|Canine Hip Dysplasia and The Story of Cody
The following information is based on my experience with Hip Dysplasia. While I have learned a
lot about CHD, I am not a vet and you should consult a veterinarian, orthopedic specialist or
surgeon for guidance with regard to any suspected problems with your dog.
What I would like to do with this page is tell you about my story with CHD and give you
information that can prevent you from making the same mistake we did, help you find a dog with
the best possible chance of being free of the disease or help you deal with your own dog's
To view the x-rays of the dogs in this story and others, click here. X-rays
The Story of Cody
In 1991 I bred my first litter of labrador puppies. I had always loved labs and had a 10 year old
male that I "just had to have a pup out of." Sound familiar? We had done 'some' homework and
were aware of Hip Dysplasia and truly felt that we were going to be fine with this breeding in that
regard. We bought a well bred female with a decent pedigree. She was OFA Good. Our male,
at age 10, was in good condition and had not shown us any sign of problems. At that age, we
didn't want to put him through an x-ray, so we felt that since he didn't appear lame he did not
have CHD. We will never know for sure if he had CHD, but it is likely that he did knowing what
we know now.
We did the breeding and whelped ten beautiful pups. They received the best of care and seven
went to new homes at eight weeks. We ended up keeping three. Two were planned, Shadow
and Gypsy, and the third was Cody, a pup that hid under chairs and tables and would not play a
lot with other pups. He was such a backwards pup that we felt he would need a great deal of
special work to overcome his shyness. He has become my favorite dog and I am so glad he
made us keep him. But that is a whole other story...:-)
We began obedience training with all three and quickly got into obedience as a sport, training
for AKC competition. Our passion for the dog world had begun! This was what we wanted to do
and I felt cheated for not falling into this world a long time ago. :-) We saw a bright future for the
boys who showed great potential for competition. Gypsy ended up hating obedience and was
not what we were looking for for breeding, so she was spayed. We loved the boys though, and
felt they were to be the start of our breeding program. We continued to learn more all the time
about breeding and dogs in general, but we still felt that we had a good chance of passing our
OFA's with the boys at age two.
Shortly after the boys turned two we took them to Iowa State for their hip x-rays. We went in
without much worry at all, knowing that surely, with their mother being OFA Good and father not
having any problems, they would both pass. That day will remain etched in my mind forever. It
was the end of an illusion and the beginning of truth. The Doctor called us back into the exam
room with the words, "It doesn't look good. "
Both dogs were diagnosed with Moderate Hip Dysplasia.
We were devastated. I cried all the way home. Of course we knew that this ended any dreams
of continuing this line. We did the responsible thing and neutered both dogs. We did hear from
another owner of one of the pups in the litter that she OFA'd Good, showing us that CHD is
unpredictable in some ways. We urged them to spay her, but this was in the early days of
limited registration and we did not use it then, so we don't know if she was bred as we lost
contact with the owners. (Another lesson about responsible breeding learned) We learned
quickly, through our study, that breeding a dog that is OFA'd, but has several littermates that are
dysplastic, is another bad choice to make. Just as breeding a 'fair' dog in a litter of Excellent
and Good rated dogs would be a better choice. The rest of the litter went to good homes that
spayed or neutered, so we at least felt relieved about that. We know that our mistake and lack
of knowledge may affect the other pups in this litter as well and we will never be able to feel
relieved about that.
After much soul searching, we began our research and spent the next several years learning
everything we could about breeding, genetic problems and anything else that had to do with
dogs. In 1995 we purchased Shiloh and the beginning of our current breeding program was
born. Still, it was a long wait till the age of two when we got the final results of her OFA's.
Prelimed at age one through GDC, an open registry of genetic problems, Shiloh cleared on
elbows and hips. Knowing things could still change by age two, we held our breath. At the age
of two, we did two x-rays of Shiloh's hips. This was an experiment to have first hand knowledge
of whether sedation made a difference in views. It did. The first x-ray was done without sedation
and looked good, but the positioning was not perfect. (Btw, I was extremely excited that her hips
looked great.) The second x-ray taken with sedation had nearly perfect positioning due to being
able to hold the dog in position more easily. This was the x-ray sent to OFA. About four weeks
later the envelope from OFA arrived. We knew Shiloh would pass based on what our vet saw in
the x-ray, but we certainly were happily surprised when we read the rating. Shiloh was OFA
Excellent! She passed on elbows as well and we could not have been more pleased. From
there we began our search for stud dogs and our own line of labradors was begun.
