April 3, 2024

Episode 340: Health Clearances in Dog Agility

In this episode (21:15)

This week, we’re joined by Dr. Brittany Schaezler to dive into the topic of health clearances for agility dogs. Whether you’re a newcomer to the sport or a seasoned handler, understanding the standard health clearances is essential for your agility dog’s well-being and performance. We discuss everything from hip and elbow dysplasia to eye conditions and how these health factors can impact your agility journey.

You Will Learn

  • The significance of health clearances in agility training and breeding.
  • Why hips, elbows, and eyes are crucial health checks for agility dogs.
  • How breed-specific clearances can inform your training and breeding decisions.
  • The role of breeders and owners in ensuring the health and fitness of agility dogs.
  • Practical advice on when and how to get these health clearances for your dog.


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I'm Esteban. And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 340. Today's podcast is brought to you by St. Rocco's Treats It's grace from Hounds of hack. It's Amber from American canine country. It's Cynthia from CH Dog Agility. It's Lindsay from Y two Canines and we love using St. Rocco's treats as our high value reward. And you will too.

Visit us at St. Rocco's Treats shop and use the code BD 30 for 30% off your first order. Enjoy the attention grabbing flavor and easy to break texture that grace, Amber, Cynthia, Lindsay, and so many others. Love about St. Rocco's treats again, use the code BD 30 for 30% off. Thank you. And you can find a link to St.

Rocko's treats on the show notes page. Today we are joined by veterinarian Vet to our dogs godmother. To our children, Dr. Brittany Schaezler. Welcome back to the podcast Brittany. Thank you. Brittany was in town, she actually moved away from us so she's no longer our dog's vet. Still our children's godmother. And we wanted to talk to her today about health clearances and I think this will be really great for especially newcomers to the sport who may not be familiar with all of the standard health clearances that we do on our agility dogs.

And this will give them an idea of what those are, why we do them, what they're for, that kind of thing. So Brittany, let's just start off by asking a very loaded question, I suppose, which is what clearances are important for an agility dog? So clearance really, or what clearances are important really depends on what breed you have.

'cause some breeds ha are more prone to certain diseases than others. But in general, for a dog that is doing performance sports, I think hips are really important. I think elbows are pretty important, eyes are important. And then you start to get into things like heart knees, like patellas, you know, those can be a little more breed specific,

but obviously those are important things for agility dogs as well. And so when we're talking about clearances, a lot of times a person who's new to the sport, their first introduction to this idea is going to be from their breeder. If they get their dog from a breeder, the breeder number one will have done some number of health clearances on the, on the dogs in their breeding program.

And number two, the breeder may require the person getting the puppy to do clearances on their own dog. So how important are these clearances from a breeding standpoint? Like what are they telling us when we say that we're gonna do clearances on hips, what is that telling us? That's useful information both from the breeder side but also from, this is my dog,

I'm not gonna breed it. And why? Why do I care about how my dog's hips look on x-ray? Okay, so specifically with hips, certain breeds are more prone to hip dysplasia. So breeds like German shepherds, maybe Labradors, but generally large breed dogs a breeder is going to. So when you're getting a puppy from a breeder, you want that breeder to have checked for hip dysplasia because you want to decrease your risk that the puppy you are getting is going to have hip dysplasia.

There are no guarantees. You can breed two dogs with excellent hips and get a dysplastic puppy. But hip dysplasia is a complicated disease. There's a lot of genes involved. It is not a simple inheritance. So you can do everything right and still get a puppy with hip dysplasia. Your breeder can do everything right and still produce puppies with hip dysplasia, but you're just trying to decrease the odds that that happens.

So if you have a, honestly really to me, almost any breed that if you wanna do agility you should check hips and know what you've got there. And as a breeder, you want any puppy you produce out there to also be checked whether they're gonna be BR or not. So you know what you're producing. Because if you produce eight puppies and the only one that gets checked is the one you keep as a breeder and it looks fine,

you have no idea if the oth, if six of the other puppies are dysplastic unless the owners of those dogs are also going and checking. Alright, So let's talk about, let, let's just take 'em one by one from the common ones that we talked about. So hips is basically checking for hip dysplasia. What are the elbow clearances looking for? You're looking for elbow dysplasia,

but elbow dysplasia is a group of diseases that affect the elbows that can cause basically arthritis at an earlier age. In those elbows it can affect range of motion, can cause pain, can lead to lameness. So there's multiple things that that are under the group of elbow dysplasia like fragmented medial corona OID process, ununited and canal process. Like it doesn't matter the specific problem,

they're all kind of lumped under elbow dysplasia hips. There's actually two different ways to check hips. So there's your kind of OFA hips, which is where you take one X-ray of a dog laying on their back extended and you kind of see is the socket of the hip in place, is there any changes? Like does the, the head of the femur sit well in the little cup there so that like it's,

it's not going to pop out. And then there's also pen hip, which is a different way to assess hips and that is where there's multiple x-rays taken and you are measuring angles of distractions. So basically how loose is that hip in the socket? And then each breed has a range of normals for each specific x-ray that you're taking in each distraction. So like you're always comparing when you're looking at OFA scores of like excellent or good or if you're looking at pen hip scores,

you are comparing your breed to other dogs of your breed. So an excellent German shepherd is gonna look different than an excellent she Got it. And then what about eyes? What are the types of things that we're looking for when we do eye checks? So the eye exam is looking for hereditary eye diseases. So things like cataracts or some types of cataracts,

PRA, which is progressive retinal atrophy, signs of glaucoma, things like that that could be inherited. One thing that an an eye exam cannot tell you is if the dog is going to have or pass on ETO. That's right. Yeah. So we talked a little bit about that in our ETO podcast and I'll put a link to that in the show notes.

