Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I planned on writing about hips and elbows and the OFA for some time now. I saw in some of my e-mails on one of the lists that I belong to that someone was writing about a dog that has a bad hip. They were looking for suggestions on how to keep the dog comfortable while living with this condition. I’m not going to write about what to do about it, but instead I’ll be writing about the OFA, and the importance of having our dogs x-rayed.

OFA stands for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. This foundation has been around for over 40 years. Their basic concept is to collate and disseminate information concerning orthopedic and genetic diseases of animals.

For years and still today, many pet people may associate the German Shepherd Dog with, “Oh those are the dogs that have the bad hips!” Before I ever became involved with the breed, when I was growing up, I only remember ever seeing one dog that was lame in the rear. However, he was such a mean spirited dog (maybe due to the pain in his hind legs); his hips didn’t prevent him from chasing me every time I walked passed his property. He was a big, mean boy and bad hips or not, he was still there to remind me of his “ferociousness!”

So just what is hip dysplasia anyway? According to the OFA website and I quote: “Hip Dysplasia is a terrible genetic disease because of the various degrees of arthritis (also called degenerative joint disease, arthrosis, osteoarthrosis) it can eventually produce, leading to pain and debilitation.” I’m not going to write everything about this disease here in this short space, but advise you to go to their website for more information. What I will say though is to make sure the veterinarian that you use knows how to properly do a correct x-ray for evaluating your dog’s hips and elbows. Proper positioning of the dog is extremely important to get the best x-ray that you can. Even more important is that the person at the OFA knows how to read them correctly. The last bitch that I had x-rayed when my vet read them, told me that they were some of the best hips that he had seen. I was also told that it is extremely rare for the OFA to give out too many excellent evaluations on German Shepherds. Sure enough she got a good evaluation. I was fine with that as her mother is OFA excellent and her father is OFA good.

What I want to talk about is the importance of x-raying our dogs. Some breeders x-ray every animal that they will be using for breeding. Some breeders will only use animals that can be OFA certified. If they can’t get this number than they eliminate these animals for their future breeding program. Then there are some breeders (and some of them are very well known) who never x-ray anything. If the dog is well bred and has the conformation they want, they will breed this dog without x-raying them. Some may question the ethics behind this type of practice. Their argument will be that the majority of puppies are sold into pet homes and no one should have to live with an animal that may have the pain of hip or elbow dysplasia. Then there are still other breeders that will always x-ray their animals, and if they have a really good quality dog that won’t receive an OFA number but isn’t very bad, they’ll still breed them.

Those who fall into the last category may very well be good conscientious breeders who having made the decision to breed a dog that might just be slightly off in the hips or elbows; will do so very carefully. This is the breeder who will study their animal’s pedigree to see just how many generations behind their dog have good hips and elbows. Then he will go about choosing a breeding partner who is OFA certified and comes from a long line of good hips and elbows behind him.

Because this is a genetic condition, many breeders feel just like anything else that is genetic, that nothing can be guaranteed when you breed two animals. You can have a long line of good hips and elbows in the pedigree and still come up with dogs that will have dysplasia. On the other side of the argument, many breeders say, “Why take chances?” They feel you should breed nothing but good hips and elbows to dogs that have these same attributes.

Some breeders feel that they can take a little more chance with a bitch that may not be OFA certified because as the breeder of the litter, they can choose the males that they will breed her to. They can choose only dogs with OFA hips and elbows and look at the pedigree he comes from. A stud dog owner doesn’t have these same choices. He doesn’t always know the bitch that is brought to him and whether or not she is x-rayed. Some stud dog owners will only allow OFA bitches bred to their dog although this is rare. Because the stud dog will produce many more puppies than a bitch will in her life time, many feel that the stud dog should definitely be OFA certified hips and elbows.

I remember reading MANY YEARS AGO in the Redbook (an outstanding reference guide of producing pedigrees published by the GSDCA) that a breeder said that one of her males had one hip that would not OFA. This dog became an ROM producer and lived a relatively long life. Her admitting this didn’t stop this dog from having bitches bred to him. But because of this revelation, it helped bitch owners make a better and more educated decision about breeding to this dog. I admired this breeder for her honesty.

Because a bitch can produce a large litter, anything and everything may happen. The whole litter may have good hips and elbows except for just one puppy. This is genetics. So do you eliminate this bitch from a future breeding program? Do you stop using the stud dog because of this one puppy?

To be honest with you, I hear much more about other genetic health problems besides hip and elbow dysplasia. Occasionally I may hear about a dog that has one hip or elbow better than the other, but I really don’t hear too many breeders complaining about the orthopedics in our breed. That’s not to say that they are not there, but I just don’t hear about them as often as I do the other things. Are we doing better in this area? I believe more breeders are x-raying their breeding stock and this is a good thing. It’s always the wise breeder that breeds with his eyes “wide open” rather than shut and be shocked into opening them later on!

My rating: Importance of x-raying breeding stock: (4), Only breeding OFA animals: (3)

1 comment:

  1. I am all for x-rays. It is not the be-all, end-all of course. What is frustrating is that in 35 years I don't think I am seeing any improvement in hips or occurance of HD. It almost seems that we are spending a lot of money to have dogs x-rayed and certified, but are we seeing any benefit? It is still a crap shoot in my opinion. I guess I am conditioned enough to x-ray any dog I am showing (I don't breed)