Hip Dysplasia and Hip Dysplasia Control Registries

Here are a few questions we get concerning hip dysplasia:

Dear Sir/Madam, Our last GSD had to be put down at a young age for bad hips, are your puppies certified free of this disease? – KV

Are your dogs free of hip dysplasia? – DA

Which is better, the OFA or the ‘a’ stamp from Germany? – PD

I heard hip dysplasia was caused by how a dog raised, is this true? – JS

We do not get too many questions, actually, regarding hip dysplasia in our dogs because we print the OFA information for each dog on their individual web pages, our visitors are not left to wonder about the hip status of our breeding dogs, which organization we prefer, or if our dogs are ‘a’ stamped, Penn-Hipped, OFA “prelimed,” or OFA Certified.

However, we do get lots and lots of questions concerning hip dysplasia, its causes and methods of prevention.

For those who are don’t know what hip dysplasia is or who need more information on the particulars of this disease please first visit this link to the OFA site before reading my answers.

First of all, no matter what some breeders may say otherwise, hip dysplasia is at it’s root a disease of genetics: the environment a dog is raised in does seem to play a small role in the development of the disease, but the basic cause is genetic. This means a dog who inherits the genes for hip dysplasia is never going to have normal hip joint conformation no matter what you feed it , how thin you keep it, or how you manage its life, period. Conversely a dog who has the genes for normal hip structure is going to be a sound dog and develop normal hips, assuming the dog has adequate nutrition, is kept in normal weight, and lives a normal lifestyle. ( If you would like to learn more about raising healthy dogs read our “raising healthy dogs” FAQs segment.)

We have found that the breeders who have the greatest problem with hip dysplasia are often those who blame the environment (and thus the owners) to the greatest degree, while those breeders with a sound breeding program that produces less then the breed average of affected dogs are often the most willing to admit this disease is genetic in origin.

Just because this disease is genetic in origin does not mean any breeder can predict if any particular puppy is going to inherit this disease; the very best any breeder can do to reduce the incidence of this disease is to use sound breeding practices based in an understanding of this disease and how it is inherited as they plan their breeding program. Breeders with a desire to produce sound, healthy puppies can find all the information they need to formulate a breeding plan on the website of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org).

The OFA, along with several other registries in Europe, screens dogs for this disease (and others) to assist breeders in reducing the occurrence of disease in purebred dogs. Unlike most registries in Europe the OFA is not affiliated with or run in any way by the breed clubs or breeders themselves, but is instead a stand alone, not-for-profit organization that exists purely to assist breeders in reducing genetic diseases in dogs.

Some of the most frequent questions we get in this regard concern the difference between the OFA’s program and the program of the SV of Germany (the ‘a’ stamp).

No one with any understanding of our breeds history could ever state that the German’s have not done an excellent job of reducing the incidence of hip dysplasia in GSDs and that the rate of affection in modern dogs is at an all time low (about 19%) in Germany, despite the breed’s history of having up to 90 percent of GSDs affected in the early days of x-ray evaluation. This is due to the unwavering commitment of the SV in encouraging the use of dogs not affected with the disease and the discouragement of the use of dogs affected with the disease in breeding programs (although dogs mildly affected can be bred in Germany). However, in the interest of maintaining genetic diversity in the early years, this program did allow the breeding of dogs who have hip dysplasia. Interestingly, to make up for shortcomings in the ‘a’ stamp system the SV has in recent years developed additional safe-guards to prevent dogs with hip dysplasia who obtain ‘a’ stamps from wreaking too much havoc within the breed. The first of these was a requirement that popular stud dogs (who have the greatest influence on the breed) be re-evaluated by x-ray after 30 breedings (one breeding season for a popular stud); second, a complex program giving dogs a numerical value for hip dysplasia risk was set up for breeders. This excellent program, which is too complex to go into here, is an excellent tool for breeders in Germany, but sadly is of limited use for breeders in the USA.

In our opinion the OFA, which is not affiliated with any breed club and has a more rigorous screening protocol, renders more accurate results for American breeders. Since the OFA is not affiliated with any breed club there was never any consideration of certifying dogs who have hip dysplasia and thusly only dogs with normal hips can receive OFA Certification.

We have not included Pen-Hip evaluations on this discussion as we do not believe this evaluation is reliable enough for breeding purposes and it is not recognized by any FCI registry as a suitable test for this disease. Nor have we included registries from other countries; you can find additional information on these on the OFA website.

Here are Austerlitz Shepherds (AGSD) we follow the OFA’s recommendations for breeders. We breed only from OFA Certified breeding stock, never OFA Preliminary Opinions, and only rarely rely on ‘a’ stamps. Further, we take into account, as the OFA recommends, sibling studies; and as our dogs are all of German descent, the ‘a’ stamp ratings, hip numbers, and siblings studies of our dog’s German ancestors are subsequently available. We feel this commitment to doing everything we can to produce dogs with healthy orthopedics is the reason why our program consistently produces a much higher rate of normal hips (99%) then the current average for our breed (82%).

A short comparison of OFA vs. the ‘a’ stamp follows. Keep in mind the ‘a’ stamp program is well proven and works very well for Germans but we believe it’s use for American breeders is very limited and that the OFA presents the best choice for breeders in America.