But, that is the pleasant side of this story. The following is a much sadder side. Back to Cody
While we were at Iowa State getting the results of their x-rays, we discussed with the doctors
our interest in competeing with the dogs in performance events. Their advice was that while
their condition would certainly limit their potential, we can't just 'put them in a box' either. We
decided to continue with our training and start treatment for their CHD through the use of
glucosamine and chondroitin supplements and exercise. Jumping was limited and we were
lucky that both dogs kept great muscle tone, were lean, and knew how to jump properly. Both
dogs did very well in competiton and we saw no clinical signs of CHD until they were about 5
years old. Supplements were increased, aspirin given from time to time and competition was
decreased. They competed in veteran classes and team obedience and Shadow went into
some field training, his true love. We used our best judgement and felt comfortable with the level
of work they did. Certainly no more strenuous than what they did in the backyard. :-)
By the age of seven, the arthritic changes were taking their toll. After an afternoon of training or
tests, Shadow would cry with pain through the night, despite the medication with Eto Gesic or
NSAIDS. Even after a day of playing just a bit too hard in the yard, he would pay for it later.
Shadow finished up his last field title, a JH, and was retired. It became evident that while Cody
was not a complainer, he did not have the sense to slow down when it was obvious he was in
pain. For the 6 months or so before his 7th birthday, he would stand using his right rear leg only
for balance, with no weight bearing on it. Episodes of painful nights and lame days increased.
In January of 1999, Cody and Shadow returned to the place of their original diagnoses, Iowa
State University. Their hips were radiographed again. The surgeon said the results were
interesting as they were like mirror images of one another. Both x-rays showed one very good,
unaffected hip that would probably pass OFA and one very badly degenerated hip. Both dogs
were affected almost equally, but in opposite hips. Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) had
thickened the femoral head and neck and made the acetabulum rough and spurred. On a scale
of 1 to 10 in arthritic changes, the doctor said they were both 9's.
Shadow came home with me that day, but Cody stayed. He was scheduled for a total hip
replacement the next day. Unless you have been there, you cannot imagine the feeling of
leaving a dog you love to have such a serious surgery. The worry and heartache is
overwhelming. I cannot begin to describe the emotions that turmoiled within me. I went to see
Cody after the surgery. He was very painful, wrapped up in a big bandage and I could tell he
was very stressed, but very happy to see me. Cody is an easily stressed dog and I knew this
would be extremely hard on him. Cody was taken out of ICU after 24 hours, put into a smaller
cage because he was overly active, and it was shortly after that he dislocated his new hip. The
worst thing at this point that could possibly happen had. I was in shock. I was not told that he
was put into the smaller cage until afterwards. I am certain that this is what ultimately led to the
dislocation. Being stressed and nervous, I am sure he became even more so in the smaller
confines. When a dog like Cody is stressed, he overcomes and ignores pain. In his effort to
move around in a small area, he stressed the joint and popped the hip out of socket.
The vet students and doctors did not see Cody as being stressed, (even though I repeatedly
advised them of this) because he was well behaved and did not outwardly express panic. If you
have to go through his with your dog, and your dog is easily put into a high degree of stress,
please ask if your dog can stay in ICU for an additional day. If Cody had, I feel he may not have
dislocated his hip. The other thing to ask before the surgery, is if the performing surgeon will be
there throughout your dog's recovery. When informed of Cody's dislocation, I was told that the
performing surgeon had went on vacation the day after his surgery. Now, the second surgery
would be done by a different surgeon.
I saw Cody nearly every day, driving two hours each way to see him in all kinds of Iowa winter
weather, until he had his second surgery to put the hip back in place. The risk of infection goes
up significantly when they have to reopen and I had already been told that his recovery time
would be doubled. After the second surgery, they wrapped his leg so that he could not use it at
all and it stayed that way for several weeks until the bandage began to come off. Good idea! :-)
Cody finally came home after about two weeks in the hospital.
