What is elbow dysplasia?
Elbow dysplasia is a complex inherited condition where the elbow joint does not develop correctly. As a dog gets older, the joint undergoes wear and tear and deteriorates, leading to a loss of function. This can cause varying degrees of pain, discomfort, stiffness and lameness.
How is elbow dysplasia inherited?
Elbow dysplasia is controlled by a number of different genes and influenced by several environmental factors (e.g. diet, exercise or factors when in the womb before birth etc.). Each of the genes that help to make a dog’s elbows may have different possible versions, or variants. Some versions increase the risk of elbow dysplasia, while others decrease the risk.
Each dog will have a mix of these “good” and “bad” versions of genes, making it very difficult to predict whether a dog will be affected. The impact one version of a gene has might only be slight, but lots of genes having a small influence have a combined additive effect.
The way in which these conditions are inherited is not straight forward; hence the name complex inherited disorders. These complex diseases are usually seen across many different breeds and are also described in both cross breeds and mixed breeds.
Is this scheme relevant to my breed?
Find out which health tests or schemes are recommended for your breed on our Breeds A to Z. These recommendations are suggested by breed clubs and approved by The Kennel Club's committees.
Which breeds are affected?
Since elbow dysplasia is an inherited condition, dogs that share similar genes are more likely to share similar inherited conditions. Individual dogs in each breed share a significant amount of their genetic make-up and so certain breeds are more vulnerable to elbow dysplasia.
It is generally accepted that this condition is more common in larger breeds, but can occur in any dog of any size, regardless of whether they are purebred or a mixed breed.
Breeds most commonly at risk include:
How do I get my dog screened for elbow dysplasia?
The most reliable way of determining the health of a dog’s elbows is by having your dog x-rayed and assessed by a specialist. Owners should make an appointment with their vet who can take the required x-ray of the dog's elbows. The x-ray will be taken under anaesthesia or heavy sedation. Your dog's results can then be sent to the BVA/KC Elbow Dysplasia Scheme for grading.
Why screen your dog?
Breeders are able to screen their breeding stock for elbow dysplasia before the dogs are bred from. Testing all potential breeding stock, where relevant, allows breeders to better understand the kind of genes a dog may pass on to its offspring, giving them the information required to avoid producing clinically affected puppies. The data from the BVA/KC Elbow Scheme is also used to create estimated breeding values (EBVs). EBVs help owners to select lower-risk dogs for breeding. Making informed decisions from health test results enables breeders to adapt their breeding programmes and reduce the risk of the diseases appearing in future generations.
Using the BVA/KC Elbow Dysplasia Scheme
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and The Kennel Club (KC) Elbow Dysplasia Scheme assesses dogs' x-rays to look for abnormalities in elbow joints. A panel of experts provide a graded score for each x-ray. Your vet can organise this for you and will send the x-rays off to be scored and will relay your dog’s results to you.
Why use the BVA/KC scheme?
The BVA/KC elbow dysplasia schemes operate to the highest standards of expertise, quality and consistency, which means breeders can have complete confidence in the rigour and accuracy of the scoring and grading processes. The schemes also contribute to The Kennel Club’s unique database of elbow grades, which in turn are used to create our estimated breeding values.
Key features of the schemes include:
- Highly qualified and experienced vets - The scheme currently has a panel of ten scrutineers who are all veterinary surgeons with advanced professional qualifications in veterinary radiology and/or orthopaedic surgery. They are extremely experienced in the assessment of hip and elbow radiographs, scoring and grading over 16,000 each year
- Two scrutineers – Radiographs submitted to the scheme are simultaneously assessed by two scrutineers working together as a team, whether side-by-side or remotely, and reaching a consensus on the score/grade
- Quality and consistency – We only accept high quality radiographs and these are reviewed using high-definition radiology-grade equipment and Visbion imaging software. The panel of scrutineers meet annually to discuss the findings of a quality control exercise and to review a sample of appeal radiographs. This ensures consistency and continuity of results over time. Random selection of scrutineer pairs ensures that there is continuous peer review within the panel at each scoring/grading session
- Appeals process – The BVA/KC scheme has a robust appeals process which is open to any breeder who disagrees with the score/grade for their dog. The radiographs are re-scored by a different pair of scrutineers who are unaware of the original grade, and then reviewed by the chief scrutineer. The final appeal score is therefore based on the professional opinion of five scrutineers
How are the results used?
A summary of the elbow grades for each breed are published . Since dog breeds vary widely in the incidence of elbow dysplasia, this allows individual dogs to be compared with others in the same breed, showing whether they are average, or better or worse, in their elbow status.
Elbow grades of both individual Kennel Club registered dogs and their relatives are published online via our health test results finder and are used to produce our estimated breeding values resource for the most commonly graded breeds. This links information about a dog's family (its pedigree information) with data from the BVA/KC health schemes. By linking this data together and looking at a dog's surrounding family it helps us estimate the types of genes a dog has and those that could be passed on to its puppies. This service is unique worldwide in dog breeding and is underpinned by the close working relationship between The Kennel Club and BVA.
Essentials of the scheme
When taking your dog for its x-ray, owners should remember that:
- Your dog must be at least 1 year old, but there is no upper age limit
- Your dog must be permanently and uniquely identified by way of a microchip or tattoo
- Your dog’s registration certificate from The Kennel Club and any related transfer certificates must be available so that the appropriate details can be printed on the radiographs
- microchip/tattoo numbers must also be printed on the radiographs
- You should sign the declaration (first part) of the certificate, to verify the details are correct and grant permission for the use of the results
Can veterinary practices submit radiographs online?
