Part I: What's a Pin-Hip?

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series. To read Part II, click here

Ever heard of PennHIP (pronounced 'Pin-hip')? It is the latest method of hip evaluation available for your dog.

Hips are a major area of concern for most sportsmen dog owners, because the vast majority of sporting dogs are subject to the devastating disease of canine hip dysplasia (CHD).

Canine hip dysplasia is referred to as a juvenile bone disease because it usually first shows up during the adolescent months (6-18) of the dog's life. That might be surprising to some who had always thought of it as an "old dog" disease. This misconception occurs because many times early symptoms are very subtle and might be missed by the owner. If this happens, the dog will enter a sort of lull until the dysplasia causes enough arthritis to begin hurting again — usually around age 3 or 4, but sometime later.

The best way to prevent CHD is to not get a dog that will have the problem. Not all dogs have CHD. Notably, the smaller breeds don't seem to have as much of a problem with it, but that just won't do when what you are looking for is a Pointer or a Weimaraner. Since it is genetic, if you can find a breeding of two dogs that don't have the genes then the pups won't either. Unfortunately, that is a tall order and is the reason testing has been developed to try and figure out which dogs have the problem and which don't.

Commonly termed "certified", dogs that have been tested for CHD traditionally have been evaluated using a method developed by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals back in 1964.

This first method of determining if a dog carried the genes that caused hip dysplasia uses a wait and see approach. Dogs are allowed to grow until they are two years of age and then an x-ray is taken to see if they have developed the disease. The problem with this is two fold.

First, you have to wait two years before you will know if a dog is going to be worthy of breeding. This means that you might feed, care, and train a dog just to find out that it is not suitable for breeding.

Secondly, it means that for the good dogs that are not carrying genes of the disease you have missed at least one opportunity to have a litter of puppies. Unfortunately, some decide not to wait, go ahead and have a litter, and then have testing done. Others, after such investment of time and effort, are not willing to scrap it all and start over, and just breed their dogs anyway.

For the responsible breeder (which I know all ESPN users are), you will be excited to learn that now you can find out much earlier then two years if your dog will develop hip dysplasia. In fact, you can find out as young as 16 weeks of age by having a PennHIP evaluation performed.

The PennHIP evaluation is the next step in hip dysplasia diagnosis. The capability of early determination is just one advantage PennHIP has over the old OFA method. The results, called a "distraction index," are more accurate for using in determining pairs for mating because of greater heritability. And, it does not give you just a "good", "fair", "bad" result, it actually will give you a prediction of how likely your dog is to develop CHD. This means you have more control over the breeding process.

Check back soon, when we'll delve deeper into what exactly PennHIP is and how to have one performed on your dog. In the mean time you can learn more about it by going to www.sportingdogclinic.com and click on the "Hip Dysplasia" link.