In continuing with our hip articles we will now look at PennHIP certifications as an alternative to OFA certifications.

A responsible breeder of any breed of dog that is prone to hip dysplasia shoud be screening all breeding stock and certifying with at least one of the two main certifying organizations, OFA or PennHIP.

PennHIP is a project of the University of Pennsylvania. The main components of their program is using x-rays to examine the hips, procedures performed by trained Veterinarians, and a database containing the information. The goal is to reduce the occurance and severity of hip dysplasia.

The main difference in the PennHIP procedure versus the OFA procedure is the radiographing (x-ray) technique. OFA uses one x-ray of the hips for certification. PennHIP uses three separate views of the hips in different positions, distraction view, compression view, and hip-extended view. Their opinion is that the three views better measure hip laxity and congruity when compared to other techniques.

PennHIP remains controversial to some breeders for a few reasons. Namely, PennHIP will certify the hips on a dog as young as 16 weeks of age. OFA will not certify the hips on a dog younger than 2 years of age. Although this might be beneficial to breeders by allowing them to screen out afflicted breeding stock before investing and becoming attached to them, many feel that certifying a dog this young is not a true evalutation since the dog still has extensive growing to do. It is largely agreed apon that the growth plates for an Airedale are not fused until almost 2 years of age.

The other main controversy surrounding use of PennHIP is that it does not fail any hip as OFA does. PennHIP scores the hips based on a percentile rating as compared to other dogs in the breed. A truly bad hip is simply rated at a lower percentile. It is left up to the breeder to determine what percentile rating they feel comfortable with including in their breeding program. PennHIP does however require mandatory submission of all radiographs taken using their technique which should provide a more well rounded picture of the problem within any particular breed. PennHIP also uses more scientific measurement techniques to arrive at their rating than OFA which is a much more subjective rating. In PennHIP the two hip joints are rated separately with their own score, but the percentile rating is based on the worse individual hip score.

As a comparison, our Tory rated 80th percentile PennHIP and OFA rated her as GOOD. We know of a dog that was rated 50th percentile PennHIP that was rated OFA FAIR. It would be an easy assumption that a dog rated PennHIP 90th percentile should rate OFA EXCELLENT. In OFA ratings, a passing score (fair, good, excellent) is enough to continue as breeding stock. In PennHIP there is no real guideline to determine what score is sufficient, it is up to the breeder to decide. Perhaps it should be up to the governing breed club to set a guideline, but no club does so to the best of our knowledge.

The PennHIP technique tends to cost more than the OFA technique which will turn many breeders off. The reason for the inflated charge is perhaps the added x-ray views and the additional training a Vet must have to be approved to perform the PennHIP technique. Other breeders worry that the additional manipulation of the hips to obtain the added views could cause damage, to which PennHIP states that based on their studies no long term effects occur.

We have tried the PennHIP technique and, in our opinion, it has great value to any breeder based on the additional views which show the laxity in more than one position. It is a more comprehensive and dynamic evaluation of the hips. Although, we would simply wait until the dog was older to avoid the age controversy already discussed, the main problem we have with PennHIP is that there are very few trained Veterinarians approved to perform the PennHIP technique, at least in our area. We do however have an excellent, very experienced Vet for OFA in much closer proximity.

The other main issue we have with PennHIP is their lack of a public database of information as OFA has. We post all hip certifications on our website. Nobody needs to take our word that the screening has been performed because they can simply verify the certification with OFA via their public, online database. PennHIP has been talking about creating a public database for quite some time, but as of now it does not exist. We always recommend that anyone looking for an Airedale verify the hip scores for at least three generations behind the dog themselves.

Some breeders only use and believe in one of the two techniques, PennHIP or OFA, and use that technique exclusively. Very few breeders screen all breeding stock using both techniques. To this point there is no rule about which is truly better. For Airedales the minimum amount of health screening and health certifications is certainly hip certification. The ATCA Code of Ethics allows for certification with either organization. The bottom line is that all Airedale breeding stock and the vast majority of at least 3 generations behind any individual dog should be certified with at least one of these organizations, or the governing organization in the dog’s country of origin in the case of a foreign dog.

Read our previous OFA article.