Q: I am planning to buy a Labrador retriever to train for field and possibly use for breeding. I understand that hip dysplasia is pretty common in the breed. How do I best determine if the dog I plan to get is clear of hip problems?
Mark Samuelson, Buena Park
A: Hip dysplasia, a congenital disorder of the hip joint in dogs, is highly heritable. The disease is seen primarily in large, fast-growing breeds such as German shepherds, retrievers, wolfhounds and St. Bernards, although it may occur in some of the smaller breeds. The disease develops as a laxity or looseness of the supporting joint structures, allowing the 'ball' portion of the hip joint to move in and out (subluxated) as the dog moves. This gradually increases in severity, causing secondary joint changes similar to arthritis.
The bone that forms the "socket" portion of the joint becomes thickened, flattens out, and becomes worn smooth, making the joint more unstable. The head of the femur (the ball portion) also becomes flattened and irregular. The normal angle that is formed between the hip joint and the femur becomes enlarged as the changes progress. These changes often cause pain and weakness, making it very difficult for the dog to get up or move about. Some dogs become severely crippled. Unfortunately, the popularity of certain breeds allows for the breeding of affected dogs, which increased the frequency of the disease within that breed.
When you purchase your dog, you should ask the breeder if both parents are free of hip dysplasia as certified by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals), based in Columbia, Mo. This means that the dogs have been X-rayed at two years of age to determine if their hip joints are normal. OFA has these films reviewed by several veterinary radiologists before a grading of the hip joints is made. While not 100% guaranteed, this certification helps identify the dogs that will least likely develop or pass on this disorder.
Hip dysplasia often is treated like any arthritis condition. Weight reduction, restricted activity and sometimes pain relievers are most commonly recommended. Diet may play a very significant role in the development of disease in young dogs. In some cases, surgery is done to correct the abnormal angle of the hip joint with the femur. Artificial hip joints have been used, similar to those in human medicine. Removal of the affected femoral head and use of a section of muscle as a cushion is also done in selected cases. Having your dog X-rayed is the only diagnostic way to tell if he has hip dysplasia.
Q: I am a sophomore in high school and am interested in veterinary medicine. What requirements do I need to become a vet? Which school do I need to attend?
Carrie William, Huntington Beach
A: The requirements for veterinary school are essentially the same as for human medical school. You must have a strong background in sciences such as chemistry, biology and physiology. Since you live in California, you may want to consider UC Davis (near Sacramento), which has the only veterinary school in the state. The specific course requirements vary slightly over the years but your school counselor should be able to get you the current lists. It generally takes a minimum of three years of undergraduate college to complete the required courses.
The majority of veterinary students have their bachelor's degree, with many students earning their masters prior to entering veterinary school. Veterinary school is four years of very intensive training and education with the option of continuing on as an intern or resident at other universities or large private practices after you graduate. You need to take solid college prep courses in high school and plan to attend a four-year college or university. Contact the Veterinary School at UC Davis and ask for current literature on the school and its requirements. Good luck!