FAQs About Hip Dysplasia, PennHip Evaluation, and Juvenille Pubic Symphysiodesis

PennHip is an X-ray that can be performed in puppies as young as 16 weeks of age and gives an estimate of the risk for developing painful arthritis in the hips or hip dysplasia later in life.  The PennHip method has strong scientific evidence for being the most effective hip screening tool available for dogs. With this information, preventative and palliative strategies can be recommended.  All dogs can benefit from PennHip testing.  For dog’s found to be at risk for developing arthritis, early intervention can help prevent or lessen the severity of hip dysplasia.  For working or service dogs, identifying a dog with healthy hips can extend the working life of the dog. For breeding dogs, early detection of at-risk hips can allow the breeder to make early, informed decisions as to which dogs to keep in breeding programs.  For more information please download the PennHip Brochure.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is an inherited degenerative, developmental condition caused by an increased laxity, or looseness, in the hip joints that ultimately leads to arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Hip dysplasia is a painful and uncomfortable condition resulting in stiffness, reduced function and diminished quality of life. It is the most common inherited orthopedic disorder affecting all breeds of dogs, with some breeds having more than 50% of dogs afflicted. Currently, no effective cure for the disease exists and the medical or surgical treatments currently practiced are at best palliative.

Can hip dysplasia be prevented?

Since hip dysplasia is a genetic condition inherited from the dog’s parents, prevention requires an accurate prediction of osteoarthritis using a reliable screening method implemented early in life known as PennHip. Based upon PennHip evaluations, genetic control and selective breeding are effective means of reducing the severity of canine hip dysplasia and the development of osteoarthritis in subsequent generations of dogs. In addition, environmental factors such as diet, activity level and pharmaceuticals can influence the onset of osteoarthritis. Surgery may also be an option; however, the safety and efficacy of all preventative surgical procedures have not been adequately studied.

What is PennHip?

PennHIP is a radiographic screening method used for hip evaluation and predicting the development of hip dysplasia based on quantitative hip laxity. The technique assesses the quality of the canine hip and measures canine hip joint laxity.

In addition, PennHIP is a network of certified veterinarians trained to perform the PennHIP methodology properly forming a large scientific database that houses all of the PennHIP data. Radiographs are made by certified PennHIP members worldwide and are sent for evaluation by board-certified veterinary radiologists. The resulting data is stored in the database forming breed-specific information, which is monitored and updated as it expands.

PennHIP publishes its findings in scientific journals. The published information is then disseminated to all PennHIP members; it is also shared with interested breed clubs and routinely appears in veterinary publications.

What is the difference between OFA (Orthopedic Foundations of Animals) and PennHip?

Whereas PennHip uses objective measurements to evaluate hip laxity, OFA is a radiographic screening method used for assessing and diagnosing osteoarthritis in the canine hip joint that uses a subjective seven-point grading system (excellent, good, fair, borderline, mild dysplasia, moderate dysplasia, or severe dysplasia) graded by a small panel of board-certified veterinary radiologists based upon subjective assessment of the hip conformation.

In order to receive official certification for breeding, OFA radiographs cannot be performed until the dog is at least 24 months of age at the time of evaluation. Conversely, PennHIP radiographs can accurately and consistently predict future changes to the hips as early as 16 weeks of age.

PennHIP requires all certified veterinarians who undertake this method to submit all radiographs to be included in a database, regardless of hip quality. In contrast, OFA can be performed by any veterinarian who then chooses to select the best images or decline to submit radiographs that show evidence of hip laxity or osteoarthritis for evaluation, thus skewing the database towards better hips.

Although OFA radiographs are considered the “gold standard” by many breeders and kennel clubs for evaluating and diagnosing osteoarthritis, this radiographic screening method has been shown to underestimate true hip laxity and to be unable to predict a dog’s susceptibility for developing osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia later in life. The PennHIP method of evaluation is the most evidence-based hip screening method available to date and is more accurate than OFA in its ability to predict the onset of osteoarthritis.

When can PennHip evaluations be performed?

A major advantage of the PennHIP method is its proven ability to evaluate dogs as young as 16 weeks of age and to predict with clinical accuracy the susceptibility to developing osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia later in life. Its greatest strength, however, is its ability to identify those dogs with tight hips that are not at risk to develop osteoarthritis.

What can be done if the PennHip evaluation demonstrates increased hip joint laxity?

Besides diet, activity level, and pharmaceutical recommendations, there are certain surgical procedures that can be performed at an early age to help prevent osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia development. One surgical procedure called a Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis (JPS) can be performed at Roanoke Animal Hospital in puppies before 20 weeks of age.

What is the Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis procedure?

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis is a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia that surgically fuses the pubic symphysis (a growth plate) in the canine pelvis. By fusing this joint prematurely, continued growth of the rest of the pelvis helps to rotate the hip joint with goals of providing better coverage and, therefore, providing tighter hips. The surgery must be performed on puppies under 20 weeks of age for the desired effects to occur. The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. Medication is sent home but minimal discomfort is noted following the procedure.

Since joint laxity is heritable, if a juvenile pubic symphysoidesis is performed or recommended based upon PennHip evaluation, it is strongly recommended your pet be spayed or neutered. If a juvenile pubic symphysoidesis is performed, our hospital may require a signed agreement to have your pet spayed or neutered in the future and to not breed your pet.