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Hip Dysplasia - the Future - a personal view

So many owners have dogs or have had dogs that are suffering or have suffered from this disease. Why when it is possible to reduce the incidence of Hip Dysplasia should this continue for as long as it has? What more is needed to combat it?

Thirty-five years ago, we started to breed dogs and promote my wife's family name of Von Rohl. Shung was the origin of our breed intended for a working trails dog. He was not a breeder's dog and would never have won at any breed competition but he was still a good looking German Shepherd and for working trials he was intelligent, agile and having soft yellow eyes made him appealing to all who met him.

We initially mated him with a bitch in Pickering and they had eight puppies. One of them was a black ball of fluff, which we called the Lump. All the dogs were fine but Lumpy looked like a black teddy bear but had two faults. One was a soft ear and a lack of oil in his coat so when it rained he looked like a drowned rat.

Some years later Lumpy was then holding the Working Trial Excellent in Tracking Dog which entitled him to an entry in the Kennel Club Stud book but we never intended to breed with him. We had purchased a breeding bitch called Tizzy from Johnny Grantham who also bred for working trials. It was our intention to mate Shung with Tizzy to create our own particular working trial dogs. Money was not our incentive; we only wanted to see the name Rohl appearing winning competitions. Plans do not always seem to work out do they?

On Tizzy's season, Lumpy let himself out of the house and mated with Tizzy. The result was four puppies all of which had the problem of soft ears. With Tip, the pup I kept for myself, I did manage with the use of sticky tape to make his ear stay erect, but for the other three each had one soft ear.

This meant that Shung must have carried a dominant faulty gene that would continue in his puppies were we to keep breeding. We could keep bringing in new bitches to try to breed the problem out but this is not something that we could do quickly. For us it was not really a problem unless any of the dogs became Working Trial Champions then if you can visualise the picture of handler with a German shepherd having one ear down this would not be a good advertisement.

It was not that important for us at that time but today it is maybe possible to identify by the new gene testing to spot the markers that identify the faulty gene and to remove the dog from the breeding stock. As we only had Shung, stopping breeding from him or his puppies would prevent this. The other owners neutered the other two pups shortly afterwards.

Currently in dog breeding, there are about 300 different types of genetic problems. If you would like to read, the common problems associated with your chosen breed then you may find http://www.raot.org/information/genetic.htm useful.

What we do find is that some breeds are more prone to certain defects more than others are. The hope is that DNA or gene testing will become common practise by responsible breeders and help ensure only healthy dogs are used for breeding. If there is a marker detected then it only needs that individual dog removed from the breeding stock. Unfortunately, there are a few breeders still prepared to knowingly sell genetically deformed dogs to an unsuspecting public.

It is not that these problems are unavoidable as it is possible to weed out those dogs with faulty genes. Last week I wrote about Irene Curtis who has bred German Shepherds almost all her life and can by looking at a pedigree form for the ancestral tree tell you what problems are likely to occur in any puppies born to the parents. If Irene and P C John Poole could see so early on that my dog had a problem, the breeder should also have seen this. This raises the question how ordinary people can avoid purchasing a dog carrying a genetic problem.

Gene faults are not just a pedigree dog problem either as many of the Heinz 57 variety dogs can still be carrying their original faulty gene from their ancestors. A rare chance mating with the wrong dog can be the catalyst needed that makes the gene dominant again and so even these dogs can still have a problem. The rule of thumb is three generations clear is advisable but still not a guarantee. It is also wise to check all big dogs for Hip Dysplasia.

What is it we need to stamp out such problems? Breeders are by testing and certification removing genetic problems from breeding stocks by identifying those dogs that carry faults and to stop breeding from them.

Why are they doing this? In most cases, it is because they love their particular breed. No one would wish to sell you an expensive dog saying that it is free from genetic defects if it is not and certainly not to knowingly sentence a dog to a life of varying degrees of pain as with Hip Dysplasia. Yet, it still happens.

Many years ago, I went to our local butchers and saw a local elderly lady who normally walked with her dog that suffered from very bad Hip Dysplasia. This day she was walking past minus her dog. I asked Jeff (our butcher) was her dog ill and he said she had to put it to sleep. The owner had told Jeff it was yelping when it got up or lay down so now that it was in pain euthanasia was the only option.

