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  • Emily Huckstep

Orthopedics and Breeding Dogs

We’re taking into consideration all kinds of things when we think about our breeding stock. We find the dogs with the proper pedigrees, the titles earned by each dog in every generation, the dogs who competed at high levels…and then things come crashing down when genetics show something other than what we expected. A dog who tested “excellent” by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) might produce a mildly dysplastic dog when bred to a dog who tested OFA “good.” Elbow dysplasia might suddenly present itself, or it might skip a generation or two and present itself in grand-progeny.


We stack the odds in our favor when we breed health tested dogs. We listen to those who are from generations prior to ours to garner knowledge and use it to our advantage when we make breeding decisions. Various videos circulate talking about good spinal health or dogs who tended to produce hips worse than their own. Others comment on the health of elbows in certain lines, some of which show up again and again in famous dogs who were bred over and over for working ability. When, however, do we consider orthopedic health to be of greater value than working ability?


My favorite way to determine potential genetic health is with PennHIP, a rating system designed by Pennsylvania State’s veterinary department. Each dog receives a distraction index rating on both of its hips.

This distraction index is indicative of how much risk there is for osteoarthritis to develop in the dog’s joints in the future or to show that osteoarthritis is already present. The information is also presented in a way which the owner can see how his or her dog stacks up against the other dogs who have been submitted at the time of this submission. The top ninety percent of dogs will be represented by a gray bar that stretches across the scale. A small square represents the breed median. The closer the dog rates to zero, the lower the chance of developing osteoarthritis. Numerous studies have showed that dogs who have low PennHIP ratings reproduce those ratings as well, which is why this is such a useful tool. While PennHIP does not give a “pass” or “fail” rating, it is clear which ratings are preferable. This tool should be used more often when health testing potential breeding stock to help curb hip dysplasia.

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