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Why We Support The PennHIP Method

Health checks and certifications are an important part of breeding healthy animals. Hip dysplasia is the most common and widespread health concern in Brittanys, and the most common method of checking for hip dysplasia is an x-ray taken when a dog is 24 months or older, which typically is sent to OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) for evaluation. The x-ray is evaluated by three veterinarians (which differ and/or rotate after a period of time), who each give an opinion ranging from Excellent to Severe. Excellent, Good, and Fair evaluations receive an OFA number as passing (no hip dysplasia). Borderline, Mild, Moderate and Severe evaluations indicate a degree of abnormality is evident and those dogs do not receive OFA an certification number.

However, breeding two OFA certified dogs is in no way a guarantee that their puppies will be clear of hip dysplasia. In fact, two OFA Excellent dogs can produce dysplastic offspring. Hip dysplasia is a polygenetic disease, meaning many genes are involved. Many dogs which are themselves free of the disease may still be carriers of some of the genes involved, and when bred to another carrier can produce affected dogs. At present we do not have any way of testing to find out which dogs are carriers for hip dysplasia. OFA's breeder guidelines indicates that progress toward eliminating hip dysplasia or improving hips is difficult at best unless complete families are evaluated, so breeders have a better indication of the possible genotype involved when breeding. In practice, usually only dogs from a litter which go into competition and/or breeding homes are x-rayed, rendering the OFA system somewhat impotent in terms of breeding better dogs.

My goal is to breed and produce sound, healthy dogs which will be strong, fully functioning and comfortable throughout their lives. With this in mind, along with all other health considerations, in 2005 I decided to have my dogs evaluated using the PennHIP method.

PennHIP is the acronym for the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program, established in 1993. As the name indicates, PennHIP is concentrated on research, education, and improvement. ALL dogs x-rayed for PennHIP are entered into the database and become part of their research, thus there is no false indication of improvement as there can be when the submission of x-rays is voluntary, and most people choose not to send in x-rays of affected dogs, so those dogs never contribute to the statistics. Though no database of PennHIP scored dogs is currently available to the public, PennHIP is working on developing an "open optional database" that will, with the owners' permission, publish the evaluation results of dogs in the top 40% for their breed with no radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease.

PennHIP evaluation can be done as young as 16 weeks of age, although waiting longer does give a more accurate indication. Three x-rays are taken in three different positions, and hip joint laxity is physically measured from those x-rays. In more than 30 years of PennHIP research, hip joint laxity has been proven to be the best indicator of whether a dog may develop degenerative joint disease (arthritis / hip dysplasia). Hip joint laxity as seen in PennHIP's distraction view is an expression of the dog's genetic makeup, and remains the same throughout the dog's life, from approximately 16 weeks on.

The PennHIP method has also shown that breeding dogs to improve the hip joint laxity does help improve hips in dogs of succeeding generations. Dogs are rated from 0 (no laxity) to 1 (total laxity). Each breed has a median score, which for Brittanys is currently .52 (the median score can adjust slightly as more dogs are added to the database). A score of .30 or less is a strong indication that dog is highly unlikely to develop hip dysplasia.

With all this being said, while everyone can agree that only healthy dogs should be bred, hip x-rays are just one small part of evaluating a dog for breeding potential. There are hundreds if not thousands of factors involved in determining a dog's merit as a contributor to the breed. Many, many aspects of a Brittany's health, temperament, hunting/field abilities, and structure are important to consider when planning a breeding. Every dog has genetic faults, upon which responsible breeders must strive to improve upon for each succeeding generation. PennHIP has shown itself to be a proven tool for improving hips, and I hope will be a useful tool for us to continue to breed better Brittanys.

For further details or to find a PennHIP certified veterinarian, please visit the PennHIP web site.

Click here to view a PennHIP report

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