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Ever since the 1970’s hip dysplasia has been a major concern with Newfoundlands here in North America. Breeders started X-raying potential breeding stock and getting their hips evaluated with one of the certifying organizations in increasing numbers in the decades to follow.

Then at the start of this century elbows started to be tested on a regular basis, usually along with hips. At the end of 2006 statistics from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) indicated that 25% of the elbow X-rays submitted to them were not normal. Also Newfoundlands were the fifth ranked breed in terms of incidence of the disease.

The latest elbow statistics from OFA which covers the period from January, 1974 to December, 2016 show that normal elbows in Newfs has improved marginally in the past decade from 75% to 76%. Interestingly however our breed is now ranked 11th in terms of incidence of the disease.

Unfortunately there are no public open databases in North America for health clearances. The best we have is the semi open database that OFA puts on their website. Even though hips, elbows and shoulders are actually evaluated by OFA rather than just recorded as are most of the other clearances, the public database for these diseases is still semi open since only normal results are automatically posted. For abnormal findings to be shown the owner of the dog must have given prior permission via the application form. This makes the hip and elbow published results almost useless for statistical analysis by the public.

Even though the OFA staff has access to the abnormal findings, for hip dysplasia the statistics compiled by them are still not very accurate whereas it is just the opposite for elbow dysplasia. The OFA explains it this way:

Breeders have become accustomed to their veterinarians (and often the breeders themselves) being able to see and diagnose HD prior to sending the films to OFA, but this is not typically the case with ED. While the higher grades are often diagnosed by the radiographing veterinarians, most do not have the training or equipment to reliably diagnose Grade 1’s.

In other words it is rare for an abnormal hip X-ray to be submitted but not so for elbows. That is why the statistics quoted above are presumed to be a reasonably accurate assessment of the ED status of Newfs.

Of course I wanted to take a look at how we Newfie breeders are faring more recently with elbows and this posed a major problem since I only have access to the public portion of the database. Then I realized that there is one portion of the OFA database that is actually “open”.

Preliminary results can be had for both hips and elbows. However the results will only be posted on the public database under strict conditions. One of these conditions requires the owner to grant written permission to publish abnormal results before knowing the OFA rating. It is this last requirement that makes this portion of the database open at least for elbows. Since dysplastic hips (but not the grading of fair, good or excellent) can often be spotted by a general practitioner these are rarely submitted. The exceptions are breeders who put the overall welfare of the breed ahead of their personal reputation or possibly they could be from a disgruntled puppy adopter. Elbows as mentioned above are a different matter, so preliminary elbow X-rays are routinely submitted by breeders with the permission section on the application form initialled.

Unfortunately there is no provision to search for preliminary results on the OFA database. This meant that I had to go through 72 pages line by line to get the statistics that I sought. With no other option I gritted my teeth and went at it.

In the past five years I found there were 75 preliminary elbow submissions eligible for the public database of OFA. To my pleasant surprise 62 of these were graded normal; that is about 83%. As this is far better than the earlier stats of 75% and 76% that were unaffected it suggests that the problem of elbow dysplasia in Newfoundlands in North America may be on the way to being overcome.

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Newf News

May/June, 2017