She could not take her dog to the vet as it was too upsetting for her so Jeff offered to take her dog for her. Explaining to the Vet the reasons relating to the dog's pain prompting the owners final decision the Vet said not to tell the owner but this dog had been in pain all its life but only now was it so bad it would cry out.

For that moment, I had to think back at my Rolly and was David (our vet) trying to tell me for years that Rolly was in pain. I was now concerned that had I had kept Rolly alive for me without considering if he had the choice would he have opted for the pain to be taken away permanently. I assumed his medicines helped the pain but did it. Should I have given him new hips?

I know we do all that we can for our pets to give them a good life. My favourite picture of Rolly was to see him rushing up the garden to get the ferrets to follow him when he saw me lift the ferret-carrying box down as that meant we were going hunting. I would see this big German shepherd running back to me with his tail wagging followed by two ferrets. He enjoyed hunting but I do wonder if it ever crossed his mind please take away the pain. We have to remember that to our dogs live in the now. The future does not exist so he could not visualise a lifetime of pain.

I wrote in an earlier article about a vet I spoke to and where I said it must be difficult for them to work with patients that could not talk to them to tell them their problems. The vet's reply was that they do talk if you can listen. Reading Monty Roberts, who is the most well known of the Horse Whispers, he wrote that a good trainer can hear them talk but an excellent trainer can hear them whisper. Many owners know if their dog is unwell. They make look their normal self but there is that whisper that something is wrong.

This is when we then go to our vets and they hopefully trace the problem and in most cases solve them. With genetics, maybe there will be gene replacement therapy but this must be a long way into the future for our dogs. Certainly, I remember David always asking me about Rolly's condition. I still wonder to this day did I do the right thing letting him live a life doing what he chose or able to do or have the pain taken away permanently.

It is hard to make such decisions but we cannot ask our dogs yet we can tell something is wrong so we must ask our vets if they can tell us if our dog is indeed in pain. As most dogs do not show pain openly, it is often difficult to know. Knowing the truth, maybe we are better able to make the best choice for our dogs.

If we can remind ourselves, we are the market place. If we for some reason find that a certain breed is fashionable, then people will always come forward to satisfy the demand and with uncontrolled breeding, genetic faults occur. If we can restrain ourselves from impulse buying or purchasing our dogs from pet shops that support puppy farms then this is a start.

Secondly, take time in how we chose a dog; it is not a product but a life. Whilst we may feel that our money appears wasted in a bad purchase, our puppy will pay with pain in varying degrees.

We must ask questions not just from the breeder but also from our vets or locals who have a dog that we like and can ask where they obtained the dog. Do ask as many people as you can. Vets will know if they have a problem with dogs from a particular breeder so this is a good place to start to ask your questions or for suggestions to a good breeder. Also, ask at your local kennels if they have any suggestions. You can always send me your recommendations or details of problem breeders and I will build a database for reference for the future.

Learn the problems associated with your choice of dog and ask the breeder what they are doing to rid this from their breeding stock. Good breeders will offer testimonials of their breeds and will put you in contact with owners of dogs previously purchased from them. Asking such questions is only a sign of your concerns for your new puppy. Most Breeders like to know their puppies are going to good homes and caring owners.

It is therefore important you find out as much as you can about the breeder by knowing not all the trophies they have won but the problems they have been having. How can we find this out in the future?

One easy method would be that all pedigree dogs should have included in their paperwork a pre-addressed card that once the dog is older this can be returned to the Kennel Club stating if there are any problems. They have the numbers of all the puppies born so it should be easy to collate the number of problems against each breeder. Just like with other purchase league tables it should be possible to create a list for potential dog owners to check which breeders are less likely to have puppies with genetic problems. I know of breeders that always telephone owners of puppy's they have sold to check they are all ok but this is for their information.

The only other place is to question owners who have, or have had dogs with problems or people who have a lot of contact with breeders at shows or competitions. You now have Norma Knox willing not only to give you help on breeders but is also willing to help anyone interested in showing their pedigree dogs her in Spain.

If you want any dog or puppy, do try to find out as much as you can before you finally make a decision to bring a life into your household. I know I am not alone in never wishing to have a dog with Hip Dysplasia again. Please do check you and your dog are compatible and that it is healthy. We are dealing with a life so lets be extra careful out there.

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