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Common sense genetics on luxating patellas, popping hocks, elbow and hip dysplasia in a carnivore genetically programmed for sound joints and strong bones.




by Barbara J. Andrews, Publisher -


Dogs are genetically programmed for survival.  They are born with pre-determined (inherited) color, size, and structure.  As hunting carnivores, they would starve with weak ligaments and joints.


It's as simple as that.  No amount of x-rays can prevent bone and joint problems or change a dog's genetic predisposition for ii luxating patellas (knees), and dysplastic hips or elbows.  DNA tests may reveal genotype but only breeders can control phenotype and only owners can control environment, exercise, and diet. 


And that is where breeders and owners most often fail the canine.  Bone and joint deformities are usually the result of accelerated growth and/or obesity at any age but they are made worse by lack of exercise and poor diet.  Wild carnivores are never, ever obese and in order to survive, they get plenty of exercise.


Only after you've wrapped your mind around that common sense concept, should you listen to the sales hype about genetic markers, DNA tests, X-rays, etc.  Tests only tell you what is, not how to prevent the problem for which you are testing. 


Most veterinarians are eager to do those tests but do how many vets ever advise you to get the weight off your dog? They may suggest a "special diet food" but to they advise exercise??? Has your vet ever mentioned jogging your toy breed or exercising your larger dog next to a bicycle or on a treadmill??? 


Of course not.  And let's face it, only a handful of "canine health advisors" have ever bred a litter and even fewer have produced a show dog or field champion. So... flying in the face of convention and profitability, here's your prescription for soundness.


Here is the no-fail formula to prevent canine orthopedic and joint problems:- rigid genetic selection for unexaggerated (normal) canine conformation, adequate exercise coupled with meat-based nutrition and natural, non-slip footing which allows the dog to move about naturally. 


When used together, this method is infallible. It works every time if you are as concerned about sound conformation as about winning a ribbon in the show ring. I know some breeds are more difficult to work with but every dog, from Mastiff to Min-Pin can be both "typey" and structurally sound.


Let's begin by understanding the modern canine. Medial patellar luxation is common in toy breeds, said to be hereditary (kneecap ligament slips out of the trochlea groove towards the inside of the leg). While genes do control size, bone density, etc. I see it as a combination of environment, nutritional factors and pogo jumping which most small breeds do constantly. Do your toy dogs stand in one place and jump up and down when out in the yard? No. They only do it when fenced, kenneled, in x-pens and/or separated from their owner.


Lateral patellar luxation is common to large and giant breed dogs (kneecap ligament slips towards the outside of the leg) causing dog to limp or carry the leg.  A shallow patellar groove may be inherited but expression of the problem is dictated by growth rate, muscle strength, and weight. Most large and giant breed puppies are overfed and under-exercised.


Before you consider road-work to strengthen the ligaments and muscle, roadwork is only for adults.  Large grassy paddocks in which to run and play are safer and natural for dogs of any age.

We are all born with a genetic pattern which shapes our bodies, from eye, hair, and skin color, to height, bone structure, longevity, and of course, any predisposition towards genetic diseases but ...


No species is born with bad spinal, hip, elbow, or knee joints

...excluding birth defects which are most often the result of medical interference when the child or animal is in the uterus. The primary problem is that dog breeders usually put more emphasis on features of type than on sound structure and common sense.


Forcing puppies into early development is as detrimental to bone and joint health as is substituting fat for substance in order to appear more "mature" in the show ring.  No wonder we have an “epidemic” of hip, knee, spinal and elbow problems!


Pushing puppies with grain-based formulations guaranteed to insure maximum growth and development insures bone and joint deformities! As AKC judge "puppies" presenter Pat Hastings points out, we can accelerate bone growth but NOT muscle and tendon development. If your litter develops bowed front legs, stop using that dog food because invisible damage to hips and knees is also occurring.


The last place you should see overweight dogs is in the vet’s office. Dogs that were born with good hips and knees suddenly turn into opportunities for hip, patella, or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) surgery. Diet food for dogs? Ridiculous! Feed a dog the way nature intended and you will have a structurally sound dog well into old age.


OBESITY LEADS TO KNEE AND JOINT PROBLEMSKnee joints meant to hold up 30 pounds can not possibly support 40 pounds of blubber and flabby muscle!!! Let me repeat that. A Labrador bred to be an active hunter at 65 pounds can not remain sound at 80 pounds.  As a group, most Sighthounds are sound compared to Working Breeds which are often shown overweight (to give the appearance of substance) whereas an overweight Saluki wouldn’t be in the ribbons.  And what about toy breeds? What is the incidence of hip and knee problems in Pugs as compared to Miniature Pinschers?

Just like dogs, humans are born with hip and knee joints capable of supporting a genetically predetermined weight. I don’t know a single obese person who doesn’t have knee problems.

O’BJ Akitas were virtually free of knee and hip problems but it was the way they were raised. Puppies were fed kibble, fresh veggies, meat, poultry, and fish. They enjoyed regular exercise in grassy paddocks.  Our Akitas founded the breed on four continents because they were known world-wide for type and soundness.

Likewise, my position on ii hip dysplasia is/was grounded in fact. Long before computers were invented (much less the internet), I published the Rottweiler and the Akita Handbooks, both of which involved painstaking research. During the 60s and 70s, it became evident that x-raying might be a good selling point but had little to do with hereditary hip soundness.


Faulty X-ray Results Based On A Faulty Concept

Dr. Corley (OFA) and I had more than one contentious conversation due to cited inconsistencies and risks associated with the dogma of the day. I also kept up with Gerry Schnelle, DVM (first to report and study hip dysplasia and one of the founding OFA vets) after he publicly resigned from the OFA board.  He stated in JAVMA that he could not fairly read an x-ray of a dog he had not seen and evaluated for overall muscular condition, whether the bitch was in estrus, had recently whelped, etc. In years of seminars and columns, Dr. Schnelle and I stressed that hips were only two out of a hundred joints that could cripple a dog. Finally, due to OFA’s declining financial health - the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals began certifying elbows. Having a true dog person at the helm now (Eddie Dzuik) is the best thing that’s happened to OFA.


THE EFFECT ON CANINE KNEES, HIPS BECAUSE OF ENVIRONMENT When Dr. Barden’s fulcrum x-rays became the rage, I exposed the false logic and the associated positioning risk in my newspaper column. This isn’t self-aggrandizement. I offer these references because I have no veterinary degree with which to impress you. My degree is 52 years of in-depth clinical experience and hundreds of top ranked AKC Chs.  So when I suggest that nature has an infallible plan (discounting the platypus) and that it is commerce which upsets the balance of canine structure and soundness, I hope you will think about what you are feeding your dogs, their growth rate, weight, and type of exercise.


Now if only someone would invent a kennel run with a retractable low top to prevent dogs from hopping up and down I’d be ever so grateful but until that happens, I’ll continue to apply common sense to feeding, rearing and maintaining my super-sound Toy dogs.


If you have a large dog prone to hip dysplasia (keep him trim) and for more on the risk to both knees and hips visit VIDEO THEATER'S Hip Dysplasia coverage.  If you have a "toy" breed dog, be sure to watch Rear Leg Tendons & Patellas to learn about cruciate ligaments and knee caps.  Video Theater makes it easy!

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