Health Information

Hip Scoring

In the days before the dog was domesticated, 'survival of the fittest' was the main rule. Dogs with serious health problems simply could not move quickly enough to catch or steal food, and starvation resulted in death. When man interfered with this natural selection process, it no-longer mattered if the dog wasn't as quick, or agile as he had been. The dog may seem to have benefited from us, as we have from him, but at a price. That price is a disease called hip dysplasia (HD).
The hip is a 'ball and socket' joint, which means that the 'ball' at the top of the femur (thigh) fits tightly into the 'socket' of the pelvis. This is such an efficient design, that the joints of  land animals and even some birds are very similar. The joint has a large, cartilage-covered surface, and this is lubricated by fluid (synovial or 'joint' fluid) to ensure smooth, economical, pain-free action. When things go wrong with this efficient design, the dog is described as having hip dysplasia.
This term covers a number of developmental and other abnormalities of the hip joint. The developmental changes (primary changes) occur first, and are mainly growth related. The changes that follow (secondary changes) are related to wear and tear from usage of the defective joints. This all results in one or both joints being unable to function properly, as they are no longer mechanically sound. This usually (though not always) means the dog is lame, as the unsound joints are painful. Some dogs (like people) have a better pain-threshold than others, and as the pain tends to be constant, the dog may not show discomfort by yelping, as he would if the pain was sudden. This is why dogs can't be assessed as being free from HD without x-rays and hip scoring. This is the only accurate way, as it shows the position of the ball of the joint in relation to the socket, and also shows any secondary changes, if present.
The scheme was developed in 1965, by the British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club, and at the moment is the most reliable method we have of  checking a dog's hip status.
Because HD is defined as a 'polygenetic trait', meaning that there is more than one gene involved in producing the disease, it is not always predictable. It is also affected by environmental factors i.e. all the outside influences such as diet and exercise, to name but two. This is why dogs with good hips don't always produce these good scores in their progeny (offspring) and why we should also take account of progeny scores when planning a mating.
Apologies for the poor quality of these pictures, but this is what a good hip joint should look like. Both show scores of 0 (perfect, no hip dysplasia).
a) shows radiographic image (x-ray). b) shows line diagram of anatomical landmarks evaluated during the scoring procedure.

 If you haven't seen a hip scoring sheet, you've probably never heard of these technical terms. Each part is checked and given a score, and these scores are added up to give a total for each hip. The lower the score, the better the hip, with 0 being a perfect score and 53 (single hip) being severely dysplastic, the worst score possible. The two scores (one for each hip) are then quite often totalled together to give a final score.
There are two very informative leaflets on HD, both available from the B.V.A. (British Veterinary Association, Canine Health Schemes, 7 Mansfield Street, London, W1M 0AT, Tel 0171 636 6541). The first is 'Hip dysplasia in dogs' written by John Fisher, and is a basic guide for dog owners. The second, 'The BVA/KC scoring scheme for control of hip dysplasia: interpretation of criteria' is more advanced, but very good, especially for people who do use the scheme.
Unfortunately, this scheme has its restrictions, the main one being that you can't score the dog 'til it's 12 months old, and by this time it may have become a much loved family pet, or successful show dog. The second is that according to American research, the way we position the dogs for scoring doesn't give a true picture. They have pioneered a new way of x-raying that appears to give more accurate results, and can be used much earlier. The main reason that it isn't available in this country is that there needs to be some-one present to position the dog while the x-ray is being taken, which is not allowed in this country.

For more information on this new scheme, called the PennHIP scheme, there is a very good article written by Fred Lanting, THE non-veterinary expert on hips, and author of  "Canine Hip Dysplasia" and "The Total GSD". As its on the 'Inkabijou' GSD site, don't forget to return to this site. More info on PennHIP

Another excellent source of information on the disease is the book "The German Shepherd Dog, A Genetic History of the Breed", by Dr. Malcolm B. Willis, the breed geneticist in this country

Haemophilia 'A'

Haemophilia 'A' is a condition where the blood fails to clot normally, due to a deficiency of Factor VIII. Though the disease has long been known in man, it was described in dogs about 50 years ago. Most breeds are affected to some degree, but we will concentrate on the GSD.
The symptoms depend on the severity of the disease, and vary from lameness, swellings and failure of the blood to clot in the normal time, to nothing visibly obvious in mildly affected dogs. Severely affected dogs may bleed spontaneously into body cavities, muscles or joints (so causing the swellings or lameness), whereas the mildly affected ones may only become apparent after surgery or injury, when the bleeding is difficult to stop. It is thought that the more severely affected animals die early or are still born, so most cases surviving to maturity are only mildly affected and are not so easily detected.
There are blood tests that can be done to detect haemophiliacs, but because of the nature of the inheritance of the disease, only the males can be declared clear. It is inherited as a sex-linked recessive gene, which means it is carried on the 'x' chromosome. The female has two of these, whereas the male has an 'x' and a 'y'. This is where the problem in detection arises, as the male is either affected or clear, depending on whether his 'x' chromosome carries the defective gene or not, but the female has two 'x's, so three states exist. These are 'clear', where neither chromosome carries the fault, 'carrier', where one 'x' has the fault, but is hidden by the other normal 'x', and 'affected', where both 'x's have the faulty gene. This is why the females are not tested, because it can only show up whether she is affected or seemingly clear, when she may actually be a carrier.
In theory, there are six possible types of matings.

As can be seen from the table, a clear male mated to a clear female will produce all clear progeny (barring any mutations). A clear male mated to a carrier female will be expected to produce clear and affected sons, and clear or carrier daughters. This is the most common way that haemophiliacs are produced, as no-one knowingly uses affected males or females. If a male is only mildly affected, and hasn't been tested clear, he may appear to be OK, but as can be seen from examples 3 and 4, the problem can still be passed on to his offspring.
The main source of haemophilia in the GSD seems to be from Canto Von Der Wienerau, with his sons all being clear, and his daughters all being carriers (mating no. 3). Although not tested, he died young in circumstances that would suggest that he was a haemophiliac. Although his sire was clear, the status of his mother  was not known. All recent cases of the disease have been traced back to Canto through his daughters, and the book, 'The German Shepherd Dog A Genetic History of the Breed' by Malcolm Willis (used as reference for this section) gives a list of dogs implicated as affected or producers of the disease, as well as giving more in depth information about it.
The blood test for the disease is inexpensive, and a list of dogs that are tested clear is available from the National G.S.D. Breed Council (see 'Useful Links' page)