Find out more about online submissions.
How do the BVA/KC schemes compare to other international schemes?
In many other schemes one scrutineer works alone and independently, with no central body providing oversight, and no ongoing quality control or validation. This means that scores or grades may lack consistency and reliability. Some schemes accept lower quality images (e.g. JPEG files) whereas we only accept medical grade DICOM image files.
While scores or grades from other schemes can assess the degree of hip or elbow disease, the results from other schemes are not directly comparable with the BVA/KC scheme and so this data cannot be used to inform estimated breeding values.
Where can I get more information on the BVA/KC scheme?
For further information on the scheme, please visit the BVA website.
What are the grades my dog may receive?
Each elbow joint x-ray is assessed by BVA/KC scrutineers and the degree of elbow dysplasia present is indicated by a scale of 0 to 3 (0 being the best and 3 being the most severe). Only the highest grade of the two elbows is taken as the elbow grade for that dog.
Are my dog's results published?
The names and results of dogs registered with The Kennel Club will be sent to The Kennel Club for recording on our database and will be made available:
Costs of the scheme
In addition to the charges levied by your vet for anaesthetic and x-raying, the cost of having one a dog graded under the scheme can be found below. Assured breeders get a 15% discount. There is a reduced fee when radiographs are submitted simultaneously to the BVA/KC Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes.
Cost (including VAT) per dog
Joint hip and elbow submission
* The Kennel Club Assured Breeders receive a 15% discount when their submissions are made online.
Find another dog's elbow grade or EBV score
Our Health Test Results Finder can help you find a dog's results from the elbow screening scheme, from other health screening schemes or from the DNA tests that we record. This tool can help you make informed decisions, whether you're a breeder trying to find a suitable healthy mate for your dog, or a puppy buyer wanting to know more about the health of a puppy's parents.
Ideally dogs with grade 0 elbows should be chosen for breeding and dogs with a score of 2 or 3 should not be used for breeding.
It is also recommended that elbow scores of a dog’s family members should also be considered. To find another dog's hip scores, visit our Health Test Results Finder.
Breeding advice using estimated breeding values (EBVs)
Data from the BVA/KC Elbow Dysplasia Scheme can be used to estimate genetic ‘risk’ for each dog. EBVs use this data to help breeders of pedigree dogs to continue to make sensible and informed health-conscious choices for breeding, based on robust data. EBVs provide a more accurate measurement of genetic risk than using a dog's elbow score alone. It is therefore recommended that EBV breeding advice is used where possible.
To find either your own dog's EBV score, or the score of another dog, visit our Health Test Results Finder.
Detailed breeding advice using EBVs
Ideally breeders should use dogs that have an EBV which is lower than average (i.e. a minus number), and preferably with a confidence rating of at least 60%. Dogs with an EBV with a confidence less than 60% can still be used, but the higher the confidence, the more accurate the EBV will be.
Lower doesn't have to be lowest
The lower the EBV, the better, but breeders do not need to search out the dogs with the lowest risk EBV. Selecting animals with a lower risk EBV than average will still lower the risk of elbow dysplasia in the breed as a whole.
EBVs help you make balanced breeding decisions
It is recommended that breeders make well balanced breeding decisions. At birth, each puppy will have an EBV that is the average of its parents. Therefore, dogs with an EBV which is higher than average can still be bred from, providing that it is mated to a dog with an EBV which is well below average (assuming that the confidence for both dogs is high).
EBVs help maintain genetic diversity
Previously, the best advice was to ideally use dogs with an elbow score of 0, which meant that many dogs could have been excluded from a breeding plan if their scores were a significant consideration. Excluding dogs from a breeding plan can have an impact on genetic diversity. By using EBVs, it is reasonable to use a dog with less than ideal individual BVA/KC scores, as long as the EBV indicates low genetic risk with good confidence. In such cases the elbow condition of the offspring should be carefully monitored and preferably they should be elbow scored themselves.
Making balanced breeding decisions
As well as considering the implications of a dog’s EBV or elbow score, there are other equally important factors to consider when deciding whether two dogs should be mated together, such as temperament, genetic diversity, conformation, other available health test results, the general health of the dogs, etc. Your breeding decisions should always be well balanced and take into consideration the qualities and compatibility of both the sire and dam that you are intending to mate.
Questions and answers
Can the results of the scoring scheme or EBVs be used to precisely predict if future puppies will be affected?
Elbow dysplasia is a condition which is inherited in a complicated way not yet fully understood by scientists. Due to the complex nature of inheritance of this condition, it is still possible that affected offspring may arise from parents which have good EBVs. It is hoped that breeding appropriately from screened dogs will reduce the risk of producing affected offspring, and using EBVs reduces this risk even further, but it must be stressed that this is not a guarantee.
Will a DNA test for elbow dysplasia be developed in the near future?
No. Elbow dysplasia is a complex inherited disorder and is caused by a number of different genes and is also influenced by several environmental factors. DNA tests can be developed for conditions controlled by only one gene to definitively predict whether a dog will be clear, a carrier or affected, but not for conditions controlled by more than one gene.
What statistics are known about elbow dysplasia?
Statistics on the number of dogs scored by the scheme and their results can be accessed in our elbow dysplasia breed-specific information.