Hip and elbow dysplasia are common in certain dog breeds such as the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, and the Golden Retriever . They are conditions in which those joints do not develop properly and leave the dog vulnerable to painful and debilitating arthritis.
Responsible breeders of these types of dog will score the hips and elbows of individual dogs before they are mated, to ensure they do not have abnormal joints and that their offspring are less likely to suffer from dysplasia.
How Does Hip and Elbow Scoring Work?
First, your vet will take X-rays of the limbs under a general anesthetic and send the films off to a group of specialists who will grade each joint and give the dog an overall score. In the US, the dog must be at least two years old and have some form of permanent identification -- usually either a microchip or tattoo.
Hip scoring in the US is done by the 'Orthopedic Foundation for Animals,' which rates the joints on a seven-point system from 'Excellent' to 'Severe [hip dysplasia].' Other countries have different systems, but they are all broadly similar in that the hips are evaluated using X-rays and done by specially trained veterinarians.
Elbow scoring is generally less detailed but is also done using X-rays taken while the dog is under an anesthetic. The OFA doesn't produce a score for elbow joints that are normal, but they do grade any abnormal ones from 1 to 3, increasing with severity.
Vets and breeding societies advise that only dogs with good or excellent hips and normal elbows should be used for breeding. You can find out if a breed of dog you are considering buying should have hip- and elbow-scored parents by checking the American Kennel Club website. If you are looking for a 'designer dog' (a cross of two breeds), do still enquire as to whether the parents have been hip-scored, as many of the more responsible breeders of these dogs are having the tests performed even though there is no 'official' need to do so.
It is important to realize that a low hip and elbow score in the parents does not guarantee the resulting puppies will be free of joint dysplasia, but it does very much reduce their chances of developing. Therefore, if you are considering buying a breed of dog that, according to Kennel Club guidelines, should have hip- and elbow-scored parents, you should only buy from a breeder who can prove that they have done the testing.
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