UK scientists hope to create a non-invasive diagnostic test that will assess genetic risk for hip and elbow dysplasia in Labrador retreivers at an earlier stage than is currently possible.

Scientists from the Animal Health Trust, The Roslin Institute and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh have launched a study which aims to create a diagnostic test that will allow breeders to assess genetic risk for hip and elbow dysplasia in their dogs.

he Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in the UK and worldwide.There is no cure for this developmental disease, which affects up to one in five Labrador retrievers, often causing pain, dislocation of the joints and leading to lameness.

Sarah Blott, from the Animal Health Trust, said: “Currently the screening process for hip and elbow dysplasia is costly and requires dogs to undergo general anaesthetic (GA) so they can be x-rayed.

“Through our study we hope to create a non-invasive DNA-based test that will allow breeders to test much earlier than is currently possible and without the use of GA.”

The Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in the UK and worldwide. There were more than 40,000 puppies registered with The Kennel Club in 2010. The development of a DNA test will benefit dogs around the world by enabling breeders to make more informed breeding choices.

The introduction of a DNA test to identify genetic risk of hip and elbow dysplasia will:

  • Improve welfare as it will not require dogs to undergo anaesthesia or be exposed to x-rays to test for the diseases;
  • Allow breeders to test dogs much earlier than is currently possible. Currently dogs cannot be tested until they are 12 months old (BVA/KC scheme);
  • Improve the ability of breeders to select against these debilitating diseases;
  • Result in much quicker progress towards the goal of eradicating hip and elbow dysplasia.

Sarah Blott, AHT.Pam Wiener, from The Roslin Institute, said: “We’re very grateful to the BBSRC for funding this study. If we are able to gather enough information and samples there is a very real possibility that in the next few years we will be able to develop a DNA test that will make a major contribution towards eradicating hip and elbow dysplasia in Labrador retrievers.

“It is also likely that we will be able to use what we learn from the Labrador retriever study to benefit dogs of other breeds and to prevent other diseases.”

To collect information for the study a simple questionnaire is being sent to owners of Kennel Club registered hip scored Labrador retrievers that were born between 2004 and 2007. The study group is hoping to obtain questionnaires and samples from at least 2,000 Labrador retrievers.

If you have a Kennel Club registered hip scored Labrador retriever aged between four and seven years old and would like to participate in the study, please visit the AHT website or email melissa.fitzgibbon@aht.org.uk

Each participant will receive a DNA sampling kit to provide a DNA sample from their dog through a simple mouth swab. Owners providing the first 1,500 analysed DNA samples will receive a free genetic profile for hip and elbow dysplasia on their dog.

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