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Information on Hip scoring for Labradors from Labrador Health

Hip Scoring Information (by John Weller)

When you are looking for a puppy, depending on who you speak to, you will be given terms like Hip Scoring, Eye Certificates, Optigen and Elbow Scoring, but what do they actually mean?  And just as important, are you aware of what paperwork the breeder should be showing you so that you know all steps possible have been taken to prevent your puppy encountering difficulties later in life.  Here, Diana Stevens and John Weller talk about Hip scoring, its meaning and its benefits.  At the end of the page are sample copies of certificates, with hips of varying quality from excellent to below average.

It was long ago realised that just as people can suffer from hip problems, so can dogs. It was also noticed that the problem seemed to run in families, puppies from parents with good hips tended to have, on average, better hips than puppies from parents with poor hips. This one fact opened the door to the possibility of eliminating bad hips forever! Unfortunately, life is never that simple, as we will see later, but in 1965, when hip scoring first started this was the aim. Since then, the scheme has twice been updated, the last time in 1984.

So much for the history, but how are hips scored, and what does it all mean?

The hip joint is a simple ball and socket, the ball being the Femoral head and the socket, the pelvis. The dog to be “scored” is taken to the owner’s vet who will ex-ray the hips in a specific manner and submit the plate to a panel of experts at the BVA for evaluation. From the point of view of assessing this joint it is subdivided into nine separate features, shape, clearances and angles. These features are awarded marks for any deviation from the optimum to a maximum of 6 marks for eight of the features and 5 for the ninth. (Think of it as loosing marks rather than gaining marks.) This means that a perfect hip will score 0 and the worst possible hip will score 53. Of course you have to remember that a dog, just like us, has two hips so a perfect pair would be written down as 0/0 and the worst possible as 53/53 (The right hip is always the first figure and the left hip the second.) I have to say that there are not that many dogs with absolutely perfect 0/0 hips, and thankfully even less loosing 53/53! Often hip scores are referred to by a single number which is the sum of the right and left hip. For example, a dog loosing 5 marks for the right hip and 4 marks for the left could be written down as 5/4 or might be referred to as 9 total.

So what does all that mean? What is a good score and what would be worrying?

Since hip scoring, in it’s present form started in 1984, a record has been kept of all Labradors hip scores and a running average (More correctly called “The Mean”) has been kept. This is known as the Breed Mean Score, or the BMS for short. At present this is 15 total. The trouble with the BMS is that because there are so many years of dogs scores recorded, any improvement in recent scores are swamped by the sheer numbers of the records of previous years! But all is not lost! We have another figure, the Median, which is slanted to take the latest figures more into account, and for Labradors this figure shows a score of 10. So it could be argued that the present average is nearer to 10. As a rule of the thumb I would not like to see a score of much over the BMS of 15, and ideally nearer to the median of 10, but as is often said, a dog is more than just a pair of hips. There could be other redeeming characteristics which might make a compelling case for breeding from a dog with slightly higher scoring hips, but the reasons would have to be very good ones! But even then, this is not the full story. Because the figure used by the BMS is the total of both hips it makes no allowance for differences in those two hips. For example, a total score of 16 might be made up of two identical hips both loosing 8 marks, or at the other extreme it could be made up of one perfect hip loosing no marks but the other hip quite poor, loosing 16 marks. Obviously two hips both loosing just 8 marks would be far less likely to cause trouble than a hip losing 16 marks! So although the total score will give you an idea about the hips, you really want to know the individual scores.

Before leaving the subject of hip Dysplasia it has to be said that although genes play a large part in the state of the hips, other things also have a bearing. Accidental damage caused either before birth or after birth, over weight or over exercise at an early age can all contribute to the state of the hips. So for this reason it is nice if you are able to see the hip scores of the sire and dam and even grand sires and grand dams. This could show you a trend.

John Weller 2007

Click on the images below to see a Sample Certificate of dogs with 'Very Good' and 'Average' hip Scores

Sample of a hip certificate showing a labrador with very good hips     Sample of a hip certificate showing a labrador with average hips

Visit the BVA website to find out more about the Canine Hip Scheme

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