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Why health screening matters for dog welfare: from our scrutineers

18 Apr 2024


Every year, tens of thousands of dogs are sold in the UK. Only a small fraction of these are bred from parents who have undergone the necessary health testing to give them the best chance at a happy, healthy life. Our Canine Health Schemes’ expert scrutineers discuss why screening hips and elbows is a crucial part of a healthy breeding process.

Why health screening matters for dog welfare: from our scrutineers Image

BVA has been running the Canine Health Schemes (CHS) in partnership with Kennel Club since 1965 with the aim of reducing canine hip and elbow dysplasia across all breeds. The CHS scrutineers, who together boast more than 240 years on our panel, are passionate about improving the lives of dogs through this crucial preventative measure.

Ruth Dennis, a radiologist for forty years who joined the CHS panel in 1992, highlights the need to screen early, even if a dog is young and looks healthy today: "Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are potentially very debilitating diseases for dogs. However, this often doesn’t manifest until they’re older in life, perhaps after they’ve already bred. These are potentially manageable and preventable conditions so by screening younger dogs we can pick up those which are going to develop arthritis and suffer later in life before they might be used for breeding."

The impact on dogs

Several of our scrutineers who continue to work in practice are accustomed to treating dogs suffering from orthopaedic disease. Stephen Clarke, with almost twenty years of experience as an orthopaedic specialist, recently became a member of the Canine Health Schemes panel.

He speaks on the importance of engaging in these preventative measures and why he decided to join the panel: "I deal with dogs with orthopaedic disease on a daily basis and I feel it’s important to be involved in the preventative measures to try and reduce the prevalence of what are some of the most debilitating diseases we see in our orthopaedic department. For elbow dysplasia in particular, we still do not have effective management strategies for every patient.

"While hip dysplasia/osteoarthritis can, in many patients, be effectively treated surgically with total hip replacement, work continues in an attempt to develop a safe, effective and reliable elbow replacement system for the management of elbow osteoarthritis. As such, most patients suffering with elbow osteoarthritis as a consequence of elbow dysplasia, will require lifelong multi-faceted medical management, which includes such things as weight control, activity moderation and prescription analgesic medications, as well as physio and aquatic therapy."

Jerry Davies, who held the position of Chief Scrutineer for seven years until Elizabeth Baines recently stepped into the role, underlined the impact these conditions can have on a dog's quality of life: "Hip and elbow dysplasia often affect both hips and/or both elbows. In these cases, the dog may not be obviously lame, and the owner may not realise there is an issue. These dogs may be experiencing a level of pain daily that has a significant impact on their quality of life."

Screening can make a difference

Through his work screening hip and elbow radiographs for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Jerry Davies has seen the positive effect of taking a tough approach to selecting healthy breeding dogs: "Their selection process for their breeding animals is ruthless, and as a result, the incidence of hip and elbow dysplasia in their puppies, that are candidate working guide dogs, has fallen steadily over the last twenty years."

Ceri Simpson runs CS Veterinary Imaging, a radiography service that has been working with Canine Health Schemes since 2022: "CS Veterinary Imaging signed up with CHS because every day in our Veterinary Physiotherapy clinic, we see the consequences of irresponsible breeding. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and other inherited conditions can cause significantly reduced quality of life for affected dogs and years of heartache (not to mention financial impacts) for their owners.

"We know that health screening alone cannot guarantee healthy puppies but it helps by reducing the risk of unknowingly passing on certain genetic conditions. The submission and results portal is quick and straightforward to use keeping the whole process streamlined for us and the owners who use us."

It is hoped that with time, through programs such as the CHS Hip and Elbow Schemes coupled with informed breeding practices, hip and elbow dysplasia will be eradicated from the canine population, allowing dogs to lead the happy, healthy lives that they deserve.

Register now

If you are a vet practice that offers X-rays, you can register with our online portal to provide a hip and elbow screening service to your clients. We’ll provide all the information you need to get started. If you have any questions, please call 020 7908 6380 or email [email protected].



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