Chocolate labrador lying on the grass

Labrador Health 

Elbow Scoring

Elbow Scoring (by Diana Stevens, Wylanbriar Labradors)

Instances in our breed of 'front end' lameness are fairly widespread. There are certainly many cases that can be diagnosed as 'Pano' otherwise known as 'growing pains' which hit usually between the ages of 5 and 10 months, when the dog is growing very rapidly still, and its tendons, ligaments and so on can't keep up with the limb growth. Lameness caused by Panosteitis can usually be eased by rest and vet prescribed painkillers. The lameness also usually travels from leg to leg, not settling in any leg in particular.

Lameness during this period too can also be a more serious condition, generalised as Elbow Dysplasia (ED). ED has several forms but the most common in Labradors being Osteochondrosis (OCD) as it is more commonly known.

This is basically arthritis of the elbow joint with bony changes being present and so the ball and cup joint that an elbow is, does not roll smoothly as the dog moves causing him pain and discomfort.

Now of course, these joint deformities of varying degrees can be caused by injury to the young dog, by the dog being overweight and causing the joint stress day in, day out, OR by accident where the joint is struck, severely stretched or otherwise traumatised and changes occur whilst it is at a developmental stage.

However there is also a definite and proven genetic factor to poor quality elbow joints. For certain a VERY large percentage of the cases of ED amongst young developing Labrador Retrievers are due to a genetic element.

Therefore the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Kennel Club (KC) developed a scheme along the lines of the Hip scoring scheme around 15 years ago. An x-ray is taken of each elbow both extended and closed whilst the dog is under general anaesthetic or strong sedation. These x-rays are sent to the BVA and are 'scored' (marked according to their quality).

Unlike the Hip scheme, the highest score achievable under the KC/BVA Elbow scheme is a total of '3'. The lowest, mirroring the hip scheme is '0'. Each elbow is scored individually and so its score will be, like in hips, a total of 2 numbers, so, for example, 0:0 (excellent) or maybe 1:3 (Very Poor).

The scoring range is quite small, just 0 - 3, so there is a feeling amongst breeders that it is hard to tell which dogs have TRULY excellent elbows because there is a BIG differential between the scope a '0' score gives us, ditto a '1' score and so on. It almost calls for a '+' system, so a elbow which is in the assessors consideration 'superb' needs a 0++ and one that is 'nearly a '1' needs just a 0 or even a 0.

But that is small-print. Responsible breeders use the elbow scheme. It has been around for some time, maybe not as long as the hip scheme, and maybe there are elements to it which are not perfect, but it is not expensive to put a dog through, and elbows that are scored '0' have been proven to produce much healthier stock than those who score higher.

There is a high element of environmental factors to elbow and shoulder problems. Indeed, many puppy owners do allow them to play roughly with bigger dogs, do allow them to jump continuously up and down stairs and in and out of cars etc etc, and so allow them to get overweight and create strain on growing joints, HOWEVER, it is a breeders responsibility to do all they can, within reason, to sell buyers a healthy fit puppy, and the elbow scheme plays a very strong part in this.

Diana Stevens, Wylanbriar Labradors
Jan 2007

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