Responsible breeders do it


Check out hips & Elbows before You Go Ahead

Are you thinking about letting your dog have a litter of puppies? Stop – consult your veterinarian first. A great variety of dog breeds especially larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Labradors and Rottweilers, are prone to diseases of the hip and elbow joints. These conditions, known as “Hip Dysplasia” (HD) and “Elbow Dysplasia” (ED), can result in serious limping as the dog grows older. This, in turn, will limit its ability to exercise normally. Most afflicted dogs will require weight control and various medications (including anti-inflammatories or pain-killers). Surgery may even be needed in dogs with severe problems. HD and ED are genetic disorders and are passed from the parents to their puppies. It is therefore an essential part of a well managed breeding plan to ensure that both the breeding bitch, and the sire (male) are first checked for the presence of HD and ED prior to mating. Your vet will need to make X-rays of these joints.

What the hips of a normal dog look like

What exactly does HIP DYSPLASIA mean

“Dysplasia” refers to abnormal development of the hip joint. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is part of the thigh bone (femur) and the socket (acetabulum) is part of the pelvic bone. In affected young growing dogs, the hips joints do not develop as they should and this results in a poor-fitting ball-and-socket joint. The socket is very shallow and the ball moves around loosely in the socket. The joint is always unstable when the dog carries weight on its hind legs and this causes pain and lameness, especially evident after exercise, when the dog will limp or move its hind legs stiffly and slowly.

What happens as the dog gets older?

Over time, there is further damage in the hip joints: the cartilage wears thin and extra bony outgrowths form around the joint. This process is known as “degenerative joint disease”, a type of “arthritis” that develops in the joints and worsens over time. Dogs with severe HD will eventually be unable to walk or run without severe pain, and have difficulty getting up or lying down. Some dogs may have a mild form of HD and show very mild symptoms. They may be less inclined to exercise or run over long distances. Others may slow down quickly when running around (as the pain in the hips worsens), or limp intermittently.

When do the symptoms of HD start becoming obvious?

Symptoms usually start before the dog’s first birthday in severe cases, or between the first and second years as the joints continue to deteriorate. As the “arthritis” worsens, the problem and pain get progressively worse. This can get really bad in older dogs (5-10 years), when they may be reluctant to walk at all.

What about the Elbows?

ED is a similar condition to HD, occurring in the elbow joints of mostly large breed dogs. The condition develops in the growing puppy and causes discomfort and pain in the elbows at a young age. Limping can first be seen as early as 5- 7 months or develop later. Some dogs can suffer from both Elbow and Hip Dysplasia at the same time, while others may only have one of the two diseases. These conditions usually occur in both the left and right legs.

The Examination

Your veterinarian should be consulted in order to perform a full clinical examination on your dog. Special attention will be given to the hip and elbow joints. The vet can usually find some problems in these joints as the dog is examined, but X-rays need to be made to determine whether the patient has HD, ED or both, and how severe the condition is. The dog will need to be given a general anaesthetic or be heavily sedated. Positioning is essential and the dog must lie absolutely still to allow a clear X-ray image and to see all the important details in the hip joints. In addition, one X-ray of each elbow can be made at the same time. The Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA) and other dog breeding organisations require a certificate to be issued by a specialist veterinary radiologist (a veterinarian who specialises in X-rays). The dog will be certified as “normal” or given a grade (for example Grade 1, 2 or 3, etc) indicating how severe the disease is. Although HD can be diagnosed on X-ray images from about 6 months of age, X­ray images for certification purposes are only made once the dog has reached 1 year of age (or older in certain breeds).

Do breeders have X-ray vision??

No!!! That is why X-rays must be made of the hips (and preferably the elbows too), of all potential breeding dogs before any mating takes place or litters are planned. It is also important to realise that some dogs with HD/ED may appear “normal” when you watch them walking around at home or exercising, but the problem in the hip or elbow joints is only detected once X-rays have been made.

Should I breed with my dog if it has been diagnosed with HD or ED?

These are genetic disorders, so if the parents have the conditions, they are passed on to their puppies. The puppies are then very likely to develop complications as they grow older. It may be best to neuter/spay these dogs to limit breeding and prevent passing the disease on to the next generation of puppies. Consult your veterinarian for a breeding recommendation. This will be based on the results of the X-rays and other factors that could playa role(e.g. your dog’s age, general health, breed type, other disease conditions).


Be a breeder with foresight, knowledge and care – have all breeding animals checked for Hip and Elbow Dysplasia before you plan any litters.


©Pet’s Health

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