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Why Test For Hip Dysplasia?

What follows is written from the perspective that the readers are conscientious breeders who are the guardians of the genetic pools that constitute their breeds.

Hip dysplasia is one of the most controversial and widespread problems in the dog fancy. So many old-wives tales, anecdotes, misconceptions and even lies abound that one of the goals of this article must be to lay things out to the reader as they are, supported with some scientific basis. While there is much that we do not know we do know that canine hip dysplasia is a genetically transmitted disease.

Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario, but one which too many of us have faced:

He’s major-pointed; he moves like a dream; that head piece may just be the best you have ever bred. In short, this boy typifies everything that is good about your breed and is the culmination of many years of hard work, hopes, tears, frustration and all the ups and downs, joys and heartaches common to the fancy. Now it is time to X-ray his hips so that you can not only use him in your breeding program, but advertise him at stud. This is one boy that is going to make it, and we are talking national specialty here.

Problem – the radiographic results come back with a diagnosis of canine hip dysplasia-severe. What should you do?

More among us than will admit have had this experience, and most of those who haven’t have seen it happen to other breeders concentrating on similar bloodlines. Now back to our hypothetical scenario:

You never suspected a thing. The dog never appeared to be in pain and his gait was what won him his major points. You have invested time, money and your hopes on this animal, and it all has been for naught! Now is the time for hysteria and self-blame:

  • What went wrong?
  • Could this have been prevented?
  • Was he not fed correctly?
  • Was he kept on an improper surface while growing?
  • What is this disease that keeps reappearing in the most conscientious of breeding programs, and which frustrates our attempts to eradicate it?

The first step in understanding canine hip dysplasia is to recognize it as not just one disease but many diseases, which together result in degenerative effects on the hip joint. An extremely complex disorder, hip dysplasia is now thought by some to be the most noticeable manifestation of a systemic condition that can affect not only the hip joints but also those of the elbow, shoulder and event the joints between the vertebrae 1. Whatever else might result from the systemic conditions of this polygenic and multifactorial disease, hip dysplasia remains a common, usually painful and often debilitating disease.

To further complicate matters is the fact that the pattern of inheritance indicates that more than one gene is involved. Hip dysplasia is not something a dog acquires; a dog either is genetically dysplastic or it is not. Initially, the hips of affected and normal puppies are indistinguishable. Later in life, an affected animal can exhibit a wide range of phenotypes, all the way from normal to severely dysplastic and functionally crippled. You should take away from this article the idea that hip dysplasia is genetically inherited. Never believe a fellow breeder or fancier who claims there is no hip dysplasia in his or her line. Never believe breeders who claim that if their breeding lines carried the genes for hip dysplasia they would be able to see it in their animals’ gaits. This just is not true.

Genetics is the foremost causative factor of canine hip dysplasia. Without the genes necessary to transmit this degenerative disease, there is no disease. Hip dysplasia is not something a dog gets; it either is dysplastic or it is not. An affected animal can exhibit a wide range of phenotypes, all the way from normal to severely dysplastic and functionally crippled. Hip dysplasia is genetically inherited.

Breeders must come to understand that the only way to reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia is by trying to breed from as few animals that have progenitors, siblings, get, or get of siblings that had clinical manifestations of hip dysplasia. *Susan Thorpe-Vargas Ph.D., John Cargill MA, MBA, MS

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