Striving for correct, healthy, performance-driven, versatility

Elbow Exams and the OFA

January, 2016

As you may have noticed, the OFA has not listed Ember's elbow clearance in their database.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me explain exactly why that is....

Over the past couple of months I have become quite educated in canine elbows and at the same time very disappointed in the tool available to breeders for screening elbows.

There is quite a bit of controversy (whether you may know it or not) over what an OFA elbow reading indicates. In the canine Orthopedic Field they do not believe that a single x-ray of a flexed joint is an acceptable reading. This is why...

 The OFA grades the elbow joint based on what they see outside of the joint. A single flat x-ray of the flexed joint cannot see inside the elbow joint. It's impossible. The reason that the OFA uses this procedure for elbow clearances is because it keeps the breeder's cost down. It's cheap and it keeps breeders doing it. Now, if your dog never has arthritic change outside of the joint, you would get a Normal result from OFA... however (here's the important part) even though there are no changes on the exterior of the elbow, the elbow could very well be dysplastic. Yes... the Normal reading the OFA issues to any particular dog may not be accurate. 

Ember's OFA elbow results came back with some minor arthritic changes outside of the elbow joint. This may be possibly due to age (she was 33 months of age), or a change in the staff at OFA who review x-rays. The OFA would not issue her a "Normal" result based on these minor changes.

I made an appointment for Ember with Dr. Dycus DVM at the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group. I found Dr. Dycus after a search for canine Orthopedic Veterinarians. I honestly could not have found a better source.

Dr. Dycus spoke with me at length about the procedure that OFA uses in reading their x-rays, as well as what he has seen in the practice. In his opinion, the OFA elbow clearance procedure is a very poor way of evaluating the elbow joint due to its complexity. Many times he has had patients come in with OFA Grade 1, 2 or 3 asking for further evaluation. Upon exam and through the use of CT and arthroscopic exam, the joint has been clear and normal with no evidence of elbow dyspalsia. Dr. Dycus has also seen patients who have a "Normal" OFA reading show symptoms of elbow trouble, only to find out they were dysplastic. This does not bode well for the system that OFA has in place for elbow evaluations. The accuracy is poor at best.

For Ember, Dr. Dycus did a full exam. This included an evaluation of the x-rays, which had three separate views of the elbow both flexed and extended; a digital gait evaluation which indicates if any weight is being misappropriated; visual evaluation of the gait at a walk and trot; measurements to check for over-muscling of any one limb indicating lameness and palpation and flexing of the joints. Ember passed the exam with flying colors. The word that Dr. Dycus used to describe Ember's joints was, pristine. There was no indication of lameness nor dysplaysia.

The next step we took was to have a CT done of both elbows. This was done at Bush Veterinary Imaging in Leesburg, Virginia. The CT came back clear, which proves beyond a doubt, that Ember has clear/normal elbows.

All of the reports are available upon request. Please contact me for a copy of any result.