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Hip Dysplasia – In the Beginning – a personal view

There are numerous genetic problems associated with many of our pets but Hip Dysplasia is one of the foremost problems we have that could have been avoided had the basic rules of breeding not been ignored.

Whether we believe in God’s laws or the laws of natural selection, breeders only wished to focus on achieving the perfect specimen in the shortest possible time. In order to speed up the process some breeders resorted to inbreeding and this became a common practice. In this way, they hoped the essential genetic changes they needed to create the perfect specimen conforming to the Kennel Club approved standard were more rapid compared to the majority of breeders who retained the accepted breeding rules.

We are all aware that breaking the rules will result in genetic faults. It is not to say that in nature, genetic faults do not occur but they would not normally survive in the natural world. As our pets do not have to survive this way, it is possible for genetically crippled animals to survive and to breed either by accident or by human choice.

Those breeders who followed such bad practices some were lucky to get away without problems but for others serious genetic changes inevitable entered the domesticated pet world. Either once inside, these genetic faults spread or breeders eradicated them by cross breeding with unrelated stock.

For those of you who have read Dr Roger Mugford’s book Casebook you will have read of his attempts to bring to the attention of breeders and the Kennel club the existence of Cocker rage. Like as in last weeks article the existence of such a problem was by the breeder’s choice not to recognise it so it therefore did not exist. Today we know about the problem for cocker spaniels with the solid colours of red or black where this genetic fault does occur quite frequently and there is no remedy. It is very odd that the dog directs its rage solely towards the owner.

I have never witnessed this problem myself but aware that the increase demand for a particular breed like following the film 101 Dalmatians. This created intensive breeding that created the genetic problem of deafness in this breed. In many cases when any breed becomes popular then often genetic problems follow from such rushed breeding.

You and I would have expected the Kennel Club to immediately acknowledge such problems exist and demand immediate changes in order to protect those breeds but it chose to ignore them. This could be because the Kennel Club is financially dependant on breeders rather than interested in working to protect those of us who purchase our Pedigree pets. It is not a consumer safety net and any attempts to discredit breeders are unwelcome.

Fortunately most breeders persevere with the rules but alas, some do not. We have to accept that breeding is a commercial enterprise and many breeders cannot survive without selling the offspring of their champions.

To their credit, many breeders are only in this venture for the love of their particular breed. Their only wish is to see their breeding recognised and hope also to recoup the costs they incurred. As an accountant I have found very few breeders actually making a taxable profit when you take into account all the time and expenses they actually incurred.

It is only when breeders have attained the converted accolades of champions can they begin to not only recoup their costs but also actually see a profit from their enterprise.

Many people believe that it was from early inbreeding with the German shepherd that began the problem of Hip Dysplasia but many other breeds are also affected. It is possible that over the last 50 years, the most popular dog has been the German shepherd and so it would possibly look as if this was the first breed afflicted.

Most of the cases seem to occur in the larger breeds. One possibility is that taking the wolf and increasing the size so rapidly has not brought about the necessary changes need for the skeletal structure to withstand the additional stresses. This could be true in the much larger breeds yet the Labradors and German Shepherds are not so very different to the normal weight of their forbears.

It cannot be the weight factor because we also find this crippling disease in some of the smaller breeds as well as some cats. Canine hip Dysplasia has been puzzling for researchers for over 50 years. We know much about this disease and the modern treatments but there is still some lack of understanding of certain aspects. One thing is certain it is hereditary. This being the case then when such genetic problems become apparent, then breeding from such animals should cease immediately but in a number of cases it does not.

What is Hip Dysplasia? Except in very severe cases most dogs when they are born have seemingly normal hips. It is as the dog develops the ball and socket joint in the hip develops abnormally in varying degrees. Initially the pain is intense but once the nerve endings die off then the pain in some cases can subside for a while but then as the joint continues to degenerate, it creates excruciating pain. The usual treatment to alleviate this pain in my day was to use cortisone.

It is not until about 6 to 10 month of age that vets are able to correctly diagnose the condition even though the dog is in pain from 2 to 4 months of age. A problem is dogs are unlikely to show any signs or cry out in pain, as it will have learned to live with. Never the less it is possible to notice tell tale signs to the experienced eye.

