Today I’m chatting with Dr. Jeff Bergin about his beautiful Newfoundland, Gracie, and about how he breeds and raises Newfies holistically.
Gracie is four years old and she has a really interesting lineage. Her mom was Kate, and Kate was one of Dr. Bergin’s first Newfoundlands.
From No Dogs to Giant Dogs
Dr. Bergin grew up without dogs in the family. When he met his partner, Christine, about 20 years ago, she had been into Newfies for years.
Dr. Bergin admits he was a little overwhelmed at first by the size of the Newfoundland – it was quite a transition being around no dogs to hanging out with dogs the size of Gracie!
Newfies have very sweet temperaments, however, and make wonderful family pets – as long as you understand these are big dogs with big mouths and lots of hair and drool. As you can see from the video, Dr. Bergin always comes prepared with a towel!
One of the reasons I wanted to talk with Dr. Bergin is because the dogs he and Christine produce are very long-lived for Newfoundlands.
Kate, Gracie’s mom, lived to be 17. I won’t say it’s absolutely unheard of, but in all my years of practice, I’ve never met a 17 year-old Newfie. Seventeen years is a wildly successful lifespan for the breed.
But I don’t think it’s a fluke or happenstance that Kate lived to be 17, or that Gracie looks well on her way to living that long, too. I think Dr. Bergin has done things right with his dogs, and I’m excited he’s chatting with us today because I don’t often come across an ethical, responsible, holistic breeder who does things at the level Dr. Bergin and his partner do.
Dr. Bergin focuses on the genetics of his dogs and makes healthy lifestyle choices for them. He creates dogs that thrive on every level.
I talk often about the three pillars of health in my newsletter and in my veterinary practice. Nutrition is the first pillar.
Interestingly, Kate (Gracie’s mom) was raised on a diet of raw food, but Louis, the sire, did not start out life eating raw. Louis was one of Dr. Bergin’s and Christine’s first dogs, purchased from a very reputable breeder. At the time, they didn’t know about species-appropriate nutrition, so Louis started out life on dry food.
Over time he developed terrible allergies which caused much suffering. Christine tried all the traditional types of treatment for him, but nothing was giving Louis any relief from the allergies.
Eventually Christine discovered they needed to feed him differently. Once Louis was transitioned to a raw diet, he became a totally different dog. He was healthy, happy, and lived a long time.
Some of you may live proactively and are naturally interested in feeding biologically appropriate food to the animals in your care. But for most of us, it’s more a matter of stumbling onto the idea of raw food because we’re desperate to find a solution to a pet’s health problem.
Once you start down the path of feeding a species-appropriate diet, you see how vibrant your pet’s body can truly be. And in the case of a pet like Louis, who had a genetic predisposition to terrible allergies, you also witness the life-saving properties of feeding raw. It changes forever the way you feed your pets.
All of Dr. Bergin’s Newfies (and there are a lot of them!) are fed raw. He and Christine combine homemade meals and commercially available raw diets. Their dogs aren’t picky – they eat everything! Feeding raw provides fatty acids and whole proteins in an absorbable form that provides optimum nourishment to pets.
Newfoundland Breed Flaws
Newfies are not exempt from breed flaws. In fact, no pure bred dog is exempt.
Like other breeds, Newfies can have a from-birth genetic predisposition to a certain disease that will show itself if a dog’s lifestyle isn’t well managed.
According to Dr. Bergin, the three most common health problems for Newfoundlands are:
Dr. Bergin is a very responsible breeder. He breeds his dogs only once or twice in their lifetime, with at least six years between litters.
The only genetic flaw he has encountered in his dogs is a heart problem in a grey male Newfie. Grey is a recessive gene for black, so there is greater potential in grey coated Newfies for recessive genes to be expressed.
Dr. Bergin’s grey Newfie is also fed raw, of course. He’s 11 now and going strong, despite his genetic heart problem – proof of the power of healthy lifestyle choices like feeding a species-appropriate diet.
Back to the three pillars of health, the second is maintenance of the frame: the body, the musculoskeletal systems and organs. Because Newfies are big breed dogs, it’s especially important to take care of their frames.
Dr. Bergin is a licensed animal chiropractor (AVCADoctors.com, American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, College of Animal Chiropractic) as well as a human chiropractor, and he performs regular manual orthopedic manipulation on all his dogs. As soon as a puppy can stand up she gets her first adjustment, and this continues throughout her life.
In my opinion as a veterinarian, performing maintenance chiropractic alignments on a consistent basis, especially with big and giant breed dogs, is the key to keeping the musculoskeletal system from degenerating with age.
Gracie’s mom, who lived to be 17, was still ambulatory and able to move freely up until the day she passed away.
Immune System Health
The third pillar of health is a strong, resilient immune system. Being a dog is inherently risky when you consider they like to eat things they really shouldn’t. And they also can contract viruses like parvo, distemper, or rabies – illnesses we’re not able to manage or treat with much success once they take hold.
We do know that after a dog’s body establishes protective immunity, from either a vaccine or exposure to a virus, he is protected for life. I asked Dr. Bergin if any of his Newfies have ever contracted an infectious disease like parvo or distemper.
None have, according to the doctor, and his dogs aren’t vaccinated for anything but rabies, because it’s required by law. They receive a three-year rabies vaccination and then he titers them after that to check for ongoing protection against the virus.
As regular readers here know, a titer is a blood test that measures the body’s immunity to a particular disease. Once a dog’s body has established a protective antibody response for viruses, there’s no need to continue to stimulate his immune system through re-vaccination.
Each time a vaccine is given, there is a risk it will kick your pet’s immune system into overdrive. This can lead to a whole host of autoimmune disorders and other conditions that result from an immune system that is not in balance.
In my opinion, another reason Dr. Bergin and Christine have such long-lived Newfoundlands is because their dogs have strong, resilient immune systems.
Responsible Breeding Practices
Dr. Bergin confesses placing Newfie puppies in new homes feels like he’s giving away his children. He puts his heart and soul into each litter, and letting them go can be difficult.
Dr. Bergin and Christine are very selective about the adoptive families of their dogs. Among other things, they require:
- A mandatory home visit. They will not release a dog without seeing the new home.
- An extensive interview. Christine conducts in-depth interviews with prospective owners to insure that the dog will be viewed as a member of the family and will be well taken care of.
- A commitment to feed raw. If the prospective family won’t feed raw, there’s little chance a dog will go to their home.
Even with stringent adoption requirements, there are plenty of people interested in Dr. Bergin’s Newfoundlands because they are such beautiful, well-balanced, long-lived animals. In fact, the biggest challenge for the doctor is letting the puppies go!
I asked Dr. Bergin about his plans for breeding 4 year-old Gracie – specifically, how he’ll go about finding a sire for her.
He explained that Christine does extensive pedigree research. She looks for particular traits they would like to see manifested in their dogs. These traits are primarily health-related. If they are able to see a dog in the lineage they are interested in, they’ll pay him a visit.
Dr. Bergin and Christine focus on genetic diversity in their dogs by incorporating new blood and new lines into their breeding practices. They have imported several Newfies from Denmark with extremely good lines and Gracie will most likely be bred to one of those dogs.
Gracie is living proof of what conscientious breeding can deliver. She is a beautiful, vibrant example of what happens when you combine exceptional genetics with species-appropriate nutrition, consistent musculoskeletal support, balanced immune function and environmental enrichment.
Here’s to Gracie, may she live a very long and happy life!
And I want to thank Dr. Bergin for stopping by to chat with me today.