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Hip dysplasia

Most people have heard, through one source or another, that Labradors are dogs that get arthritis and have bad hips. In some cases this is very true, but it doesn’t have to be. With new technology and decades of research, veterinary science now has a much better understanding of the mechanics of both hip and elbow dysplasia. This has completely turned on its head all notions of how best to raise and exercise puppies!

When puppies are born their bones are extremely soft, little more than cartilage. They don’t have the strength to hold their own weight, and puppies can’t walk. There is a very good reason for this. Partly it is so they can survive the birthing process, when they are squeezed and pushed down the horns of the uterus by powerful contractions, then forced over the pelvic bone, turned almost 90 degrees and then shot down the birthing canal, often dropped from the standing height of their mothers, and out into the wide world. Another reason for their soft bones is to protect them from rough handling. The mother may carry her puppies in her mouth, and drop them from a standing position onto the ground (the equivalent of a human mother dropping her baby from the roof of the house). Clumsiness is another reason. The mother dog will often step on her puppies, or lay on them, and she weighs around 100 times the puppy’s weight at birth. If their bones were hard, the puppy would be snapped into a thousand pieces. So nature has designed them with soft bones to survive all this. It takes until a puppy is a year old for those bones to harden, and to grow into their permanent, adult positions. It’s during this time that extreme care needs to be taken with the raising, exercising and socialising of a puppy. That time before one year of age is when all the damage is done.

Hip dysplasia is a debilitating degenerative disease of the hip, causing the formation of arthritis in the joint and surrounding areas. In dogs that are severely affected, arthritis can begin forming as soon as the dog has stopped growing, and by two years of age they can be crippled. Hip dysplasia cannot be diagnosed until after the age of one year, and there are only a handful of vets in Australia qualified to read the x-rays to score hips or elbows. Often vets will take an x-ray and say the dog has hip dysplasia, but without scoring by a qualified vet they’re just having a stab in the dark at a diagnosis. Even after having more than 50 dogs hip/elbow scored, we still can’t tell a good hip from a bad one. The only thing that is obvious in an x-ray is arthritic formations and subluxation, but these alone don’t necessarily constitute hip dysplasia.

On a human, the hip joint is a nice tight ball and socket joint, with little room for movement and most of us (even with the worst forms of hip dysplasia) won’t have any trouble with our hips until well past middle age. For dogs, nature hasn’t been quite so kind. The hip joint on a dog is not quite a half-round socket, with a rounded ball trying to remain balanced inside it. The main thing holding the hip joint in place is a very powerful tendon at the centre of the socket and the strength of the muscle surrounding the hip itself. It’s of paramount importance that as a young puppy your Labrador is grown slowly, giving their muscle chance to hold the hip joint into place. It has been well documented by many studies, and is accepted fact by many in the veterinary field, that correct feeding and exercise during those crucial first 12 months of a dog’s life has a definite effect on their hip scoring result. Only 50% of hip dysplasia is genetic, the other 50% is environmental.

We do our best to ensure your puppy has been bred from only stock with good hip/elbow scoring history, and we provide you with all the information you need to raise and exercise your puppy, but at the end of the day the rest is up to you. Do the right thing and your dog should be healthy and fit for many, many years.

Hip scoring is done at between 12 months and 2 years of age (ideally). The dog is placed under a full anaesthetic and an x-ray is taken of their hips and both elbows. The x-rays are then sent to be read by a qualified veterinarian, of whom there are only a handful of people in Australia. At present our dogs are being scored by Dr Richardson at Murdoch University Teaching Veterinary Hospital. The hip score is essentially a series of numbers to represent how far the hip or elbow joint is away from the ideal perfect hip. Some elements include how far the hip can be pulled from the socket, how closely the hip conforms to the “ideal shape”, how smooth the edges are, and so on. The further away from ideal the hip is, the higher the number. The score is given as two separate numbers, one each for the left and right hip, written like this: for example 3/2, or 0/1. Both sides are then added together for the score total. The closer that number is to 0 the closer the dog is to being perfect. At present the breed average for the Labrador Retriever is 12 for hip scoring. When selecting a dog for breeding it’s important they have a hip score of less than 12. For us at VALINKA we prefer using dogs with scores of less than 8, and the vast majority of our own dogs have scores of less than this.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a similar disease to what occurs in the hips, but obviously centred this time on the elbow joint. Often elbow dysplasia will show clinical signs BEFORE one year of age, and is characterised by sudden and persistent lameness. When dogs are “scored” for elbow dysplasia, the result is given as a number out of 4. So the possible scores are 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. Ideally you’d only want to breed with dogs of a score of 0 or 1 on each elbow. Occasionally we’ll allow a dog with a score of 0 on one elbow and 2 on the other, if they are superb in other ways and we can’t bear to part with them! But having said that, dogs with a higher elbow score are unlikely to exhibit sudden lameness, rather they will develop an arthritic limp later on in life (7 years plus). The most common diagnosis of “elbow dysplasia” by your local veterinarian will, in fact, be due to a fracture of the elbow joint. Although this is still called “elbow dysplasia”, we’re uncertain if it’s truly related to the “elbow score” given by the veterinary specialist.  Fractures could be a completely different condition, but they are still worthy of mention here.

