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First Three Months Strategic to Preventing Hip Dysplasia

Breeders may be able to do even more about preventing dysplasia in their litters than previously known.

While genes set up the possibility of hip dysplasia, studies have pointed to weight and rapid growth as triggers for its development. Now, new research indicates that the environment during a puppy’s first three months of life may have more effect on its risk for developing the condition.

Randi I. Krontveit, D.V.M., Ph.D., spent 10 years doing canine dysplasia research for her doctoral thesis. “I had been working as a clinician for quite a few years when this study was started at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, and I applied for this Ph.D. position. It was a great opportunity for me to do research.”

To find dogs for the study, the project leaders, her colleagues at the vet school and the Norwegian Kennel Club “all played an important role in recruitment of dog breeders,” Krontveit explains. “These breeders again recruited dog owners by getting their puppy buyers interested and committed to this project.”

Giving puppies under 3 months of age the chance to run leash free on “gently undulating terrain” may help prevent development of hip dysplasia. Photo © Can Stock Photo Inc./A. Oosthuizen

She studied five hundred privately owned Newfoundland, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger and Irish Wolfhound puppies in Norway, from birth through age 10. Breeders and owners purchasing puppies filled out questionnaires about the puppies’ activities, growth and health. The puppies were also examined by veterinary surgeons and their hips X-rayed at ages determined by the kennel club – 12 or 18 months depending on breed.

Krontveit’s research may dispute previous research, as she found that the breed that grows the slowest, the Newfie, had the highest incidence of dysplasia at 36 percent. The Wolfhound, which grows the quickest, had the lowest risk of disease at 10 percent. These results surprised Krontveit and her fellow researchers, she says.

A 10-year Norwegian study discovered that puppies that go up and down stairs before the age of 3 months are more likely to develop hip dysplasia. Photo by Gheorghiescu Alexandru/Dreamstime.com

Her research also indicates that conditions at a breeder’s kennel or home have a bigger effect on the development of dysplasia in the future. Puppies born in spring or summer had a lower risk, as did those who had a chance to exercise in a park on a daily basis until 3 months of age. Those who walked up and down steps during the first three months had an increased risk of developing hip dysplasia. “Overall, it would appear that daily exercise out in gently undulating terrain up until the age of 3 months gives a good prognosis when it comes to preventing HD,” Krontveit concludes.

Owners filled out annual questionnaires so Krontveit could track the dogs’ health. In reviewing the effect of HD on the dogs, she found that Newfoundlands and Leonbergers seriously affected by dysplasia were euthanized sooner than Labrador Retrievers or Irish Wolfhounds. Symptoms, such as limping and hip pain, developed earliest in Newfoundlands and latest in Labs. The research also found that “varied exercise had a positive effect, and dogs that exercised on a daily basis on a lead and running free in different types of terrain were free of symptoms longer than dogs that were less active.”

Despite the fact that her findings are different from those of others who have researched hip dysplasia, she says that most of the response she’s gotten has been “very enthusiastic” and that other researchers are “very interested” in her research. “So far I have not gotten any negative responses,” she says.

Krontveit points out that the results of the study are not “definitive,” and “further studies on hip dysplasia etiology are certainly needed. Perhaps the most important finding of my research is that the period from birth until 3 months seems crucial, and further studies including this time period would be beneficial. Having said that, it might not be possible or necessary to find ‘all’ factors critical for hip dysplasia development. It would be good if results from research could be used to modify environment for young puppies and thus perhaps prevent disease.”

No one else is doing similar research at this time, to the best of Krontveit’s knowledge.

