-Orthopaedic  Health 101 -

The Bad News: All dogs (especially larger dogs) are likely to develop arthritis or other joint problems at some point in life.

The Good News: Responsible breeders can breed healthier dogs, providing the best genetic advantage for a solid orthopaedic foundation. 

Hips - Through the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals, there are different ratings for canine hips: Excellent, Good, and Fair are all “normal” ratings. The next is a Borderline hip rating, followed by three degrees of dysplasia: Mild, Moderate, and Severe. 

We x-ray the hip and elbow joints of all our breeding dogs to check for abnormalities, whether by injury or genetics. However, that does not mean we only breed the perfect dogs together. As the diseases of hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are influenced by a number of genes and environmental factors, it is not an exact science. It is always best to breed "perfect" quality dogs together, who have excellent hip joints, normal elbows, flawless eyes, and no health issues of any other type. But in the real world, keeping to the excellent categories would serve only to irreversibly diminish the Labrador gene pool. Furthermore, the quality of joints of the siblings, parents, aunts, and uncles of the dog in question can be as important as those of the dog itself.

The OFFA has published statistics on their database of about 500,000 dogs from all breeds. The data showed that breeding two dogs with "Good" hips together would produce 10% dysplastic offspring. Breeding two dogs with "Fair" hips produces 20% dysplastic offspring, while breeding a dog with "Excellent" hips to a dog with "Fair" hips produces 10% dysplastic pups as well. However, very few of these dogs will ever limp, or show any clinical signs of dysplasia until their senior years, if at all. Regardless, by the time any canine reaches the age 8-10 years, signs of aging joints can begin to appear.


Elbows - In comparison,  while hips are rated "Excellent," "Good," "Fair," "Borderline," or different grades of dysplastic, elbows are rated only as "Normal" (Perfect), and then different grades of dysplastic. So although a few of our great quality dogs have had sub-clinical Grade 1 dysplasias (the lowest grade), no one actually shows any outward signs of dysplasia.

The sad truth is, that breeding two dogs with normal elbows can still produce 1/3 of puppies that would be considered dysplastic by X-Ray, according to an International Elbow Working Group study that was done on Rottweilers. There is no study specific to show-type Labradors or field-type Labradors to our knowledge.

Again, this is a matter of constant improvement. As a breeder, we must always know who we are breeding to whom so that the line is improved, and the pups are of equal or better quality than their parents. If we disqualified all of the dogs with the slightest elbow issue, we could lose 1/3 of the breeding population in the first generation alone, compounding a genepool problem that is historically present in purebred dogs. We believe this would be far more detrimental to the dogs than this heritable disease.

All of these statistics also reflect clinical and sub-clinical dysplasias. ‘Clinical’ defines a dog who is actually lame. ‘Subclinical’ is a diagnosis of dysplasia based on poor joint conformation from x-rays. While we are always concerned about subclinical dysplasia in breeding, we don't warranty unless there is a clinical problem, as there are many dogs with no symptoms who are happily enjoying life with their less-than-stellar joints.

Knees - The tearing of the CCL of dogs knees came as a surprise to us! Believe it or not, when we first began breeding, many breeders we were instructed by didn't even perform or encourage screening for elbow dysplasia! We did it anyway. Needless to say, no one said anything about knees...

Imagine our surprise when we first saw reports from families whose dog's KNEES were falling apart, not their hips or their elbows! We were flabbergasted, and immediately began doing research. Fortunately, we were put in touch with a veterinarian orthopaedic specialist. We were concerned that this may be a heritable condition, as hips and elbows are thought to be, and wanted to know if there were any screening tests that could be done for knees prior to breeding.

He shocked us, when in an email he told us,

"Very little work has been done on the heritability of cruciate disease. Currently we believe that 2-3 per cent of the population is affected. Your numbers would reflect that percentage. Personally I believe the majority of diseases, including CCL diseases, are heritable. Unfortunately no studies have been done. No reliable testing currently exists.

CCL disease is multifactorial, breed, and genetics undoubtedly play a role. I think that early neutering and spaying causes a great deal of issues. One being an increase in CCL disease. Radiographic screening is of little value in this breed. The slope of the proximal tibia is usually very shallow, 20-23 degrees.

