Hip dysplasia:improving the odds

Hip dysplasiaHip dysplasia is a serious condition affecting dogs of many different breeds.

This disease can be crippling,  especially in medium and large dogs like Labradors.

If you are searching through advertisements for a Labrador puppy you will notice that many litters advertised for sale will state the ‘hip scores’ of the parents of their puppies.

Sometimes the advert will simply state that both parents are ‘hip scored’ without actually telling you what the scores are.

Hip dysplasia testing

All responsible Labrador breeders in Europe the USA and elsewhere, now have their breeding stock tested for signs of hip dysplasia, using some kind of standardised hip score.

This test is crucial and must be carried out by anyone breeding from a Labrador.  That  includes people that are simply breeding from a family pet.

There are no exceptions.

If the breeder of the puppy you intend to buy has not tested her bitch and/or has not ensured that the stud dog was tested, you need to walk away.

Here’s the reason:  Labradors are the most popular pedigree dog breed in the UK and in the USA.  There are many, excellent litters of Labrador puppies available nationwide, both show and field, that have been properly tested for this condition.

There is absolutely no need for anyone to purchase a puppy from parents that have not been tested, or that have poor test results.

What does the hip score mean?

Each dog that is to be hip scored, has its hips x-rayed under sedation or general anaesthetic. These x-rays are then sent off to a team of expert vets, who examine the hip joints and ‘score’ them according to a number of criteria.

They have in mind the ideal or perfect hip joint, and every deviation from perfection adds to the hip score. So a score of zero is perfect, a score of fifty is very bad indeed.

The scores for each criteria are added together to make a total score for each hip. These two hip scores are usually written down like this 5/6 or this 5:6 In this case the score tells you that the dog has one hip with a score of 5 and the other hip has a score of 6, an overall total hip score of 11.

 Why does hip scoring matter?

Hip scoring is a very important procedure because it gives us a clear indication of the likelihood of the dog being scored developing this serious disease we call hip dysplasia.

Because there are genetic aspects to this disease, these scores also give us an indication as to the likelihood that the offspring of the tested dog will have sound hips.

To improve the overall joint health of Labradors (or any other breed of dog), it is important that breeders always breed from animals with better than average scores. That way, over time, the breed mean will improve. The kennel club display current breed mean scores on their websites. The breed mean score for Labradors is at present (2011) a score of 12

What is hip dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia or CHD is a ‘malformation’ of the hip joint that affects the dog’s ability to move freely and causes pain.

Unlike some of the other conditions we can now test our dogs for, hip dysplasia is a complex condition and has its origins both in the genetic information inherited by the dog from its parents, and in the environmental factors that have acted on the dog’s skeleton as he grows and ages.

In a healthy dog the rounded end (ball) at the top of the major weight bearing leg bone (femur) sits comfortably into a deep socket. In a dog with hip dysplasia, the socket is shallow and inadequate and this leads to further progressive damage within the joint as the dog ages.

How do dogs get hip dysplasia?

The mechanism of inheritance for hip dysplasia is not straightforward. It is not a question of a single faulty gene being passed on from one or both parents.

Rather it is a polygenic condition where a group of several genes determines the potential for the development of a faulty hip socket in any puppy unlucky enough to inherit them. And the genes inherited by the puppy are only a part of the story.

The fact that CHD is not caused by one single defective gene makes it difficult to accurately trace the path of inheritance.

What we do know, is that if we breed from a dog with poor hips then the puppies that result are more likely to develop poor hips themselves, than if we breed from dogs with good hips.

The hip sockets the puppy with CHD is born with, in most cases look similar to the hip sockets of healthy puppies. But the hips of puppies who inherit the CHD genes do not grow normally.

In these puppies what should be a nice deep socket, which safely cradles the top of the femur, fails to grow properly and over time this inadequate socket allows damage to develop in the joint in the form of arthritis.

A number of environmental factors can strongly influence the development of the joint and two key factors involved in this process are the growth rate of the puppy, and the physical stress applied to the joint whilst it is still developing.

What are the effects of hip dysplasia?

Because so many factors are involved in the development of this disease, hip dysplasia can vary widely in its severity, from premature arthritis and lameness in middle age to severe disability in a young dog.

