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Normal Hips??
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Karen Hedberg has kindly given us permission to use these article's on our web page.


  This article is one of the most difficult I have ever written as it draws so many different areas associated with HD together. I have been most concerned in the last 12-18 months with this increasing attitude of "let's fit it at any cost" and "let's diagnose a potential problem as early as possible", even if there are no signs of pain or discomfort noted by the owners. It had (at least locally) almost became a routine "happening" to have young puppies going in for standard desexing operations at 5-7 months of age, to have a quick flash of the hips at the same time - regardless of any history of any problems. From here, any degree of looseness or abnormality away from the "normal" hip was being then sent to a specialist for what often amounted to extensive (and expensive!) operations on otherwise quite healthy, happy puppies. Result - very angry pet owners, very upset breeders!! (and very well off specialists). While severely affected animals may need these drastic actions taken, the vast majority do not, and are far better off being assessed at 12-15 months of age if no physical problems are present.

  I also tried not to pit breeders against vets - more against the attitude of only a perfect hip is wanted (for any purpose - pet, breeding etc), in any breed - we all know this is an impossibility, as in real life there are other issues that have to be considered apart from hips , elbows etc, such as to me, the most important, being temperament, followed by good general physical health i.e. will the puppy live to 12-14years of life with minimal health problems to the owner.

  Trying to write an explanatory article covering so many aspects is like trying to eat a plate of spaghetti - bits keep sliding away. For the person reading it, the same is probably occurring, which was NOT the intention; however unless you take into account aspects of rate of growth, diet etc, how can you address these early, often rapid growth associated problems seen below 12 months of age? Statistics are often not kept on these younger dogs, many are pets, others unfortunately may be put down (more so in Germany I fear!). Ultimately we need to address these issues as more and more people complain about the stability of our breed for the purposes of working, trialing or just being a healthy all around pet.

 To me of deep concern is the many services (police, army etc) worldwide that are turning away from the GSD to believe it or not, the Malinois. This is largely from two areas, 1.Poor hips, shorter working life etc and 2. Instability of temperament. We as breeders and the future holders of the breed need to look at these issues long and hard. I feel we need to be more aware of what is happening in different countries, the sound lines should be openly promoted by means of hip and elbow statistics (ideally given relative to the total number of puppies over the age of 12 months), number presented through survey (to assess character along with soundness - in Australia, as in Germany, must have passed the hip and elbow schemes).


What Price a Normal Hip

by Karen Hedberg BVSc. 2002


The following article is an attempt to cover the many and varied aspects of hip dysplasia; its definition, the factors affecting the severity of the signs seen, the treatment of HD as well as the control of HD by a) various schemes and b) the genetic aspects. This somewhat very rambling account is an attempt to show that the control of HD by concerned breeders is both difficult and complex. Additionally, the general public is being increasingly told that a "normal" hip is the only one acceptable, and anything above that may require surgical intervention. As both a breeder and a veterinarian, we need to look at this problem from all angles and present to the general public a more realistic view of the condition, not only for ourselves but also for all breeds where clubs are trying to lower the severity of the HD problem. As the general public is becoming far more litigious in these matters it behooves us to present a rational approach with realistic goals.

Breeders Aims

When we are breeding dogs, in addition to producing better show animals, we should also be trying to breed as sound an animal as possible. This encompasses all of the following: - physical, mental and genetic soundness as well as breed type (ie. it must still resemble the breed!). All of these areas are of great importance, some are weighted more heavily than others in different breeds. Over time various areas come under heavier pressure eg. With all the current adverse publicity from dog attacks, heavier emphasis is being placed on temperament issues (as it should). Compromises often have to be made when balancing out the relative importance of different problems both within that animal and the breed as a whole.

The bigger the number of issues we attack at any one time, the slower the relative rate of improvement of the breed as a whole. With breed improvement schemes, the larger the number of genes involved in any one condition, again the slower the rate of improvement as well as the larger the environmental effects.

Genetic problems that result in a high incidence of blindness, crippling arthritis or vastly shortened life span (eg. the storage diseases), where there is pain and suffering on behalf of both the dog and the owner (be it monetary or emotional stress), the greater the effort that should be made to decrease the incidence of these problems.

The most important point is to keep the problems a breed has within perspective. This means that if there is a minor problem that does not affect the animal's soundness either as a working animal or its quality and length of life, that it should be kept in proportion relative to other problems within the breed.

Bone Diseases in Dogs – the consequences of increasing weight and rapid growth.

[The factors discussed in this section apply equally or even more so to the incidence of elbow dysplasia.]

General discussion

*Many of the joint diseases that occur in the dog arise often as the consequence of rapid growth in an increasingly heavy breed of dog (over time). Osteochondrosis (cartilage degeneration and damage) and joint dysplasias have been studied in many species, in particular in pigs.

In pigs, where the animals were selected for increasingly heavy end weight and rapidity of weight gain, the higher the incidence of symmetrical lesions in certain sites in joints and many growth plates. Experimentally the incidence and severity of osteochondrosis was directly related to rapid growth ie. rate of weight gain. When the diet was restricted and the animals were grown at a low growth rate, the incidence of OCD was dramatically reduced (almost to zero).

All dog studies in this area have shown to support the concept that the high caloric intake rather than the specific intake of protein, minerals or vitamins influences the frequency and severity of osteochondrosis and HD. The causes of ED while not as thoroughly studied, show similarities and probably similar outcomes. *

[Ref. Hereditary Bone and Joint Diseases in the Dog – J Morgan et al, 2000]

The common conclusion from studies in dog is that excessive calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D along with a high energy diet and rapid weight gain causing rapid growth, are almost a sure fire recipe for pushing the parameters for normal structural growth and joint soundness well beyond their normal limits, thus resulting in joint disorders. The higher incidence of osteochondrosis in males versus females is probably a direct reflection of this as males are often ¼ heavier than females at any one time, despite being born at a comparative weight.

Equally this is not to say that genetics does not pay an important part in the body’s structural soundness, however excessive rates of weight gain and thus rapid growth, result in pushing the body’s parameters beyond which they can cope, particularly if they were not the most structurally stable to start with. IE. Excessive rate of growth and weight will not create severe HD in itself; however, it can make an existing problem considerably worse.


Rate of Weight Gain - The causes of the development of hip dysplasia, as discussed below, are from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Rapid weight gain and rate of growth through excessive nutritional intake can cause a disparity of development of supporting tissues. Factors affecting cartilage integrity (thickness and stability) and joint fluid composition, such as repeated trauma from excessive looseness of the joint and /or bacterial infections, can increase joint fluid production, thickening of the joint capsule, resulting in both joint pain and reduction in joint stability. These factors contribute to the development of joint looseness and subsequent subluxation, resulting in early clinical signs and joint changes. By controlling the rate of weight gain, while it will not prevent hip dysplasia, it will allow a steady growth p