I think your current program is sound. Stay the course." 

Upon receiving this news (and of course doing even more research) We changed our warranty to INCLUDE bilateral CCL injuries in our dogs, but with the condition that our dogs are not spayed or neutered prior to maturity. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first Labrador Retriever breeder to include knee injuries into our warranty.

Tooting our own horn? Yes. We are very proud that we were able to figure out what was causing these terrible injuries, and even happier that since we changed our warranty and when our dogs were no longer spayed/neuter too young, our numbers for CCL injuries in young dogs dropped dramatically. Fewer dogs, and fewer families are hurting as a result. 

On that note ... Regarding "Maturity"... 

We might just be on to something special !!!

Large breed dogs are more prone to hip, elbow and knee problems. It is well known that the larger the breed, the more common orthopaedic disease becomes. 

Undoubtably, genetics play a role (as discussed above) but weight AND growth rate have been shown to dramatically affect these conditions also. These conditions are most often seen in large dog breeds, who are medium to large in size and experience rapid growth into adulthood.

Like building; a strong house needs a sturdy foundation. If you don't take the time to build a strong foundation, the walls will fall and the house won't last! Dogs are no different. If they grow too fast, their bodies can't take the time they need to build a strong orthopaedic foundation for their life ahead.

"excessive growth... can lead to skeletal disorders such as hip dysplasia, along with elbow dysplasia and other joint conditions. Slowing down these breeds’ growth allows their joints to develop without putting too much strain on them, helping to prevent problems down the line."
-AKC (American Kennel Club)

This is VERY exciting for us!

Why, you might ask? Well, since we began breeding for GENETIC DIVERSITY over twelve years ago, we have seen our dogs reaching puberty later in life also!  This means they are growing slower!

When we first began breeding, we saw most of our dogs to reach "maturity" (going through puberty) between six to eight months of age! We even had one dog who had her first cycle at 5 months of age. 
This was considered fairly normal.

After about 4-5 generations of breeding for genetic diversity, we started to see that our many of our females were not having their first cycles until closer to 12-18 months of age. So we now have a new average! 

We are curious; if we can prolong the rate at which dogs mature into adulthood, can we put off their geriatric years as well? If you consider when wolves reach adulthood and then geriatric maturity, the theory may hold true! Click on the link to the left to learn more about the wolf's lifespan.

We hope, of course, that there is more good to come of this and we haven't seen the end of these improvements. It is much too soon to tell if we have had a positive effect on lifespan and longevity, but at the very least we are moving towards a slower growth pattern, giving our dogs a better chance to set up a stronger orthopaedic foundation.

What about Diet and Exercise? 

Certainly, you are what you eat! On this site, we have addressed how a balanced and varied raw food diet is ideal for our dogs (visit the "Real Food" tab on our site menu above), but BMI and moderate exercise are also key factors into orthopaedic health.

Here is what we've learned so far in our years of experience and from consultations with various veterinarians: 

HIPS We've been lucky with. We've only had one young dog in twelve years who was diagnosed with clinical hip dysplasia. With that said, it was unilateral (in only one hip) and her family kept her significantly overweight.  

ELBOWS Are the most "at risk" joint while pups are growing in our experience. This means that running your pup down hill, allowing your pup to jump off the couch or out of vehicles, or tumbling down stairs are all ways that your pup will hurt his/her elbows. Exercise is great, but being mindful of the impact on joints is crucial.

KNEES As discussed above, knees seem to be closely linked to premature spaying/neutering, rapid growth, athletic injuries, and aging.

As dogs begin to age, their joints do too. Just like humans, arthritis and joint inflammation can set in as early as mid-life, or even sooner with an injury. We all hope for better, and certainly most of our dogs have been examples of health, but we can't stop time (and we wish we could).


If your dog has joint issues, or showing signs of pain and stiffness, what can you do?

If you have or know of a dog that has been showing lasting discomfort in his or her movement, it may be time to see a veterinarian. 

However, there are many ways to support your beloved dog through therapeutic and pro-active ways! 

Click on the link to the right to learn more about holistic and integrative pet medicine. -->