CHS month: So, your client has been sold a pup?

Posted on January 24, 2019 by Pauline Tolhurst

I became involved with the BVA Canine Health Schemes after I moved to my current place of work - a rural mixed practice - 11 years ago. A friend of mine who was a very successful gun-dog trainer suggested that I should set up a hip and elbow x-raying clinic at the surgery. I approached my employers and promised that if they invested in a digital machine and bucky table that I would make it pay. What began as a means of justifying better equipment became a passion.

The submission process

The radiography clinics are run at lunch time. As dogs often travel a fair distance, I run a "walk in walk out" service. All dogs are radiographed under deep sedation using equal volumes of medetomidine and butorphanol given intravenously, which is reversed with atipamazole. The dogs are positioned in accordance to the BVA guidelines - there are two excellent videos about this on the BVA website. Radiographs can now be sent to the BVA electronically and the turnaround time is approximately two weeks. The clients are shown the radiographs and given a likely score and/or grade. I always make it clear that this is my opinion, which may differ from that of the scrutineers. Luckily this doesn`t happen very often.

The main rule is that all radiographs are submitted, regardless of their predicted score and/or grade. This rule is made clear on our website, on the fact sheets which are sent to the client prior to their appointment and on the consent form. I honestly cannot understand why all vets do not do this. Those clients not wanting to submit potentially high scores are not only cheating themselves, they are cheating the breed, as are vets who agree to this. Breeders with a true concern for the puppies that they may produce are those that the veterinary profession should be supporting, not unscrupulous individuals, breeding only for profit.

The problem

As a Labrador owner for 26 years and with at least 30% of dogs frequenting the practice being Labradors, I am only too aware of health issues, particularly lameness within the breed. I currently own four, two of which I bought after I had radiographed them and two which I bought as pups. Irritatingly the latter two both have elbow dysplasia. This is despite me trawling through the Kennel Club website using their excellent Mate Select, estimated breeding values (EBV) and My KC, which allows one to look at health test results for relatives of any potential sire and dam.

However, the fact is that although the sire and dam have been tested, often their siblings and ancestors have not.

Or have they? Any dog over a year of age can be radiographed, but it is not possible to ensure that the vet taking those x-rays submits them. At present, if there are no health test results for a dog, I have no idea as to whether that dog was ever x-rayed, or if it was and that x-ray was never submitted. Contrast this to the Eye Scheme where all results, regardless of pass or fail are sent through to the KC. The difference? Eye testing is performed by veterinary specialists who are all members of the BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Panel and sending them directly to the KC is non-negotiable.

The other problem with not submitting all x-rays is that it falsely lowers the breed average. The current recommendation is to only breed from dogs with a hip score below that of the breed average. For Labradors this is currently 9/106. This excludes a large number of Labradors with hip scores above that, who potentially will never have a hip related lameness, but may have far more important qualities such as personality etc.

The BVA CHS scheme for hips has been running in its present form since 1984. For hip dysplasia it has been very successful. I certainly see very few cases of severe hip dysplasia these days compared to the late eighties.

The Elbow Dysplasia Scheme has been running since 1998 and is still playing catch up. Under the Assured Breeder Scheme, hip scoring is a mandatory requirement for most breeds, but elbow scoring whilst being advisory is only mandatory for a few. Golden Retrievers and Labradors, both with an incidence of approximately 20% of elbow dysplasia within the breed, are not required to have their elbows radiographed. Many breeders are still breeding from dogs with an elbow score above zero, despite a score of one being indicative of secondary arthritis within the joint. It is possible to get false negative results for elbows as early osteophytes will be invisible at one year of age.

The solution

If I had my way, I would prefer to CT elbows at one year and increase the minimum age of radiographing elbows to two years but of course this is never going to happen. But as vets we can all help with sticking to our guns and being on the side of the dog, not of the client. After all, didn`t we all become vets to promote the welfare of those patients that we have under our care?

So please fellow colleagues, promote responsible breeding and send all radiographs taken directly to the BVA. If we all did this, breeders would have no choice if they wanted their litters to be KC registered.

Pauline Tolhurst

Written by Pauline Tolhurst

Pauline qualified from Liverpool in 1987 and has spent most of her career in small animal practice. She lives and works in the Cotswolds, and loves everything about the countryside and rural life. She now work part-time, and during the winter, if not at work she is either out with her Labradors or sat on one of her horses.