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Back in the 1970’s the hot topic in Newfoundland dogs was hip dysplasia. Since then it has become less talked about as so many other health issues concerning Newfs have arisen in the public mind since then. Of course that does not mean it is less important; in fact for a giant breed dog the hind quarters are crucial to quality of life and the hips are the mainstay of the rear assembly.

Severe hip dysplasia will often necessitate early euthanasia but even a mild condition tends to lead to premature arthritis. Obviously we should strive to avoid any degree of hip dysplasia in our Newfs.

There has been an ongoing debate about whether hip dysplasia is the result of genetics or environment or a combination of both. After four decades of being concerned about and observing Newfs and hip dysplasia I have concluded that with respect to nature versus nurture, nature i.e. genetics is the key. Nurture is good to mitigate the genetic defect but is not the ultimate answer.

Sometimes the attempts at nurture actually get silly. For example I keep hearing of breeders who have a clause in their contract that a pup must not do stairs until six months of age. How they could possibly monitor or enforce such condition is beyond me. Expecting a 110 pound woman to carry an 80 – 100 lb puppy up a stairs really baffles my mind.

All that really counts however is whether the situation of hip dysplasia in our Newfoundlands is improving or not. To find that out is quite a challenge.

There are two bodies certifying canine hips here in North America, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and Antech Imaging Services (PennHip). Unfortunately only OFA has a public database and it is not fully open. Only passing grades are shown unless the dog owner gives permission to show non-qualifying scores. Even if they showed all dogs examined, any that appear to be fails would normally not even be submitted for grading.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals grades “clear hips” as excellent, good and fair. At a seminar on hip dysplasia put on by leading researchers I heard one speaker say that anything other than an OFA excellent means there is some degree of HD present. Since then I have concentrated on the statistics for Newfs getting this top grade for their hips.

Following are some of my recent findings in the OFA database up to mid-April, 2016:

Initially hips on the database were simply shown as “normal”. It was August 9, 1985 when the first Newfoundland was shown to have hips excellent. From then until mid-April, 2016, 1380 Newfs have achieved this designation; that is an average of 45 excellents per year.

Next I looked at the stats for the past 10 years and found that 570 Newfs were fully clear for an average of 57 per year. Looking back five years we have 263 giving us an average of 52.6 per year. These results suggest that improvements have been made over the past three decades but the trend may be levelling off.

To get a better idea of what is happening to our breed I narrowed the search for excellent hips to Newfs that also had a CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) designation. This designation means that the Newf has been tested (although not necessarily passing) for not only hips, but also for elbow dysplasia, heart health and cystinuria as required by the Newfoundland Club of America. The Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada also recommends such testing.

Going back 10 years there were 99 Newfs that tested excellent for hips and had their results posted for the other three health criteria. Now we have an average of 9.9 Newfs per year.

Last five years found 58 excellent hips for an average of 11.6 per year. This suggests a positive trend in breeding stock being used in recent years.

It was also interesting to find that 2/3 of the Newfoundlands with excellent hips were females. At first blush I figured this might be because the girls tend to be smaller and thus more likely to show better health including hips. However on reflection I realized that more bitches are required than males; in fact the ideal ratio would be one stud dog for every 10 brood bitches. These numbers then suggest that boys are meeting a higher standard which is appropriate as their influence on the health of the breed is at least 10 times that of the gals.

Finally I wanted to put the Newf results in perspective relative to other similar giant breed dogs. I chose to look at Saint Bernards, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Pyrenees over the past five years who got OFA hips excellent ratings as well as those that got the top rating for hips and met their breed club’s standard for CHIC certification.

Saint Bernards were a disaster with only nine getting an OFA excellent rating for hips in the past five years and zero with a CHIC designation.

Bernese Mountain Dogs appear to have the best hips with 788 getting an excellent hip rating in the past five years. This put the Newf total of 263 to shame. However when we look at the CHIC Berners with OFA excellent there were only 53 and this is similar to the Newfs at 58.

The Pyrs only had 121 hips cleared excellent in the past five year but 62 of them did it with CHIC designations suggesting they are at par with Newfs and Berners for healthy breeding stock.

To further put the hip issue in context, the UK Newfoundland Club estimates that 86% of Newfoundland dogs are dysplastic to some extent. The gradual increase in Newf breeding stock with OFA excellent hips may represent baby steps but at least we are going in the right direction.

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, 2016