But while ETO is associated with vision, it's not like a, a simple test. So, so this particular, I guess the, the exam that everybody typically does for their, their agility dogs is not really going to catch it and I don't think that there is a like exact singular test that says yes you have it and no you Don't. No,

there are some more specific eye tests like retinoscopy but even those can't catch every case of ETO or tell you if it's going to be inherited. And for people who don't know what ETO Is, yes, so that would ETO is early takeoff. So we have two podcasts about that that I will link to in the show notes page. And then can you give us an example of like a breed specific clearance that should definitely be done for one breed but might not matter for a whole bunch of others?

Like what is just an example of something people might hear or see or if they have that breed? Sure. So like one that's actually probably fairly common in a lot of breeds you see in agility would be patellas. So a patella exam is where Yvette feels the knees and decides if they're patella luxate or not. So there are a lot of breeds where that is super common.

Some of those are gonna be breeds you see in agility, but it's real common in small breed and toy breed dogs. So it's really common to see a Yorkie. With Luxating patellas it is really uncommon to see a Labrador with Luxating Patellas. So you know, if I had one of those breeds or one of those small breeds, I would absolutely want the patellas to have been checked and certified.

I really don't care if I have a lab that hasn't had a patella certification. Awesome. And now for people who, you know, maybe they're new to health clearances, how, how do they know which are the right ones to get for their dog? How do they know that they're doing the right thing for an agility dog? So every breed club is gonna have a website,

whatever your breed is, you can Google it and somewhere on that website they're going to have a list of health clearances that they recommend for breeders. So those are going to be the diseases that are most common in that breed. So every breed's gonna have their own little nuances and but that is the best place to know like what information you should be looking for in a breeder when you're getting a puppy and also what you should be considering testing for in your own dog to kind of try to make sure they're as healthy as possible.

And for people who have mixed breed dogs, would you just recommend like if going to the breed that is most similar or kind of just doing the big ones like hips, elbows and eyes? I think most similar is reasonable. I think hips, elbows, eyes is always a good place to start. If I had a small breed dog, I definitely would also look at knees just or patellas just because we see Luxed patella so much more commonly in small breed dogs in general.

You know, looking at things like hearts and things like that is really gonna depend more on what specific breed mix you might have. Okay. And so then how do people get these clearances? Like where do they go? Can you do most of these with your vet? Do you have to go to a specialist? What's the difference between like testing versus certification?

So most of these can be done by your, your regular vet if your vet does them. So like I know some vets who don't wanna deal with sending X-rays to of a and that's fine, that's an extra step. But in general, hips and elbows are going to be a sedated x-ray. So I personally believe that to have good results you need to have a sedated patient so that they're relaxed so that we know that everything is positioned correctly.

When I do my own dogs, I sedate them even though they're very good and can be positioned pretty well. So those are just gonna be a couple of standard X-ray views. If you want to get your dog pen hip certified, which is kind of a more specialized exam that can be done in a younger dog that may, that's gonna require a vet to have some special education to know how to get those views and take those views.

So you're gonna have to find a more specific vet for that and pen hip on their website lists. What vets do that for eyes you need to see a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist. So you will make an appointment with an ophthalmologist, they will dilate the eyes, they're gonna do their full exam and they will fill out the paperwork for you and then usually you have to submit it.

So, and then hearts you're generally gonna go see a cardiologist. The car, the the heart certification can be as simple as a cardiologist listened to your dog and did not hear a murmur or it can be as complex as a cardiologist actually does an echocardiogram on your dog and does an ultrasound of their heart and sees what's going on. So in terms of testing versus certification,

most testing is going to go to OFA, which is the orthopedic foundation for animals. So they have a database, you can access it online where they keep track of all health testing that is submitted for each individual dog. So whatever your dog's registration number is, it's going to have whatever clearances you submit when you submit some information to OFA, it is going to involve a review.

So if you send your X-rays to OFA three radiologists are going to look at the X-rays and give you a score. Excellent, good, fair or dysplastic. And they actually review those, they review elbows other information. So your eye exam that was done by a veterinary ophthalmologist, you are actually submitting the form, the ophthalmologist has already done the exam, you're just submitting the exam form to them for them to record.