For me I notice the lack of bounce in the dogs walk. Watch a Podenco or Greyhound walking and notice the rear end bounce up and down as it walks along. Look at wolves as they Lobo along. Watch a dog with Hip Dysplasia and it has no bounce because the dog is protecting itself from pain by walking lightly almost at a constant level.

Most dogs with this disease will try to avoid any form of agility. If a dog will not like to jump a small obstacle that should have been easy then there is likely that something is wrong. A dog will often be reluctant to go up and down stairs as the joints changes to a new position so creating pain.

Some breeders often suggest to owners not to let puppies use stairs until the bones are set. I have never seen a wolf cub restrict itself from climbing up and down hills whilst it is young. Certainly during the early puppy stage, do not force any dog to engage in vigorous exercise like agility until the bones have stopped growing but there is no need to stop a dog going up and down stairs if it is capable of doing this. It is certainly no hardship. Following this advice stops the owner noticing at this early stage that if their dog does not like stairs or climbs them slowly then they should suspect something is wrong. Stairs or normal exuberant activity does not cause Hip Dysplasia. It is a genetic problem.

You might notice a slight limp especially first thing in the morning that gradually becomes worse as it gets older. If both the hips are painful, it will run with both rear legs together like a rabbit. Watch dogs running together and you can see the difference in the protective running posture adopted by an afflicted dog.

Sometimes vets will perform Pectineus Tenotomy where they cut out part of the Pectineus tendon and or muscle in order to alleviate the pain. It does not actually slow the development of the disease. It is also only a temporary cure and this procedure in now regarded by many vets as obsolete.

You may notice a wobble in the walk when viewed from the back end and in severe cases the wobble is like someone intoxicated. Often when it reaches this stage the nails on the rear feet wear down because of its protective gait. To try to reduce the amount of pain, it often places more effort onto the front legs so again problems can occur in the shoulders or in the front legs.

There are varying degrees of Hip Dysplasia where some dogs are totally incapacitated where others can lead a reasonable if restricted life. For the worst cases, it is now possible to treat using expensive surgery by fitting replacement ball joints or in some cases; acupuncture can retard the diseases development. A new treatment is Glucosamine Sulphate that helps with the bodies normal continuous cartilage rebuilding.

When my first wife Anne purchased her dog following a recommendation from PC (Big) John Poole I too wanted a dog but looked in the papers and found one for sale in Pontefract. We went along to see it but we knew nothing of the experience of what John had looked for and why he came to choose my wife’s puppy for her.

Rolly looked a beautiful dog but we only saw him. We did not know to ask to see the other pups nor did we ask to see the parents. We did not know what to look for anyway. We purchased him along with his pedigree and returned home happy with our purchase. Two weeks later John had to tell me that he and Irene Curtis of Yorkdale Kennels were suspicious of Rolly's rear end. They knew I was intending to compete in Working Trials and aware how disappointed I would be to find that this was very unlikely to happen with Rolly if they were correct with their diagnosis.

It is not easy to come to a decision should you say something to the owner or not but when you have seen the large sums of money paid over for a dog supposedly hip Dysplasia free because both parents have perfect hips as scored for the kennel club records then you feel you should speak up. I do know that sickening feeling along with thoughts of my folly from not listening or waiting for John or PC Alan Smith to accompany us so this mistake should never have happened. Mind you, I would never have had Rolly and he became a great gun dog.

At the appointed age, we took both Shung and Rolly along to the vets for the hips X-ray in order to submit them for scoring. Whilst Shung had perfect hips, Rolly’s were terrible and the vet merely suggested we did not submit them. It was only his muscles holding his femurs into the hip sockets. There was no way that Rolly could ever compete in the agility section, as it would only create pain if I were to try.

I have seen other beginner handlers arrive for the Companion Dog Stake and watch their dogs only succeed on the scale jump because of fear of their handler hauling them over the top using a check chain. This was the standard method at that time if all other methods of agility training failed.

For many pet owners Hip Dysplasia is to some degree manageable but for Police and Civilians using dogs professionally or in competitions then this is the dreaded disease. However, both the Police and Working trials enthusiasts have by initiating their own selective breeding programmes they have dramatically reduced the incidence of this disease in Police and competition dogs. This therefore begs the question if they can do this why do we still see so many pets suffering with this disease?

Next week I will look at living in the shadow of Hip Dysplasia.

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