Lockdown Puppy? Here is what your vet physio wants you to know....
Updated: Jun 24
Since lockdown there has been an increasing number of puppies for sale, driven by the unprecedented (had to get that word in) spike in demand for puppies. I have spent some time researching online puppy sale adverts and it deeply saddens me when I see adverts from well-meaning people breeding their pets with little or no consideration given to health screening tests. There are a number of breed associated diseases that have been identified as having a genetic component, therefore, health screening tests are a way to decrease the risk of having an affected pup and increase the chances of producing a happy and healthy pup.
''...the research has shown that by screening for these conditions and being selective in our breeding, we can significantly decrease the number of dogs in the population affected by these diseases.''
As vet physio I am all too aware of the high numbers of dogs that frequent veterinary clinics diagnosed with hip and elbow dysplasia, two conditions for which screening tests ARE available. I see the pain and suffering these animals experience as well and the heartache, worry and financial burden that comes with owning a dog suffering from a chronic and degenerative disease. Although it is never a complete guarantee that healthy parents will produce healthy pups, the research has shown that by screening for these conditions and being selective in our breeding, we can significantly decrease the number of dogs in the population affected by these diseases (1,3.) Why any breeder, or potential puppy owner would not comply with or insist on health screening tests for BOTH parents, to me seems like insanity. However, it is most likely not a reflection on people’s mental state, and more a reflection on how educated people are on this topic. So, if you know anyone looking to buy a puppy, or breed from their beloved family dog, please share this blog with them!
Whilst hip and elbow scoring tests for hip and elbow dysplasia aren’t considered necessary in all breeds of dogs, nor are they the only health conditions for which health screening tests are available for, I have chosen to focus on them here as they are diseases that are close to my heart and very relevant to my work. To find out what screening tests are recommended for specific breeds visit https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health-and-dog-care/health/health-issues-in-dogs/
''Hip and elbow dysplasia have been shown to be polygenetic (multiple genes involved), inherited diseases with environments risk factors.''
Canine hip dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a condition often associated, but not exclusive to, large and rapidly growing dogs. The condition is characterised by abnormal development of the hip joint, despite the dog being born with morphologically normal hips. The soft tissue structures surrounding the joint that normally function as stabilisers become loose, and it is this laxity causes incongruence, of the normally congruent ball and socket hip joint, to develop. It is a painful condition, and all dogs with this diagnosis will develop secondary osteoarthritis.
Canine elbow dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia is a condition in dogs characterised by abnormal development of the elbow joint. It is often associated with young, large or giant breeds. The elbow is a complex joint with three separate bones and their articulating surfaces. If there is not an exact fit between these bones, abnormal forces will ensue and damage to the joint. This damage will result in inflammation, pain, and sometimes discrete fractures within the joint are found. Secondary osteoarthritis in the joint will prevail as the disease progresses.
Hip and elbow dysplasia have been shown to be polygenetic (multiple genes involved), inherited diseases with environments risk factors. Because of this, it is not possible to DNA test for them. Instead, the health of a dog’s hips and elbows can be determined using x-rays alongside a scoring system. For hip dysplasia, this score ranges from 0 to 106 (0 to 53 for each hip), with a score of 0 representing the least degree of hip dysplasia and 53 representing the most.
For elbow dysplasia, the degree to which the disease is present is indicated by a scale ranging from 0 to 3 (0 being the best and 3 being the most severe). The highest grade of the two elbows is taken as the score. Dogs with a score of 2 or 3 should NOT be used for breeding.
In addition to these scores, the kennel Club’s Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s) can be used to further determine the risk a dog has of developing these diseases or passing them on to their offspring. The value is calculated by combining the pedigree’s family history with data from the BVA/KC heath schemes.
''Canine hip and elbow dysplasia are serious and common health problems for dogs. In order to improve animal welfare selective breeding must be a priority.''
It is FREE to access the KC health checker page on their website and from here, you can see the health status of any KC registered dog.
11 years ago I purchased my Labrador Charlie, who is sadly no longer with us. I am not sure EBV’s were available back then, and if they were, I had not heard of them. The other day out of curiosity I checked out the scores for his parents. Despite both of his parents scoring 0 for elbows, his mum scored in the red for elbows on the EBV score, as seen below. Sadly, Charlie did indeed suffer lameness from elbow dysplasia from a young age and from the associated secondary osteoarthritis into his later years. Fortunately, his condition was excellently managed and he was able to enjoy a full and active life.
Canine hip and elbow dysplasia are serious and common health problems for dogs. In order to improve animal welfare selective breeding must be a priority. Therefore, anyone thinking of breeding from their dog, please get the appropriate health screening tests done first. Buyers, please don’t support irresponsible breeding practices and, reduce your risk of experiencing a lot of heartache by only buying from breeders where both parents have had appropriate health screening tests. The relevance of this advice extends to other breed associated diseases.
How to reduce the risk of buying a puppy with breed associated health conditions?
- Use a reputable and reliable breeder.
- Use the Health Checker page to check the health status of the parent’s pedigree.
- A useful list of questions to ask the breeder can be found https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/getting-a-dog/buying-a-dog/questions-for-the-breeder/