I do realize that this type of complication does not happen to most dogs that undergo a total hip
replacement, and I am sure that in some ways I have over-reacted and placed blame where
perhaps there should be none. The fact remains that it happened and I can't be happy about it.
Recovery for this type of surgery is difficult and takes a huge commitment from owners. The dog
must remain confined, (They will tell you to use a crate, but after Cody's dislocation, there was
no way I was putting him in a crate. He was in a small ex-pen in my living room with extra effort
put into making sure he did not catch his bandage or leg on anything.) in Cody' case, for a full 4
weeks with only potty breaks for exercise. In order to take Cody out, he had to be supported
with a towel under his belly. He was towel walked four times a day for these four long weeks.
We did a lot of laying together watching TV. I did a lot of massaging around his hip, leg and toes
to help with blood circulation and general comfort as the wrap was quite tight and confining.
When the bandage began to loosen, we cut it off. This was the scary part. After four weeks of
not even being able to move his leg, we were going to see him start to try to use it. The muscle
mass had deteriorated significantly. He wouldn't use it at all at first, which was just fine with me.
:-) Then he gradually began to rest his toes on the ground, especially when trying to eliminate.
He slowly began to put more weight on the leg and use it while walking. We still needed to use
the towel to walk him as we did not want him to lose his balance and try to catch himself with
that leg. The next eight weeks were a slow re-introduction to walking. In twelve weeks, we were
walking about two miles a day and went back to Iowa State for a recheck. Everything was still in
place and he was given the okay to go off leash occasionally and gradually work back into a
Six months after the surgery Cody was doing very well. He could run and play again without
pain. It was great! Then one day Cody came out of his kennel and began to scream and yelp as
he went up some steps. He then would not use his right rear leg and would cry if he tried. I called
Iowa State and I rushed him there that day. I thought for sure he had dislocated the hip again.
X-rays showed the hip was still in place, which was good news. But, then we needed to
hypothesize about what caused Cody's new problem. I was given two possible scenarios.
Either he had an impinged nerve, or the cement that held the implant in place in the bone had
broken loose, allowing the implant to slide up and down inside the leg bone. In order to
diagnose the broken cement we would have to use a fluoroscopy, a moving x-ray, to see if the
implant was moving within the bone. The doctor leaned toward the pinched nerve as a
diagnoses and we decided to leave it at that for now.
It is almost exactly a year now since his surgery as I write this. Cody has had several episodes
since then that indicate something is not right. After periods of hard exercise and play he may
seem painful after resting. He often times seems to be reluctant to extend that leg and will take
short strides as if to avoid pain. Whether it is to avoid pinching the nerve or to keep the implant
from sliding, I don't know. Now, after speaking with the Dr. again, it has been suggested that it
could be infection. We are scheduled for an appointment for further diagnostics. Most of the
time he does great and is obviously much more active. He supports weight on that leg well now
and can butt tuck with the best.
Was it worth it? Hmmm, I may not have a decision on that for quite some time. Cody certainly
had a lot of complications with his total hip replacement. Much more than most dogs. The
memories of all he has gone through and the tedious recovery are all still very fresh in my mind.
We have not done a hip replacement on his brother, Shadow, and I don't know that we will. It is a
very difficult decision to make even initially, let alone after all we've been through. Ultimately,
should you be faced with this decision, it should be YOUR decision. Please weigh all the risks,
the pros and cons carefully. Ask questions, lots of them. Understand the risks and, above all, be
ready to deal them if they happen. It is a financially costly surgery as well. And if you have to
have two surgeries, like Cody, it can certainly end up being more than what you counted on. :-)
Try to do what is best for your dog. Many things should be considered, like age of the dog,
general health, activity level and whether or not you can deal with the strict process of recovery.
Many dogs have a second chance at life through the technology of a total hip replacement. It is
definitely worth considering.You should also consider the femoral head excision as an option. It
is less costly and can be very succesful.
