)

The lens of an eye is usually clear and focuses light on to the retina. A cataract is an opacity (cloudiness) in the lens, usually white, which scatters the light. The level of impact on vision can vary according to the size of the cataract (varying from a pinhead to the total lens) and its location on the lens.

There are many forms of cataracts with a variety of causes, which can be found in many dog breeds and cross-breeds. Some of these have been determined to be hereditary. In the Finnish Lapphund, there are two main types of cataracts deemed to be hereditary, the posterior polar cataract and the cortical cataract.

To explain these a little further, a brief look at lens anatomy is needed. The lens consists of a core, called the nucleus, surrounded by an outer layer called the cortex, coated with a thin layer of cells around the whole lens called the capsule. The front surface of lens (closest to the outside of the eye) is called the anterior surface. The back surface (closest to the inner part of the eye) is the posterior surface.

Eye Conditions

Copyright: Pamela Francis, 2010A cataract can occur in any part of the lens. A cortical cataract therefore occurs in the cortex of the lens. Where does a posterior polar cataract occur? Yes, on the back posterior surface of the lens. The “polar’ part of the name means that it is located in the middle part of the lens, not at its top or bottom. (As the lens is tilted 90 degrees onto its side, in order to sit upright in the dog’s eye, the equators are actually at the “top” and “bottom” of the lens and the polar areas in the middle).

Research scientists in Finland state that there is a third type of cataract that can occur in Lappies – the punctuate cataract. In this case, the word “punctuate” refers to the size of the cataract. It means it is very small, just a pin prick. If the dog has only a punctuate cataract in one or both eyes, it will most likely gain an eye certificate, with a recommendation for a recheck. Small opacities like this may not be inherited, but if they are bigger on a subsequent eye examination, they should be assumed to be inherited.

Unfortunately, the genetic inheritance of hereditary cataracts in Finnish Lapphunds is not currently known or understood, although there is research underway at Helsinki University. Consequently, although there are genetic tests available for HC in other breeds, this is not the case for Lappies. It appears from the research conducted so far, that HC found in Lappies has a different mode of inheritance than that in these other breeds, for which a test is available. As a result, these tests cannot genetically determine whether a Lappie does or does not have HC, or whether it carries the condition.

Breeding stock should have their eyes checked and cleared by a specialist vet, an ophthalmologist registered with ACES (AVA-ANKC Australian Canine Eye Scheme). This needs to be done prior to mating and thereafter at least every two years, so that the current status of the dog’s eye health is known. Any affected dogs can then be withdrawn from the breeding pool. This is not a foolproof way of ensuring eye diseases are not produced in offspring, but is the best method currently available.

Hereditary cataracts in the Finnish Lapphund usually appear after the first year, although there have been some isolated cases of juvenile cataracts in the breed. In Finland, the proportion of hereditary cataracts was 3.59% as of March 2010, making it themost common of the eye conditions to impact on the breed in its native country. To June 2009, there were no recorded cases in Australia, out of 27 Lappies for which eye test data is currently available.

The Lapphund Club of Finland advises not to breed with Lappies diagnosed with posterior polar cataracts or cortical cataracts.

Retinal Dysplasia (RD)

There are three forms of retinal dysplasia, which are all types of abnormal development of the eye’s retina, present at birth. There are two layers in the retina and if these do not form or gel together properly, damage to the inner surface of the retina results. While these conditions may be hereditary, they can also be the result of a viral infection or some other event prior to birth.

The three types of RD are listed below, along with their effects on a dog’s eye sight and breeding recommendations from theLapphund Club of Finland.

TYPE OF RDFocal or Multi-Focal


Retinal detachment

EFFECT ON VISIONVery small localized areas of folding in the retinal layer. Small blind spots which are probably not noticed by the dog.

Large areas of defective retinal development. Large holes in the visual field.

The two retinal layers do not come together at all. Total blindness.

BREEDING RECOMMENDATIONLapphund Club of Finland advises that dogs with MRD may be bred from, providing their mate is clear of MRD.

Lapphund Club of Finland recommends not breeding with affected dogs.

Lapphund Club of Finland recommends not breeding with affected dogs.

Many breeds and cross breeds exhibit retinal dysplasia, but this condition is very rare in the Finnish Lapphund breed, with a rate of only 1.08 % in Finland as of March 2010. To June 2009, there were two recorded cases of MRD in Australia, out of 27 Lappies whose eye test data is currently publically available from ACES.


These two conditions, Persistent Hyperplastic Tunica Vasculosa Lentis (PHTVL) and Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous (PHPV), are congenital eye anomalies, which affect the lens of the eye. When the eye is developing in utero, a system of blood vessels coats the lens, feeding the eye structure during its development. In normal development, these blood vessels break down prior to birth and disappear without a trace, but in these conditions the blood vessels remain beyond birth and can interfere with the dog’s sight.

There are various levels of these conditions which can be diagnosed, from Grade 1through to Grade 6. There will generally be no impairment to vision with Grade 1. In grades 2 to 5, there is increasingly poor vision. A Grade 6 condition means there is a total cataract across the lens and the dog is completely blind.

The condition is known to be hereditary in other breeds, but no research has been done regarding Finnish Lapphunds. The incidence in the breed is very low, being 1.56% as of March 2010 in Finland. To June 2009, there were no recorded cases in Australia, according to ACES data, out of the 27 Lappies included in that data.

The Lapphund Club of Finland advises that only dogs with a Grade 1 or 2 should be bred from. They recommend that any dog diagnosed with a Grade 3 to 6 form of PHTVL/PHPV should be excluded from breeding.

Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM)

The pupillary membrane covers the puppy’s pupil during its foetal development. Normally, this membrane completely dissolves before the puppy is born, but sometimes small strands of the membrane can still persist. They can disappear by the time the puppy is 4 to 5 weeks old, but if they don’t, the puppy is said to have PPM (Persistent Pupillary Membrane).

The strands of membrane can be attached to different points of the eye and this will determine how the dog’s vision is affected:

TYPE OF PPMStrand from iris to iris (coloured part of the eye)

Strand from iris to lens

Strand from iris to cornea

EFFECT ON VISIONNo problems caused, generally disappearing eventually on their own

Can cause minor cataracts and minor effect on vision

May damage cornea and pup could be born blind.

BREEDING RECOMMENDATIONLapphund Club of Finland advises that affected dogs may be bred from, providing their mate is clear of PPM

Currently awaiting advice from Lapphund Club of Finland

Currently awaiting advice from Lapphund Club of Finland

It is not known if this condition is hereditary in Lappies. The current incidence in Finland is not known. To June 2009, there were no recorded cases in Australia, according to the data available from ACES (27 Lappies).

Testing for Eye Conditions

The only genetic test presently available for eye conditions in Finnish Lapphunds is that for prcd-PRA. There are no other genetic tests for hereditary cataracts or other eye conditions. The only way to control the other eye conditions listed above is firstly, to ensure that dogs to be used for breeding have a specialist eye examination before being bred. This first examination will rule out retinal dysplasia, PHTVL/PHPV and PPM. 
Continuing bi-annual eye tests will then warn the breeder if hereditary cataracts appear in breeding stock.


So there you have it, a detailed explanation of the main health conditions that can affect the Finnish Lapphund. You have done well if you have gotten to this point! It needs to be stated again that the occurrence of these health conditions is very low. The statistics provided demonstrate that. Being well acquainted with these possible health conditions ensures that both breeders and discerning puppy purchasers alike can help to maintain the excellent health of this most lovely breed.

The FLCV sincerely thanks the Breeding Committee of the Lapphund Club of Finland for providing vital information for this Health article.