Health: Hip Dysplasia

By Jennifer Stoeckl, MAT - Dire Wolf Project CEO, Dec. 9, 2020
Kodiak and Grinch

Today, I want to share a very important message with everyone regarding hip dysplasia in dogs as it pertains to the American Alsatian dog breed. Much of the discussion will be in the comments section because I need to post various x-ray photos to illustrate my points.

First of all, hip dysplasia is a condition found in both dogs and humans. You might be interested to know that according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, "Hip dysplasia in adults is the most common cause of hip arthritis in young women. Men also have hip dysplasia and account for approximately one in five cases. Estimates of hip dysplasia as a cause of all hip arthritis range from 5% to 44%. The best guess is that 10% of all total hip replacements in the United States is because of hip dysplasia."

Unfortunately for us, hip dysplasia data for dog breeds is not the easiest to come by. Specific studies done on randomly selected populations throughout a geographic area suggest an overall number of dogs, but it is extremely difficult to find a true average number of cases of dogs that have significant degrees of laxity in their hip joints. Recently, though, I did come across a study done that looked at the hip dysplasia rates of five popular large breeds living in Switzerland. After a significant reduction in hip dysplasia in the nineties after breeders began actively selecting against any dogs showing hip dysplasia, the current rate of hip dysplasia as of 2016 remains at the following percentages in these breeds:
German Shepherd Dog: 18%
Bernese Mountain Dog: 12.5%
Flat-Coated Retriever: 2.6%
Labrador retriever: 2.9%
Golden Retriever: 9.4%

In the American Alsatian dog breed, we currently have a 0.94% reported incidence of hip dysplasia in the last 7 years and a 0.18% reported incidence of hip dysplasia over the lifetime of the breed. Perhaps some dogs were diagnosed with hip dysplasia that were not reported to us, but generally, these are amazing statistics, especially when compared to the study above - and more especially because we do not formally hip x-ray all of our breeding dogs. Instead, we evaluate overall body structure and joint tightness as the puppies develop. Just as other dog breeders who practice this type of selective breeding for form and function over relying on a single hip x-ray on a single day to determine hip soundness, the Dire Wolf Project is often berated for our lack of conformity in this area.

In the following comments, I want to address the very real reasons why we do not rely on hip x-rays to determine the hip health of our dogs. As you will see, hip x-ray positioning is essential in making any determination of hip dysplasia. When a breed with a small population chooses to ignore body structure and form, but instead, chooses to rely on one x-ray and one organization's interpretation of that x-ray, valuable genetic diversity is forever lost, which may cause more damage to the breed in the long run. We must have the courage to think for ourselves and be good stewards of the dogs we cherish. We cannot be bullied into conformity, even if a majority is screaming at us that we are wrong.

We would like to send you a free gift for spending some time with us at the Dire Wolf Project.

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Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Dirus Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Dirus dogs.