Written by

Susan Chaney has been on the editorial side of publishing since 1990, starting her career as a newspaper features writer and editor. A lifelong lover of dogs, Susan has lived with German Shepherds, Labs, Yorkies, an Irish Setter, a Great Dane-Bloodhound mix, a Sheltie and currently a Chihuahua mix of unknown pedigree. She was the editor of Dog Fancy magazine, content editor of DogChannel.com and group editor of Dog World, Dogs USA, Puppies USA, Natural Dog, Cat Fancy, Cats USA and Kittens USA from March 2005 to December 2009 when she left her position to work at home, part-time. Susan lives in Long Beach, Calif., with her artist husband, Tim, that Chi mix and two big cats. As an editor and writer for Best In Show Daily, she is reveling in the amalgam of three loves: writing, editing and dogs.
  • Sherry Anderson/Sher-Mi Labradors May 10, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    While I can appreciate any type of research, CHD is plain and simply polygenic. So I don’t like to see articles like this implying anything but…… A puppy is either predisposed or it is not, regardless of how it’s fed, etc. Environment/feed, etc., does not cause CHD, it only expresses it and to varying degrees. I have bred labradors for over 25yrs and I raise everyone the same. I also raise them heavy too. They have free reign exercise/jump/run/tumble, etc. If I’ve had one wash out due to CHD or ED, unfortunately, that particular puppy was predisposed. Good muscling is quite important in a growing puppy due to the fact that if it’s needed due to being predisposed, it can help. Articles such as this breeders jump on when a puppy they’ve produced is diagnosed w/ CHD, they can blame the family! When that family did not cause their puppy to acquire CHD!

    • Susan Chaney
      Susan Chaney May 11, 2012 at 8:55 AM

      Thank you, Sherry, for sharing your years of experience with BISD readers. This study doesn’t dispute that a puppy is either predisposed to hip dysplasia or not. Its conclusion, which the researcher states is not “definitive,” is that during those first three months certain activities can increase the risk of developing clinical signs (symptoms) or decrease that risk. As most fanciers know, dysplasia is simply a poor fit between the ball of the femur and the hip bone, resulting in laxity, or a looseness of the joint. The outcome for a particular dog depends on the degree of laxity, and, it would appear, a host of other factors.

  • Tracy Leonard, DVM, Select Basenjis May 13, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    I have to respectively disagree, ENVIROMENT is important in a number of conditions, hip dysplasia included. If a women carries the breast cancer gene but never is exposed to a trigger that launches it, she won’t get breast cancer even though she has the gene for it. We need to continue researching the triggers for CHD. They can be just as important as the genetic component of this disease. I received a hip replacement for myself just 2 years ago. SInce I have 2 children, I would really like to know what environmental factors could keep them from suffering my same fate. I am lucky to be dedicated to a breed, Basenjis, that has a low incidence to CHD. Although low, we do have Basenjis that have received total hip replacements. We need to be ever vigilant on all fronts, genetic and environmental.

    • Susan Chaney
      Susan Chaney May 15, 2012 at 10:04 AM

      Thank you, Dr. Leonard, for your take on this topic. I believe “trigger” is the perfect word to describe what Dr. Krontveit found in her research: that climbing stairs is a trigger for developing clinical signs when a dog is genetically predisposed.

  • Maryna Ozuna May 16, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    There is no question that more factors than just genetics determine the outcome or the potentiality of HD. Science is beginning to document what many of us have observed experentially. To hold on to narrow, outdated science is to diminish the potential of our pups. Nutrition, early neutering, conditioning, there are a variety of factors that can affect developing bone. But further, for precision of science there needs to be a changed science of definition around HD. As we have now looked at thousands of digital images from modern digital radiography, it is amply clear that HD is not one thing. There are an infinite variety of ways in which the relationship of femoral head to acetabulum can be affected. E.g. the shape of the acetabulum can be affected — flattened at the top, flattened at the bottom, tilted, twisted, angulated; the femoral head can be squared off, tilted, enlarged, reduced, chipped, eroded, malplaced, malformed. Are all these things a product of the genetics? The same genetics? different components of genetics? malleable to environmental influences? malleable to developmental influences?? I personally am super excited to see a broader ranging inquiry on the critical issue of maximizing healthy canine development.

  • Dr. Borman November 25, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    I am a veterinarian and recently submitted a patent applic. of a device to be used on young puppies with hip joint laxity. I have not done a double blind study to confirm the benefit but feel that the appliance will work. I think that it should be used on young pups for about 3 weeks during one of their most active growing times. It should deepen the hip socket and by also preventing hip laxity, allow for getting that critical young growth developing correctly. Dr. Borman, hipdysplasia1@gmail.com

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