I decided to create this series of articles to address the top questions I’ve been asked as a veterinary technician. I’m a CVDT (Certified Veterinary Dental Technician), have been in the field for over ten years and have noticed a trend in the most commonly asked questions by pet owners. The answers found in these articles will reflect how things have been done in my experience only; keep in mind that all veterinarians and veterinary hospitals have varying policies and techniques.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll take a look at some of the things pertaining to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Most good dog breeders will insist on having their dogs certified through the OFA and for good reason. But for many, it may seem unnecessary. We’ll discuss why it is important, when it should be done and what to expect from the certification.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or OFA sets the standard for quality when it comes to the status of bone and joint health in animals. When a dog’s radiographs are submitted, they rate the condition of the hips, elbows and other joints and report that rating to the American Kennel Club, or AKC and breed specific clubs. With this knowledge, potential puppy buyers are able to make a purchase based on ratings that determine whether or not the breed line is deemed to be healthy.
The most common types of x-rays submitted to the OFA for evaluation are hip x-rays. These are sent in to assess the dog’s risk for canine hip dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia is an inherited condition and can affect all dog breeds, not just the large dogs. Even the smallest of dogs can have hip dysplasia as can many cats! This can be detected most accurately by the age of two years for potential breeding dogs.
The OFA, along with the AKC want to raise the standard of breeding to help ensure that only good quality dogs are bred to better their particular breed, rather than having unhealthy dogs breeding, resulting in unhealthy puppies. The recommendation for breeding principles is that only dogs with a normal rating be bred to other dogs with normal ratings. Dogs with a rating coming in at lower than fair or borderline should be considered high risk and should not be bred.
If you happen to be having a dog certified by the OFA for the first time, here are some guidelines to follow.
1. Make sure the dog is two years of age or older so that the best rating can be given.
2. For females, the x-rays should be taken three to four weeks before or after a heat cycle or three to four weeks after weaning puppies. Otherwise, the excess of hormones can cause a normal sub-luxation to be seen on the x-rays which would result in a poor rating from the OFA.
3. Be prepared for the costs to be higher than normal x-rays. Many veterinarians require anesthesia for these cases. This is because the x-rays must be perfect. For most dogs, to get a perfect x-rays, he or she must be anesthetized; completely still and completely relaxed. Because of anesthesia, don’t be surprised if your veterinarian requires blood work to be done prior to the procedure. Submission of the x-rays to the OFA also involves a fee. Ask your vet for an estimate prior to having the x-rays taken if you’re at all concerned about cost.
4. Any x-rays submitted to the OFA become the property of the OFA. They do not send copies to the pet owners. If you’d like a copy of the x-rays, ask your vet! Many of veterinary clinics are able to digitally save a copy (if using digital x-ray equipment) or can take additional views, but this may also cost an extra fee.
5. Always bring all of your registration papers with your dog when having OFA x-rays taken. These particular x-rays have to be permanently labeled with your dog’s identification. Good information to have on hand includes the dog’s registered name, registration number and even the dog’s parents’ information. If you’ve got your registration papers handy, that should have everything needed for the OFA x-rays. Permanent identification is always a plus with OFA x-rays as well. Most commonly this can be done in the form of a microchip implant which is easy and fairly inexpensive to have done at the veterinarian.
Once the OFA has evaluated the x-rays sent in, a rating will be assigned. A long code is labeled to each dog, hopefully with a rating of “Excellent,” “Good” or even “Fair.” Here is an example of what the code might look like and an explanation of what each part means.
The first part, SMH refers to the breed code. Every breed has a standard code. The code used for this example is the breed code for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.
The following set of numbers, 1297 shows that this dog is the 1297th dog, in ascending order to have a normal rating for this breed.
Next, we find an “E.” This letter shows the rating that this dog received from the OFA. The dog in this example received an “Excellent.”
The number 24 states that the dog was 24 months of age when the OFA x-rays were taken.
The sex of the dog is shown next with the letter “F.” A letter “M” would be shown if it were a male.
Finally, “PI” tells us that the dog has some kind of permanent identification. This can be in the form of a tattoo or more commonly, a microchip. If there is no permanent identification, “NoPI” would be shown here.
OFA x-rays show that the dog breeder takes pride in their work; that they are breeding in an attempt to better the breed and raise only healthy dogs. It is equally important for pet owners to understand the ratings that OFA assign so they can make an educated purchase on a good quality healthy puppy. Keep in mind that just because a dog has had OFA x-rays doesn’t necessarily mean the results were good. Always know the ratings, ask to see the paperwork and understand what you’re looking at. Staying educated will only help potential buyers to make the best choice as well as help breeders raise only the best of dogs.