Barbara J. Andrews, Journalist, AKC Master Breeder
2015 Update (first published in ShowSight Magazine Oct 2001) also see
Testing part 1
OFA, CERF, CHIC, and other health testing is a wonderful tool as long as we are aware that there
are inherently fatal flaws in genetic health certifications.
Over 40 years later, most health certification companies have faced up to the
fact that for generations, there was NO IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED. The
constant hammering on them has finally achieved a small degree of success.
Today some certifications are issued based on the type of identification
presented to the veterinarian. It is the veterinarian who does the actual
testing so the matter of accuracy, identity fraud, or any legal liability does
not impact the company that actually issues the certificate.
breeds that have "glow in the dark" dogs. Those poor irradiated-to-death
dogs are substituted for dogs with known problems, enabling defective dogs to
obtain health certifications. So it is that nothing has changed except the emergence of new canine health
problems for which there are new tests, many of them without regard to
We've heard all the excuses for failed X-rays but in fact, a fat,
out-of-condition, slow growing large breed dog or an estrus or post-whelping
bitch for example, will not present the tight hip sockets of a dog in good
Every breeder wants to be sure a dog is free of hereditary joint, eye, and heart problems before breeding the dog.
Some tests have value, many do not. Breeders rushed to get their dogs certified clear of
Congenital Hypothyroidism With Goiter (CHG) which, if present, kills the dog within 2 weeks of birth. Testing was expensive for breeders and
profitable for those who promoted the test.
Fulcrum Hip Xrays and Palpation Certification
Fulcrum X-ray meant "gently" forcing the fulcrum out of the hip socket to determine maximum joint laxity during radiographs.
Fulcrum x-ray and palpation were a big deal back in the 70s. Promoted by Dr. Bardens, both were finally exposed as ineffective and dangerous methods of diagnosing
or predicting canine hip dysplasia. (1) Many breeders allege the procedures actually caused joint laxity and malformed growth. Inarguably, both procedures resulted in the death of dogs that may have been sound.
Hip joint palpation caused the needless death of thousands of 8 and
10 week old puppies before breeders lost enthusiasm and vets gave up on its value as an early warning of hip problems.
Palpation was so inaccurate
that many vets insisted on repeated examinations... That defies logic but it was the protocol of the time. Palpation finally earned tactful condemnation in 1999 (2) but it took over 20 years! Palpation and the OFA x-ray procedure was characterized by Dr. Jerry Schnelle (who first identified and studied canine hip dysplasia) as “pinning the tail on the donkey.”
If Preliminary Certification Looked Uncertain...
Breeders were encouraged to have a pectinectomy performed. The surgical procedure involved cutting the tendons of the (groin) pectineus muscle, and since it failed to help dogs attain hip certification and did not relieve pain nor prevent further degeneration, the painful, expensive procedure had a relatively short life. It was promoted as relieving tension on the hip joint and even represented as a “cure” for hip dysplasia. Thankfully, the popularity of the procedure waned although some vets still perform the useless but expensive surgery.
The Orthopedic Foundation For Animals was formed to certify dogs as being free of hip dysplasia and to identify dogs with early hip problems. Like fulcrum x-ray and palpation, it was validated only by those who greatly profited from the procedure. The "Swedish Study" was cited by OFA... When PennHip was launched by the U of PA, OFA began to stagger like a crippled dog until
the American Kennel Club saved it by listing the OFA number on the dog’s AKC registration certification.
OFA contributed significantly to the AKC Canine Health Foundation (AKC/CHF) and they now work together on many canine health projects.
The OFA website makes no mention of founding or even current board members. Go figure! After decades of debacle, Dr. Corley finally retired and I am proud to claim some
degree of credit for that.
I went nose-to-nose with Dr. Corley many times but the result was progress so I count it a worthwhile 28 year battle.
Writing for the Canine Chronicle and other top dog magazines such as
Kennel Review, I repeatedly asked why hip sockets were so important
but elbow, patella, and stifle joints were not? It took over 20 years of badgering
on that lack of logic before OFA caved in to my public charges of
hypocrisy and fraud and finally began to certify knees and elbows.
Dr. Corley was replaced by the “Beagle Man” Eddie Dziuk who is a true dog man with the dog’s best interest at heart. By the turn of the century, OFA also began to issue certificates for heart, skin, thyroid, deafness, and a smorgasbord of genetic and DNA tests and certifications.
Will The Real Dog Please Bark Up?
So, the problem is screamingly obvious. With all the new ground-breaking discoveries and genetic markers, why do health registries still
not require permanent identification? The Thoroughbred and racing Greyhound registries has always required tattoo, today they may have microchip. DNA is not suitable because the dog would have to be DNA tested every time it
dog is presented for certification. So I ask again.
Equally as deceitful, the veterinary community has become party to the fraud that leads the public to believe parental or puppy certification means the dog won't develop that health problem. Oh they don't say that but it is the entire marketing basis! If a medical doctor tested a patient and certified he/she would never develop diabetes or heart problems,
the doctor would lose his medical license!
If we can’t trust the basis of health testing, how do we know how definitive a test really is? No objective third-party “certifies” that eye, heart, kidney, hearing exams, or x-rays are accurate. Many dogs become clinically affected after certification. Was it a faulty exam, a records mix-up, or testing based on a faulty premise? Most health certifications depend on the interpretive skills of the veterinarian conducting the exam or the vet who evaluates the results. Even in human medicine, mistakes and misdiagnoses occur.
Dr. Corley (OFA) claimed all sorts of in-house statistics unsupported by independent research. Until we have solid statistical data to back up rhetoric, and until we can be assured that a test is definitive and not interpretive, we can only regard health certifications as a professional but personal opinion, not a scientific fact.
Health certifications should be duly noted and weighed as just one factor relating to overall health, temperament, and quality when breeding decisions are made.
Please, breeders, forget bragging rights and be realistic. Canine health has reached a crisis point. A healthy heart in an obsessive-compulsive spinner is of little comfort
to owner or the dog. Excellent hips on a dog with chronic debilitating gastritis
is of no genetic value. The best breeders want valid answers even if they are disappointing. We are honest with ourselves and the health certification organizations must be honest with us!
(1) “Palpation has shown diagnostic use in human neonates, but is controversial and may have little diagnostic or prognostic utility in the dog. A caution: In human infants, it has been suggested that repetitive Barlow tests, and presumably Ortolani and Bardens as well, are capable of making infant hips unstable, thus giving a false-positive result. Vet Clinics No Am Sm Anim Prac, Vol 2, No. 3, pp., 554-557, 1992.
(2) “Results of hip joint palpation were at best moderately correlated with radiographic measures of hip joint laxity.” Am Vet Med Assoc. 1999 Feb 15;214(4):497-501
Click if you missed Canine Health Certification, Part 1
Excerpts from "On The Line" ShowSight Magazine Oct 2001
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Getting a CT or MRI? Doing hip x-rays on your dog?
Know the risks.
The high cost of pet meds, exams,
x-rays, dentals, shots, and advice...
What's your dog’s cancer and infertility risk from
repeated hip x-rays?