There is just about nothing as much fun as picking out a new puppy. My favorite breed is the Labrador retriever. I have written in the past about the ins and outs of the different colors and whether a male or a female is the best one for you. Today I am starting a 3 part series on three different health concerns that you really need to take into account when deciding when and where to buy you next dog from.
The three health conditions that I am going to cover are 1) hip dysplasia, 2) EIC (exercise induced collapse), and 3) CMM (canine muscle myopothy). If you have been around any number of dog owners you will probably seen or heard of a dog that has had hip dysplasia. This is an issue that has been well researched and documented for over 30 years and it is by far the most well know of the three.
Hip dysplasia is a condition in dogs where the bones in the dogs' hind legs that join the dogs' pelvis don't match up perfectly. The only way to determine for sure that a dog has or does not have hip dysplasia is with a high quality X-ray. The dog is stretched out on its back with the rear legs extended as far as possible. Positioning of the dog for the X-ray is critical. I know this from a very bad past experience. I had a wonderful yellow lab that I had spade after she was diagnosed as having a mildly dysplastic hip.
If you have a dog with this condition then the only responsible thing to do is to have the dog spayed or neutered. There is no reason to intentionally or by accident pass on this genetic defect to other offspring that will just continue this bad breeding outcome. The dog that I am referencing was later treated for a torn ACL ligament and as part of that treatment she had many other X-rays. It was determined by the second opinion after reading a second x-ray that this dog did not have a bad hip. The second opinion determined after reviewing the original x-ray that it was taken with the dog misaligned. It was this misalignment that led to the wrong diagnosis and the spaying of a great dog unnecessarily. Needless to say I was heartbroken. I kind of wish that this error would never have been convey to me. More and more vets are now using sedation to help aid in getting the best alignment.
The firm doing the x-ray should also have up to date equipment to get the very best picture. A fuzzy x-ray makes it much harder to determine the quality of the dogs' hip confirmation. Anyone who is considering breeding any hunting dog should first spend the money to determine the quality of the hip confirmation. If the hips are bad, forget the breeding. When you read an ad for puppies for sale, regardless if they are expensive or seem really cheap, the first question to ask is whether the parents have had a hip x-ray and did both parents receive a passing OFA rating.
OFA stands for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. This is the most trusted entity when it comes to hip certification in dogs. The OFA receives your x-ray and sends it out to a random 3 individuals on their reading panel. These are veterinarians with vast experience in reading films and making hip determinations. There are many recognized individuals on this panel and the three that read your dogs x-ray are chosen at random.
Each member reads the film and assigns it a rating. The best rating is excellent. This is when the hip confirmation is as good as it can be. The ratings are then listed as good, fair, mild dysplastic, moderate dysplastic or severe dysplastic. Only dogs that are rated as excellent, good or fair should ever be considered for breeding. Each member of the panel is un-aware of the rating assigned by the other x-ray readers in order for there to be no other outside influence on their own determination.
The cost for the OFA determination used to be $60 plus the cost of the x-ray. These records are kept at the OFA and can be confirmed by any puppy buyer. Dogs that have hip certifications are issued a paper certificate and the puppy buyer can request to see it before any purchase takes place. Most breeders want the OFA reading on their AKC paperwork and in order to do this the dog needs to be identifiable. This is accomplished by either a tattoo or a microchip.
You cannot get an OFA rating on a dog until it is two years old. This helps to insure that there will little if any change in hip confirmation as the dog ages. There are very few things as disappointing as training a dog to a high level only to find out it had a bad hip. Many dogs with hip dysplasia will live out their life with no noticeable indications of this genetic defect. Many dog owners will never utilize the dog in a manner strenuous enough for a bad hip to be an issue. In other cases a dog enjoyed only as a pet will be completely lame within just a few years. In these cases when the condition gets so severe, the only responsible thing to do is have the animal put to sleep. This is hard enough to do when the dog is really old and it's even harder when your buddy is only five or six.
In order to avoid this heartbreak I have a preliminary hip x-ray done at eight months of age to get an early indication of the hip configuration. I have never seen a good hip go bad between eight months and two years but I have seen some marginal hips at eight months pass an OFA at two years of age. It just depends on how the dog grows and develops. As a very avid pheasant hunter I will not keep a dog with a bad wheel. If at eight months the hips look marginal I will give the dog away to a great home and allow it live out its days as a pet. This is the best for me and best for the dog.
I would not buy a dog from any litter where both parents have not had their hips checked and received a passing score. Any breeder that skips this very important step will fall under my categories of a barnyard or back yard breeder. Responsible breeders will be glad to provide you with all of the hip background necessary to make a good decision. Passing hips on both parents will not guarantee a puppy with good hips but it certainly ups your odds in avoiding this issue and this is all that a quality breeder and the puppy buyer can do.