Just like with the hip joint, there are certain inherent weaknesses of the elbow joint of a dog. While the ball and socket joint are definitely much more secure than that of the hip, there exists a “finger” of bone that extends from one side of the elbow joint. During developmental months of a puppy, if they’re exposed to excessive exercise, or have a fall or serious stumble (the head over heels variety that causes quite an impact), this can create a fracture in the elbow joint. A single bad tumble or fall could be enough to cause a fracture, and the typical timing is between 6 and 9 months of age, and the typical place is along that delicate “finger” of bone. This is the main expression of the disease, although whether it is truly related to “elbow dysplasia” is difficult to ascertain due to the young age of the dogs involved.

Elbow fractures are best “fixed” with surgery, where the broken pieces of bone are removed, and any other sections of bone that may have been damaged can be cleaned up or removed as well. This is usually the only treatment that is required, and often the dog will then go their entire lives without any further issues (until old age, as any joint that has had surgery to it will be the first to develop arthritis). I’m uncertain if any studies have been conducted into then later scoring these dogs for elbow dysplasia (once they’re over 12 months), since any dog exhibiting strong signs of elbow dysplasia would automatically be removed from any breeding program (and usually sterilised).

After one year of age, once the joints are fully formed, then x-rays for elbow dysplasia can be performed (for scoring purposes). Scores of less than 2 are considered okay for breeding, but ideally you’re looking for a score of 0. While the individual dog who has an elbow score of greater than 2 is unlikely to suffer for it in their lifetime, it is assumed that high scores do put their puppies at greater risk of elbow fractures and complications of that nature.

Elbow scoring is essentially the same as hip scoring, and is normally performed at the same time as the hip scoring, although the maximum score is 4 for each elbow. Ideally you want dogs with a 0/0 elbow score, although we will consider a 0/1 elbow score, especially if accompanied by an excellent hip scoring.

Genetic and inherited diseases

At Valinka Labradors we are committed to eliminating as many genetic problems as possible from the Labrador breed. While some of them (such as bad conformation, being too large or too small, temperament problems, issues with incorrect bite or hip/elbow dysplasia) can only be corrected through appropriate selective breeding, other things can now be dealt with more decisively. With the advent of genetic testing and screening we are now able to begin work to totally eradicate certain diseases from the pedigree Labrador bloodlines. But remember, it only takes 2 generations of unregulated breeding to bring all of these diseases back, and this is why vigilance is so important. At present there are four distinct diseases of the Labrador that can be tested for using DNA, and as more tests become available we shall add those to our genetic screening regime.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) or Progressive Retinal Cone Degeneration (PRCD), is a disease of the eye that has the potential to rob your dog of their eyesight quite early in life. The atrophy doesn’t occur as a puppy, but usually starts affecting their eyesight by 3 or 4 years of age. The condition is irreversible and untreatable. Unlike some diseases, most dogs affected with PRA will show symptoms of the disease, and have a good chance of being completely blind by the time they’re middle aged. For many years the only way to test for PRA was with a physical eye test, one that had to be renewed every year of a dog’s breeding life. But this only showed if there was evidence of the disease at the time of the test. Since the disease isn’t likely to show until a dog is well into its breeding age, by the time they’re proven to be AFFECTED they could’ve produced dozens, or (in the case of males) hundreds of puppies. The other difficulty with PRA is that it is a RECESSIVE gene, which means many dogs could be CARRIERS of the disease. They show no symptoms themselves, and when two carriers were mated together, one in every four puppies produced would be AFFECTED. This was a constant issue for dog breeders, and made eradicating the disease impossible. Now with DNA testing it’s possible to find those AFFECTED and CARRIER dogs very early in life, and ensure they’re either taken out of the breeding program, or only mated to CLEAR dogs. The only real way to prove if a dog is free of PRA is with a genetic test.


Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) is another disease of the Labrador, and this time it causes seizures, weakness or the “wobbles”. These seizures don’t affect the dog all the time, but usually occur during moments of happiness, excitement or fear. The disease is called “Exercise” induced collapse, but it’s not often that exercise will cause a seizure. In appearance EIC is a little like Epilepsy, in that your dog will be happily playing, running, etc. and then will suddenly collapse and fall to the floor, their limbs totally uncoordinated and shaking. Sometimes EIC can be misdiagnosed as epilepsy, but there are distinct differences. During an epileptic seizure a dog’s limbs will become stiff, it will often “chatter” it’s teeth or foam at the mouth, and will fall to the floor and be unable to get up or move until the seizure has passed. Never put your hands near a dog having an epileptic seizure, as they’ll often bite out of pure seizure reflex (even dogs that are normally very placid). Biting is a part of the seizure and out of their control. During an EIC attack the dog will remain fully aware, conscious and able to follow instructions. In their mind there’s nothing wrong, but the messages being sent by their brain don’t all reach their limbs. They appear uncoordinated, wobbly, and if you call them they’ll stumble, fall over, and drag their hind legs as they try to come to you. They might appear confused if they’re not accustomed to having seizures, but it’s only a confusion as to why their limbs aren’t doing as they’re told. On rare occasions EIC can include periods of unconsciousness. It can last for a few minutes, or as long as half an hour or so. Afterwards there are few (if any) lingering effects. For a water Retriever, such as the Labrador, the danger with EIC is if they have a seizure in water, then they have the potential to drown.

EIC is one of those diseases that has breeders divided. For the majority of AFFECTED dogs, they will either have seizures rarely, or not at all. We ourselves have one older male who is AFFECTED with EIC. He was six years old before he had his first, and only, seizure in his lifetime that we know of. Even the pain of a bowel obstruction and emergency surgery in 2016 only caused his legs to twitch slightly (and whether that was from pain or EIC is uncertain). It’s only an occasional AFFECTED dog that will have regular seizures, but it’s for the health and wellbeing of those few that we are dedicated to first testing all our dogs for EIC and then breeding in a way to eventually eradicate the disease from our breeding program. All the dogs we’re keeping for breeding are now CLEAR of EIC. Some of our older dogs are CARRIERS of the disease, and we have the one (mostly) retired boy who is AFFECTED.

Once again EIC is a RECESSIVE gene, and CARRIERS will show no symptoms of the disease. Add that to the fact that many AFFECTED dogs can also show no symptoms of EIC, and you find a situation that without genetic testing it is absolutely impossible to eliminate this disease from the Labrador. Effective and accurate testing for EIC has only been available since around 2010. Prior to that the testing was possible, but fraught with false negative and false positive results. We began screening all our dogs for EIC in about 2011.


This is a recent addition to our genetic testing regime, and we’ve been lucky that all of our dogs have tested CLEAR to this disease, so we are starting from a good position. Cystinuria is a genetic kidney defect, where cystine is not re-absorbed by the kidneys and can appear in the urine or build up in the kidneys. Some dogs with cystinuria will form stones in their kidneys, or develop stones that block the urinary tract. This can be fatal if it’s not treated promptly. Apart from what we’ve read about Cystinuria, we don’t have a lot of knowledge regarding the disease. Unlike EIC and PRA, it doesn’t widely effect the Labrador, with roughly only 15% as CARRIERS or AFFECTED. 

Once again Cystinuria is a RECESSIVE gene, so the only true way to eradicate it is through genetic testing and selective breeding to ensure all breeding dogs remain free from the disease. It’s difficult to tell what percentage of the “untested” Labradors would be AFFECTED or CARRIERS or Cystinuria, since it’s generally only those pedigree, registered Labradors that ever have genetic screening done for disease.


Narcolepsy is a genetic neurological disease, for which DNA testing is now available. Those who are AFFECTED with the disease appear to either just fall asleep, or to suddenly lose control of their hind legs or their whole body (while still being entirely aware of their surroundings). Attacks can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but there doesn’t appear to be any lasting effects on the dog. As with EIC, though, the concern for a water Retriever such as the Labrador is if they had an attack while swimming they could potentially drown.