My own CHD dog (a working cocker spaniel) was crippled before her first birthday and x-rays clearly showed that she had virtually no hip sockets at all. This is an extreme form of the disease, but in most cases CHD causes pain and some degree of disability.

It often requires (very expensive) major surgery in order to provide the dog with permanent pain relief and freedom of movement.

How will I know that my dog has hip dysplasia?

Your vet may suspect hip dysplasia if your dog is displaying a number of characteristic symptoms but an x-ray is the diagnostic tool. If your dog is limping or moving awkwardly you need to have him checked out by a vet.

My own dog went lame at ten months old after I increased her exercise, and displayed a bunny hopping gait with both back legs being used together as she negotiated steps.

Not all dogs with CHD will do this and not all dogs that ‘bunny hop’ will have CHD. So a vet’s examination is essential, and an x-ray will be required to confirm the diagnosis.

What can I do to protect my puppy from hip dysplasia?

There are three key steps you can take

  • Buy from tested parents
  • Feed correctly
  • Do not over-exercise

The most important action you can take to ensure your puppy does not develop this disease is to buy a puppy from hip scored parents whose scores both fall below the breed mean score and are balanced. This means that each hip is similar to the other.

For example a score of 11 in a dog with 6/5 hips is OK, but a score of 11 in a dog with 2/9 hips is not OK because one hip is in much worse shape than the other.   Multiply the worst hip by two and ask yourself if you would be happy about this as your total score.

Be aware that buying a puppy from hip scored parents in this way, will not guarantee your puppy is free from hip dysplasia, but it greatly improves the odds.

Always ask to see the certificates for both bitch and stud dog. The breeder will have copies of these ready to show you.

Never, never  take a Labrador puppy home without seeing them!

The next action you should take is to ensure that your dog does not grow too rapidly. Do not overfeed your puppy, no matter how hungry she seems.  Most Labradors are very greedy and will eat far beyond their needs. Rapid growth means that the hip joint may not develop properly.

Last but not least, do not over-exercise your puppy. People sometimes take puppies for long walks at far too young an age. Puppies do not need to go hiking.

Playing in your garden for short periods is fine. Likewise avoid teaching or encouraging young puppies to jump or climb stairs as this places stress on the growing joints and is not necessary.

Veterinary Insurance

I believe that it is a good idea to insure your single puppy against veterinary treatment.  There have been huge advances in the treatments available to dogs in the last twenty years, but this technology comes at a price.

Even if you take all the precautions outlined above, it is still possible that your dog will get hip dysplasia. It is such a complex condition that all we can do is swing the odds in our favour. There can be no guarantees.

So getting your puppy insured will give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that should he develop this or any other condition, your choice for treatment can be entirely based on his needs and not on your wallet.  Insurance can become prohibitive if you have several dogs.  If you have multiple dogs as I do then you may be better off putting the insurance premiums in a savings account.

Your dog

Finally,  please remember that the information in this article is not a substitute for veterinary advice. If you are concerned about your dog’s health, your first port of call should always be your vet.

If you would like to share your experiences of hip dysplasia please feel free to comment below.

More information

BVA/KC Hip Dysplasia Scheme

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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on November 3, 2011

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Neal October 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Hi Pippa
Both the parents of my 19 month old lab, Ruby, have 0/0 hip and elbow scores but I must admit that I still have concerns that she may develop this condition if I have over exercised or over feed her. Being a novice dog owner I don’t have a ‘yard stick’ to go by. I think I’ve kept the feeding and exercise guidelines.
Although I don’t intend to breed from her (she’s been spayed so it would take a miracle now), I wonder if it would be worth investing in a hip score test just to set my mind at rest or, on the flip side, give advance warning of a problem developing. What sort of cost does this involve?
Thank you
Neal
http://Www.walkingalabrador.com – the random thoughts of a novice dog owner

Reply

Pippa October 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Hi Neal,
My thoughts are that it would be somewhat unreasonable to put your dog through this procedure (sedative, xray etc) bearing in mind that she will never reproduce and that her parents have excellent scores. The chances of her developing HD are slim and will not be improved by the test which is intended to allowed informed breeding practices.
Pippa

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Neal October 10, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hi
Thanks for the quick response. Good point about avoiding unnecessary procedures. I’ve learnt a lot about dogs in the last 17 months but have a lot more to learn.