So OFA actually has reviews of some health information and other they're just recording. Got it. And so like for, especially for the x-ray based stuff, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, I don't wanna put words in your mouth, but I kind of like, I guess my experience over years has been that when you're submitting to OFA, like they're gonna,

when you say grade it, you're gonna get a result that might be like excellent or good or fair or what are the others bad Dysplastic. There's, there's dysplastic and there's different levels of dysplastic, right? I, I believe And so it, it, it's kind of been my experience that your regular vet just look kind of taking the first look at the x-ray might be able to say,

okay, these look bad or these look pretty good, but they're just, it is kind of almost like binary, like this looks pretty good, this looks, you know, bad. Whereas you're gonna get like the, the, the like grading with like you said, three radiologists agreeing or at least averaging their results to give you like what's the difference between good and excellent?

Yeah So if you're not breeding and potentially even if you are breeding, the difference between good and excellent is not really significant. Like that's a dog with good hips if you're, if you're not breeding, you don't care if your dog is gonna grade excellent or good elbows are a lot trickier to read. And so I always send my elbow X-rays in because just as a vet like elbow x-rays are like tiny things can be significant.

So I always send my elbows 'cause I want a radiologist to look at them hips. If the hips look fine, like I look at hips every day. Most vets do like it's a common x-ray and hip dysplasia is not subtle. So you know, if you wanna grade send it in. But if you just wanna know if your dog looks great for agility,

your vet can probably look at that and say yeah these are fine, I don't see any problems. If you really want that information you can always submit those X-rays to OFA though. Perfect. And now let's talk about what age you should get them done. And I guess one other thing to touch on that's kind of related to that is that some of these are like one and done like you do it and that is like you do hips and that is your dog's score for hips forever.

Right? Whereas like, like aren't some of them like something that you might do yearly like eyes or, or something like that? Right. So eye exams are something that if you're breeding you do yearly because things can change over time. They're looking for hereditary problems but still like there's certain things you would not expect to pop up in a four or 5-year-old dog,

you know. So if you had, you do it at two, you still want to continue to track if you're gonna continue to breed that that dog hips, yes. So you can get a preliminary OFA hip Score at one but you can't get an official score until two. But then once you have it, you're done. Yes. 'cause it's really looking at like the structure of the,

the Hips, right? You are hip dysplasia is hereditary, there's other factors, but it's hereditary and so if your dog has great hips at two, it is not suddenly going to have dysplastic hips at five. One interesting thing about the pen hip certification is that you can do it in puppies as young as 16 weeks of age. So if you have a breed that is more prone to hip dysplasia and you are getting a puppy and you wanna know if that puppy is gonna be suitable for agility,

that may give you more information sooner than having to wait until a year or two to take kind of the standard OFA X-ray. Got it. Alright. And then the last thing that I wanted to cover is now that we've, we've done the clearance, we've gotten the result and what does the result mean for your future in the sport? So I mean I guess I feel like it's pretty intuitive that if your results are good then everything's fine.

But if your results are not what you expected or hoped for and you're not planning on breeding, so it's not a matter of passing it on, then you know what are the kinds of things that matter for our sport and how are they gonna manifest and what do we do with the knowledge that we gain from the clearance? Well there's, there's certainly things that if you find something like juvenile cataracts in your,

your young dog that is obviously gonna be career shortening and limiting in in an agility dog. Like they're going to lose their ability to, to see, well with something like hip dysplasia it's a little bit more complicated because I have seen many dogs that did not get hip X-rays when they were young. Now they're eight or nine and they're suddenly starting to struggle to jump a little more.

Maybe they're dropping more bars, maybe they're like struggling to jump up on the sofa at home and now we take x-rays and they have severe hip dysplasia arthritis. We know they've had hip dysplasia for years and yet maybe they've successfully had a successful agility career to that point. So it's, if you know at a younger age that your dog has issues, then it doesn't mean they can't compete in agility.

It doesn't mean that that they, they have no future in the sport. It may limit their future, they may struggle more, but I've just seen it happen specifically with hips where they just compensate for a really long time and and don't seem to have any issues until they do elbows I feel like are a little bit more limiting because there's so much impact on the front end when they land their entire body weight is landing on their front end.

And so that impact in jumping over time I think is more likely to cause issues. Long term hips is the one where I would, like, if I got a dog that came back fair, I'm probably gonna work really hard to keep that dog lean, keep them well muscled, you know, watch them really carefully but it doesn't mean they're, they're not gonna be able to compete in the sport.

One thing about getting preliminary x-rays done at one year of age is that is a really good time to check growth plates. So I always prelim my dogs right around one because it lets you check the proximal tibia that shows up in kind of your standard hip x-ray and that is one of the last growth plates in the long bones to close. So if I know if I take that X-ray and I see that growth plate is closed,

then I feel comfortable starting to move my dog up in jump height. Alright, well that is it for this week's podcast. Thank you so much for joining us again Brittany. Thank you for having me. We'd like to thank our sponsors St. Rocco's Treats and hit it board.com. Check out the Teeter TeachIt only at HitItBoard dot com. The Teeter TeachIt is an easy to use tool that controls the amount of tip on your teeter.

So you can introduce motion to your dog in a gradual way. Go to HitItBoard dot com for the new Teeter TeachIt and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA 10 to get 10% off your order. That's HitItBoard dot com. Happy training.


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