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  • Writer's pictureNAH Admin-Coordinator

How We Test for Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

Joints. Most animals have them, with some being more flexible than others! While we all wish our four-legged companions could stay as flexible as a yoga instructor, there are a few inherited diseases that can cause immobility, pain, and inflammation in our pets’ hips and elbows. These diseases are commonly known as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia.



More common in dogs than cats, hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint doesn’t develop properly as the animal grows. In some cases, it can also be caused by trauma to the hip resulting in a loss of cartilage elasticity. As a dog with hip dysplasia ages, they will typically experience pain, inflammation, stiffness, and potentially lameness of the hind legs. Elbow dysplasia has similar clinical signs, but affects the elbows rather than hips and is passed down genetically. Dogs with elbow dysplasia can usually be identified by their abnormal walk - transferring their weight to the inner part of their paws as a result of their lack of elbow mobility and as an attempt to reduce pain. While hip and elbow dysplasia can have serious effects on our four-legged companions, there are a number of treatment and management options as well as extremely accurate screening processes to diagnose these diseases. In fact, screening for hip and elbow dysplasia can be done for dogs as young as 2 years old - well before behavioral signs emerge!

Most veterinarians, like the ones here at Newberry Animal Hospital, conduct their patients’ hip and elbow dysplasia screenings through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). The OFA has been conducting hip and elbow dysplasia screenings since 1966, and continues to lead the way in this type of diagnostic testing. So what happens when a dog owner or breeder wants to get their dog screened? First, we will need to make sure the dog has permanent identification on them such as a

microchip number or spay/neuter tattoo number.

Next, if the dog is female, we will need to make sure she hasn’t been in heat or had puppies within the last month. Both of these requirements come directly from the OFA, and can cause the pet’s test to be unexaminable if not followed. Once we confirm these 2 needs are met, then we are ready to schedule their appointment!

All hip & elbow dysplasia screenings here at Newberry Animal Hospital are scheduled as a fasted sedation drop-off appointment. During this appointment, our staff and doctors will take multiple radiographic images (x-rays) of the dog’s hips and elbows in very specific positions in order to get the clearest view of the dog’s joints. The exactness needed for this imaging is why we usually sedate our pet patients for it - we want to get it right the first time! Once the dog’s imaging is complete and correct, it will be ready to send to the OFA for examination.

Once the OFA receives the pet’s radiographs, the images will be reviewed by 3 separate

board-certified veterinary radiologists. These radiologists will compare the images to what is normal for a dog of the same breed, sex, and age, and will determine the health of the pup’s joints. It can take up to 2 months for the OFA to conduct their examination, but once they do, they will send their findings back to us along with a grade of either Normal, Borderline, or Dysplastic. Our doctors will then be able to use this grade to create a customized treatment plan for the patient if needed.


Want to learn more about hip and elbow dysplasia in dogs? Interested in more information about the OFA certification process? Visit www.ofa.org today!


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