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Pedro November 9, 2012 at 7:52 am

Hi Pippa,
I have a very nice labrador which had all papers showing that his parents were HD A. I did his test two weeks ago and came out that he is HD D, so I am quite sad with the feeling that I did something wrong with him. At the moment he is 3 1/2 years old and has no sign of any pain/problem. What should I do now to make sure that he will have a quality life? Thanks, Pedro

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Pippa November 9, 2012 at 8:25 am

Hi Pedro, sorry to hear your dog has HD. Unfortunately good parental hip scores are not a guarantee of good hips, and it may be that you did nothing wrong and have just been very unlucky. The best person to advise you on medical treatment is your vet, and if you have your dog checked over regularly, he will be able to help you decide on any treatment needed. One thing you can do at home that will really help your dog is to keep him nice and slim. Good luck, Pippa

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Kristina April 30, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Hello, Unfortunately I didn’t know anything about HD when I picked out my lab puppy. Her parents have not been tested (to my knowledge) and it’s something that scares me a bit. I read somewhere that sometimes the xrays can be done while she’s already under for her spay. Is this something that I should consider? She’s 5 months old, and I clearly don’t plan on breeding her if I would like to do the xrays with her spay. Just trying to figure out if it makes sense for either piece of mind or any early interventions if needed.

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Pippa May 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hi Kristina, I personally would not hip score a dog that was not going to be bred from, unless my vet advised it. Which would normally not be unless the dog were showing symptoms of hip problems.
Pippa

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Carol Collins August 15, 2013 at 9:03 am

Hiya Pippa, I’ve read some of the other comments I have a 4 1/2month old lab I do not intend to breed her at all so the same question should I have her hip scored? Her parents both had great scores an she’s going to be a big girl like her dad… Also, I’ve recently read a worrying report about pedigree dog foods as we give her this in a dry mix for larger breed puppies, should I consider moving her onto kibble instead… thankyou carol x

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Pippa August 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

Hi Carole, see my reply to Kristina above. With regard to food, it sounds as though you are already feeding kibble? Pippa

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Ellen October 27, 2013 at 9:59 am

Pippa,
I get my dogs tested by OFA for hips and elbows, but they do not give a score. They simply say Excellent, Good, Normal, etc….How can I get a score?
Thanks,
Ellen

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Pippa October 27, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Hi Ellen, the system is different in different countries. In the UK we have a numerical score, but OFA may be different. Pippa

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Cate February 21, 2014 at 8:31 am

My 1yr old black lab was limping slightly so I took her to the vet and he x rayed her ,she had hip dysplasia. Since then she gets 1000mg of glucosamine every day and you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with her she is called Millie and she’s now five.

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shera February 28, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I’m in the process of adopting a 1.5 yr old lab-mix, 40 lbs – so she’s a small one named “Tina”

An xray showed that her left hip joint is not completely together. (Sorry I don’t have the medical terms, I haven’t spoke with the vet yet… only foster mom, but maybe you’ll have some questions for me to ask when I do!).

Tina has no limits in her movements, range of motion. She’s not in pain. I’m being told that she will likely need a hip replacement down the road.

My questions for those of you with related experience:

Is it possible to avoid hip replacement with lifestyle choices? She’s around 1.5yr old — if we begin now with joint-support diet and exercise — can this save her from having a future surgery?

And, I live on the 2nd floor of the house we own so Tina would be walking up&down the stairs a few (2-4) times a day to go outside.
Will this help keep her strong or will this aggravate the joint.

Thank you in advance for any feedback.
-Shera

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Pippa March 1, 2014 at 9:05 am

Hi there, only a vet who had seen your dog’s xrays could attempt to answer your questions with any degree of confidence. Even then, different dogs respond differently to environmental influences. So I doubt if anyone would be able to offer you any guarantees. With hip problems it is often a case of waiting to see how the dog goes, and how free from pain she is. The most important thing you can do in the meantime is keep her very slim. Best wishes, and good luck, Pippa

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