We were lucky enough when testing for Narcolepsy to find that all of our dogs were CLEAR of the disease, so now we just need to ensure that all those dogs we use from other breeders, or all those we bring in from interstate or overseas, are also free of the disease.

As with everything else mentioned so far Narcolepsy is also a RECESSIVE gene, so many dogs could (potentially) be CARRIERS and not show any symptoms of the disease themselves, but can pass it on into their puppies if bred to another CARRIER or an AFFECTED. Genetic testing is the only way to ensure the gene pool remains free from Narcolepsy.


Tri-Cusped Valve Dysplasia (TVD), is a disease of the heart and is an inherited condition of the Labrador Retriever. Those who are AFFECTED will have abnormalities of the Tri-Cusped valve on the left side of their heart. This can range from a mild thickening of the valve, abnormal attachments of the valve to the heart wall, or minor regurgitation through the valve. None of these things will affect the dog, and these dogs will usually go their entire lives without even knowing they have the condition. In more severe cases, the shape of the heart valve itself is effected, and the regurgitation is much more severe (a leaky valve), or the valve is thickened or abnormally attached to the extent that it cannot function properly. In these cases the dog’s lifespan can be dramatically affected. These puppies can die within days of birth, or may live to reach between 3 and 6 years of age.

From our experience with TVD the condition is more common in dogs from American bloodlines, and less common in English bloodlines. At present, there is no genetic test available for TVD, and research into the condition is only in its infancy. They haven’t, as yet, identified the gene or genes involved in TVD. It is believed it is a dominant gene, with incomplete penetrance. This means that if both parents are free from the disease, then it’s gone from the bloodline for good. But the only way to know for sure if the dog is UNAFFECTED is with an echocardiogram, and for that ultrasound to then be read by someone who is knowledgeable in TVD. There are very few experts in TVD in Australia, but we’ve been working closely with Belinda Hopper regarding diagnosis of TVD “Incomplete penetrance” means that most dogs effected with the disease won’t show any symptoms during their lifetime, that the amount to which the TVD has altered their heart is so minor that the heart continues to function normally. BUT those dogs can pass the condition in a much worse state into their puppies. Half of all the puppies from an AFFECTED dog will also be AFFECTED with TVD.


All of the abovementioned diseases are what’s called autosomal recessive genes. There are 3 categories: CLEAR/NORMAL, CARRIER or AFFECTED. If a dog is a CLEAR or NORMAL this means they do not have the disease, have no copies of the disease in their genetics, and cannot pass the disease on to their puppies, even if they’ve been mated to an AFFECTED dog. No puppies from a CLEAR parent will have the disease, so in any mating if you have evidence that one parent of your puppy is CLEAR/NORMAL then you can rest assured your puppy doesn’t have the disease themselves.

A CARRIER is someone who has one copy of the disease gene in their genetic profile. They don’t actually have the particular disease themselves, nor will they ever develop it, but they can potentially pass the disease on to their puppies if they were ever to be bred from. This is why it is so important for breeders to know exactly what their dogs are carrying before commencing any breeding program. This is also one of the reasons why we so strongly recommend all puppies we sell are sterilized, to prevent any possible disease CARRIERS from producing AFFECTED puppies, even in an accidental mating.

An AFFECTED dog is one who has two copies of the diseased gene in their genetic profile. They do have the disease themselves, and will pass the disease into their puppies if mated to an affected or carrier bitch/dog. For any affected dog the amount to which the disease will present itself will differ from one individual to another. There are many other factors involved in disease appearance (environment, feeding, exercise levels, genetic “penetrance”, or the dog’s general constitution) but the dog will present with the disease in one way or another.

While some of the dogs we own at VALINKA may be CARRIERS or even AFFECTED with certain diseases, we will always breed litters of puppies in such a way to ensure that none of our puppies are AFFECTED with any disease we are currently trying to eradicate from our breeding program. As new diseases/conditions are identified and the testing for them is perfected then we shall endeavour to eradicate that disease, also, from our breeding stock and puppies.

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A. 82 Peters Road, Muchea, 6501
(Prideland Kennels and Cattery)
M. PO Box 237, Muchea, 6501

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P. (08) 9571 0677
M. +61 414 898 236