It is important to note that not all cases of CHD cause a dog to have the same amount of clinical
pain. Many cases can be easily managed through the use of excersise programs, supplements
and pain management medication. This applies to several genetic diseases, including elbow
problems and other joint problems. The type and degree of problem can influence the extent of
problem and pain for your dog. While the objective remains the same, to not produce these
genetic diseases, there are other genetic problems that can be more devastating, even causing
death. It is a very difficult task to try to breed dogs that are free from all of these problems and
still have something that IS a labrador.
Cody is the light of my life. He is my best friend and I love him very dearly. Shadow and Cody
are two of the greatest dogs I have ever known or will know. I am thankful to have them in my life.
But, each day I live with the reality that it is my fault that they were dysplastic. I didn't do all I could
to prevent this from happening. Having a litter just because I wanted something out of my dog
was NOT a good reason to breed. Foregoing further study because I wanted to breed 'my' dog,
ignoring the lack of clearances in his pedigree because I 'thought' he was not dysplastic, not
learning more about breeding because I 'thought' I knew enough...All of these things were selfish
acts that caused at least some of the puppies I brought into the world to have to endure a life of
pain. I have vowed to do my best to never allow this to happen again. I understand that CHD and
some other problems cannot, at this time, be 100% prevented, but I can certainly make
breeding decisions based on facts, clearances, research of pedigrees, information about
siblings and other relatives and knowledge rather than ignorance and hiding my head in the
And, now that you have read this, can you?
If you are interested in getting a pet, do your homework-THOROUGHLY! Buy from a responsible
breeder or rescue a dog from the pound. Largely, through the impact of the internet, people are
becoming more informed about CHD, elbow dysplasia, PRA, RD, hereditary heart problems,
epilepsy and many other genetic diseases. They are asking about these problems when they
look for a puppy. And when they ask the puppy millers and the back yard breeders they are
sending a message. That is what it is going to take to make puppy mills shut down and either
put backyard breeders to rest or make them step up to breeding responsibly. Most backyard
breeders are not evil people. They are just ignorant, like I was. If they just knew that what they
were doing only ends up hurting their breed, maybe they would decide not to breed or begin the
research and full time job of learning how to breed responsibly. Then again, we know that some
would not. Many people get into breeding after that first litter from Fluffy and even when
confronted with genetic issues, they refuse to acknowledge the problem.
If you are truly interested in breeding, please do it right. After reading this and other information
about responsible breeding you have the information to start out right. If you proceed from here
and breed irresponsibly, it is worse than breeding ignorantly because you are aware of the
potential risks you are taking. There are lots of genetic problems in our breed that can occur
and sometimes it's impossible to prevent all of them. But working toward that goal is what is
important. How we deal with each problem and how we proceed with our breeding program
matters. We can't solve all the problems. They are living creatures and sometimes things
happen that are out of our control. We all have to understand that. But we also have to
understand that there are things that we can do to help prevent a lot of problems and to do
nothing to prevent them ends up hurting the breed, the individual dogs and breaking the hearts
If you are interested in breeding for money or just to produce pets, then you are really only
helping to supply the surplus dogs of our nation, the 5-10 million that are killed in shelters across
the nation because there are not enough good homes. How can I say this when I am a breeder?
I couldn't if I didn't do my part in limiting my impact on the overpopulation problem. The first step
for me is to acknowledge that I DO have an impact. The second step is to take responsibility for
that impact. I use Limited Registration and spay/neuter agreements for my pet puppies, screen
owners extensively to try to assure permanent placement, promise to take back any dog I
breed, at any age, if the owners can't keep it, microchip all of my puppies before they leave so
that they are always identified if they end up in a shelter, am available to owners and keep in
touch with them so that they always have access to my help, provide a healthy, well adjusted
start for pups before they go home, do health clearances on breeding stock to try to prevent
owners from being burdened with expensive and heartbreaking genetic diseases, breed for
proper temperament and sell breeding stock only to others who do much the same things that I
do-...Because of these things, I know I am doing what I can to prevent my puppies from
becoming a part of the problem.
If you can do the same, then I welcome you to the world of responsible dog breeding.