The Breed History
In counties Kerry, Tipperary, and elsewhere in Ireland the breed was selected as an all-round utility dog for the farm. It is reported that the Soft-coated Wheaten terrier, perhaps the Irish Wolfhound, and Bedlington and Welsh terriers contributed to breed development. Much of the breed development occurred in the 1800s. The breed standard was written in 1922. First exports to the USA occurred in 1918. The AKC first recognized the breed in 1924.
Breeding for Function
Some of the tasks the Kerry Blue excelled at included dry and wet retrieving, small game hunting, birddog, and sheep and cattle herding. Watchdog, companion, and police work round out his many modern accomplishments.
Height at Withers: female 17.5-19" (44.5-48 cm), male 18-19.5" (45.5-49.5 cm)
Weight: 33-40 lb (15-18 kg)
Coat: The coat is dense and hairs are wavy and soft in texture. It takes about 1 1/2 years for the adult coat to mature. Puppies are often black and during early maturity, very dark gray and brownish hair may intermingle in the coat until they are gradually replaced by the correct final hair color of blue (this correct color varies from light gray-blue to deep slate gray). Extremities may keep a darker color. Black adults are not accepted.
Longevity: 14+ years
Points of Conformation: This breed is characterized by a sturdy conformation with lots of muscle and bone, and small dark eyes somewhat deep set, triangular ears that are small with moderately thick leather and folded forward. The ear fold is above the topline of the skull. The skull is flat with a very minimal stop. The nose is black. The neck is moderately long and strong, not throaty. The topline is short and level, and there is a slight abdominal tuck. The tail is high set, and carried high. The thorax is deep and somewhat narrow, metatarsals and metacarpals are short and sturdy. Feet are compact, small, and with deep strong footpads with black toenails. Rear dewclaws disqualify. Gait is smooth, true, elastic and ground covering with good rear drive.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed attributes include: They are considered to be good guard dogs. Kerry Blues get along with children well and tolerate play. They commonly exhibit inter-male aggression. They require an early introduction to and supervision with cats or other small pets. They have a low barking tendency, are diggers, and need regular exercise and stimulating games. Intelligent, but easily bored, they have an independent streak and can be stubborn. They need close human contact, and do not do well as kenneled dogs. The Kerry Blue does not tolerate hot weather well.
Normal Physiologic Variations
No undercoat, a no-shedding dog, though care of the coat should be done regularly to keep it tidy. Considered a high grooming needs dog. Reportedly no doggy odor even when wet.
Hip Dysplasia and Legg-Calve Perthes Disease: Polygenically inherited traits causing degenerative hip joint disease and arthritis. OFA reports 5.9% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 5.0% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Kerry Blue Terriers have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
von Willebrand's Disease Type 1 (vWD): Autosomal recessive genetic disorder causing a mild bleeding syndrome, usually after trauma or surgery. A genetic test is available.
Progressive Neuronal Abiotrophy (PNA, Multiple System Degeneration): Fatal, autosomal recessive cerebellar disorder, with an onset between 9 and 16 weeks of age. Progresses to incapacity by 4-8 months of age. Histopathology shows progressive loss of cerebellar cortical Purkinje's cells, with bilateral symmetric degeneration of the olivary nuclei followed by degeneration of the substantia nigra and caudate nucleus. No genetic test is available.
Factor XI Deficiency: Rare, autosomal recessive bleeding disorder causing a tendency for mild posttraumatic or postoperative bleeding. Clotting tests show a prolonged activated partial thromboplastin and activated clotting times. Treat with fresh-frozen plasma. A genetic test is available.
Sebaceous Cysts: Benign follicular skin cysts. Reported at a frequency of 22.7% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Spiculosis (Hard Hairs, Spikes): Hard keratinized hairs produced by abnormal hair follicles. Reported at a frequency of 6.7% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate and posterior suture intermediate cataracts predominate in the breed. Reported at a frequency of 4.7% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004. Identified in 3.52% of Kerry Blue Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Kerry Blue Terrier with a cataract.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS, Dry Eye): Inadequate tear production causing drying of the cornea and conjunctiva. Reported at a frequency of 3.4% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004.
Premolar Hypodontia: Multiple missing premolar syndromes are reported in the breed. The absence of the second premolars appears to be an autosomal recessive disorder, while missing fourth premolars appears to have a more complex, polygenic mode of inheritance. Studies show that Kerry Blue Terriers with missing teeth have smaller litter sizes (ave. 3.64 versus 5.72) suggesting a pleiotrophic effect. Missing teeth are reported at a frequency of 3.3% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004.
Food Allergy (Food Hypersensitivity/Food Intolerance): Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Average age of onset of 1.7 years. Reported at a frequency of 3.3% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 2.6% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Colitis/Chronic Large Bowel Diarrhea: Onset usually prior to 3 years of age. Reported at a frequency of 2.7% in the KBTF Health Survey 2004.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): Affected dogs show an insidious onset of upper motor neuron (UMN) paraparesis at an average age of 11.4 years. The disease eventually progresses to severe tetraparesis with lower motor neuron signs. Affected dogs have normal results on myelography, MRI, and CSF analysis. Necropsy confirms the condition. Unknown mode of inheritance. A direct genetic test for an autosomal recessive DM susceptibility gene is available. All affected dogs are homozygous for the gene, however, only a small percentage of homozygous dogs develop DM. OFA reports DM susceptibility gene frequencies of 44% carrier, and 12% homozygous "at-risk". Clinical DM is reported at a frequency of 2.18% in the KBTC Health Survey 2004.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.76% of Kerry Blue Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 1.32% of Kerry Blue Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Vitreous Degeneration: A liquefaction of the vitreous gel which may predispose to retinal detachment and/or glaucoma. Identified in 1.32% of Kerry Blue Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Craniomandibular Osteopathy, Dermoid Sinus, Entropion, Patent Ductus Arteriosus, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and XX Sex Reversal are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Congenital Intestinal Atresia: Case report of a Kerry Blue Terrier with an undeveloped intestinal tract.
Tests of Genotype: Direct gene test for vWD is available from VetGen. Direct test for an autosomal recessive DM susceptibility gene is available from OFA. Direct gene test for Factor XI deficiency is available from PennGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs and CERF eye examination. Optional testing includes direct tests for von Willebrands disease, Factor XI deficiency, and the susceptibility gene for DM. Recommend thyroid profile including autoantibodies, elbow radiographs, patella evaluation, and cardiac examination.
- Breed name synonyms: Kerry Blue, Irish Blue Terrier
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 120 (274 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club: www.uskbtc.com
The Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Canada: www.kbtcc.ca
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