For large breed dog owners (like Labradors and German Shepherd Dogs), diseases like Hip Dysplasia are always a concern. Despite a Kennel Club hip-scoring scheme designed to remove this problem from the gene pool, things don’t seem to have gotten any better over my professional career (12 years).
In fact, I’d just about go as far as to say that the majority of Labradors and GSDs seem to have the disease to one degree or another.
A new x-ray technique could change all of that, but it will pit animal welfare against commercial outcomes in the battle to eradicate Hip Dysplasia.
Hip Dysplasia is a condition that causes a malformation of the ball and socket joint between the leg and the pelvis. In affected animals, the socket is usually too shallow, and the ‘ball’ at the top of the femur is flattened. An added complication is a slackness of the ligaments that normally hold everything tightly in place.
The effect is that instead of a rock steady, well-oiled joint gliding smoothly in place, the joint is loose and the bones can move in and out of the socket when exercising. This causes inflammation (swelling and pain) for affected pets in the short term. In the long term permanent arthritis develops.
The problem is genetic in origin, but feeding the wrong diet or exercising your dog too hard at a young age are known to make things much worse.
Why Aren’t Current Efforts Working?
Current efforts to breed out the disease are falling hopelessly short of what’s required. A new x-ray technique we’ve just begun to use shows why the Kennel Club’s current hip x-rays are hopelessly inadequate. (And allows us to give clients better advice more specifically tailored to their dog.
Look at these hips x-rays(click to enlarge). They are both X-rays of the same hip. The one on the left is a traditional ‘kennel club style’ x-ray with the hips extended (called an OFA view). It’s not perfect but it might pass a grading.
Now look at the x-ray on the right. In this view we’ve used a new technique to gently distract the joint. Can you spot the difference? It’s pretty striking right? The ball is clearly floating way outside the socket. That shouldn’t happen in a normal hip and is clear evidence of hip dysplasia.
This is a dog with a pretty severe problem and is likely to go on to develop potentially serious arthritis in this joint.
If we based his suitability for breeding on the x-ray on the left (the OFA view), he might well be deemed fit for breeding. But we can see that this would be a mistake based on the x-ray on the right.
The problem is the Kennel Club and breeding fraternity aren’t yet using x-rays like the one taken on the right as standard. As a result, many dogs with bad hips are still breeding and so the disease keeps cropping up.
The hip scheme needs a revamp if things are likely to get better. Widespread adoption of a standard distraction view, however, amounts to financial suicide for a great many breeders, as their stock is likely to be devalued significantly by the results. A good score on the OFA x-ray is quite possibly going to get a poor score on a distracted view and that will be followed up with a recommendation to de-sex the dog or remove them from the kennel club registered lineage.
So will breeders grasp the nettle in the name of animal welfare and for the longer term good? I certainly hope so. GSDs and Labradors are wonderful dogs and make great companions. By embracing this new x-ray technique we will be taking a significant step closer to reducing an all too common debilitating problem in the future.