New study reveals hip and elbow screening improves long-term dog health

A new study has revealed a marked general improvement in hip and elbow scores for some of the UK’s most commonly health-screened dog breeds.

Th research, carried out by the Kennel Club’s Health team, examined the importance and impact if health schemes for hip or elbow dysplasia on the long-term health of dog breeds.

The study specifically examined date from six commonly hip and elbow-scored breeds (Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd Dog, Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Newfoundland).

Hip and elbow dysplasia are both complex inherited diseases that cause a dog’s joints to develop incorrectly, which can result in pain, arthritis and lameness as they get older.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Kennel Club (KC) run two health screening scheme to assess the health of a dog’s hip and elbow joints. X-rays of the dog’s joints are taken by a vet and sent to the BVA to be closely examined, measured and given a grade or score.

These results can then be used by breeders to help identify the most appropriate dogs to breed from, and so reduce the risk of producing puppies affected by dysplasia. Results from these health schemes are recorded and published by the Kennel Club.

Researchers analysed data from the BVA/KC Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes and found that not only have the proportion of dogs screened for hip and elbow dysplasia increased over time, but that the grades and scores of dogs used for breeding have also been improving too.

In the majority of the reviewed breeds, there was a notable decline in severe hip scored and a more modest, but still notable, decline in severe elbow scores.

In addition, the study examined data from Estimated Breeding Values (a resource that links hip scores and elbow grades from family/pedigree data) and found that recent generations of dogs in the six breeds studied are generally at a lower risk of dysplasia than dogs bred 30 years ago.

Dr Tom Lewis, Quantitative Geneticist Genetics Research Manager at the Kennel Club said: “Our research shows that these screening schemes have become more widely used, resulting in fewer puppies being born from untested parents. Breeders are increasingly choosing breeding stock with better scores and this careful consideration is significantly helping to improve dog health, demonstrating the significant positive impact that responsible breeders can have, and have had, on the health of dogs.

“Health screening is instrumental in reducing the incidents of these painful conditions and we will continue to support and collaborate with breed clubs to ensure that this trend endures.”

Bill Lambert, Senior Health and Welfare Manager at the Kennel Club added: “The Kennel Club closely collaborates with breed clubs, vets and researchers as part of our Breed Health and Conservation Plans project which aims to identify, prioritise and tackle inherited breed-specific diseases.

“This research will be used to help the six breeds studied develop strategies for continuing to reduce the risk of dysplasia in future generations and also demonstrates to other breeds – particularly those that are currently trying to tackle hip and elbow dysplasia – how their concentrated efforts can make a significant difference to dog health and welfare.”