Elbow dysplasia breeding advice

For breeding advice, please scroll down, or click here to jump to the appropriate section.

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is a condition where the elbow joint does not develop correctly. As the dog matures, the joint undergoes wear and tear and the joint 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 a complex inherited disorder, which 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.

Which breeds are affected?

Since elbow dysplasia is an inherited condition, dogs that share similar genes are more likely to share similar inherited conditions.  Individuals 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.  

Is this scheme relevant to my breed?

Find out which health tests or schemes are recommended for your breed on the Kennel Club’s Breed Information Centre. These recommendations are suggested by breed clubs and approved by Kennel Club committees.

How do I get my dog tested for elbow dysplasia?

The severity of elbow dysplasia cannot be accurately determined by a vet’s physical examination. 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.

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 Kennel Club (KC) scoring scheme has been in operation since 1998 and has assessed over 250,000 X-rays since then. The scheme screens animals for faults in the elbow joints and allows animals with the best elbow joints to be chosen for breeding. A dog’s X-rays are scored by a panel of experts who are part of the elbow dysplasia scheme. 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.

When taking your dog for its X-ray, owners should remember that:

  • The dog must be at least one year old, but there is no upper age limit.
  • The dog must be permanently and uniquely identified by way of a microchip or tattoo.
  • The dog’s KC registration certificate 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.
  • The owner should sign the declaration (first part) of the certificate, to verify the details are correct and grant permission for the use of the results

What are the scores 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 the BVA/KC results published?

The names and results of Kennel Club registered dogs will be sent to the Kennel Club for recording on their database and will be made available:

  • In the next available Breed Records Supplement
  • On any new registration certificate issued for the dog and
  • On the registration certificates of any future progeny of the dog
  • On the Health Test Results Finder in the Kennel Club's online health resource, Mate Select
  • As an Estimated Breeding Value, to aid owners is selecting lower-risk dogs for breeding, via Mate Select

What are the costs involved?

In addition to the charges levied by the vet for anaesthetic and X-raying, the cost of having one a dog graded under the scheme is currently £68.00 (inc VAT). There is a reduced fee when radiographs are submitted simultaneously to the BVA/KC Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes. The charge for joint Hip and Elbow submissions is currently £123.50 (inc VAT) per dog.

Item description

Cost (including VAT)

ABS/SSPCA 15% discount 

Single submission



Joint hip and elbow submission 



Fast track submission 






*Kennel Club Assured Breeders receive a 15% discount when their submissions are made online.


Who reviews the X-rays?

There is a panel of BVA-appointed radiologists who will review the X-ray. The X-rays are assessed by two scrutineers who will agree the grading.

Where can I get more information on the BVA/KC scheme?

Free, detailed leaflets can be download here, or are available from either: Health & Breeder Services Department, The Kennel Club, Clarges St, Piccadilly, London W1J 8AB or the Canine Health Schemes Department, BVA, 7 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NQ.

For further information on the schemes, please visit the BVA website.

Using BVA/KC elbow scores to produce 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.

Complex inherited disorders, such as elbow dysplasia, are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.  EBVs essentially strip away the environmental influences to estimate only the genetic component of these conditions, enabling breeders to better understand the type of genes a dog may pass on to its offspring. EBVs are a more effective method of reducing the risk of puppies inheriting elbow dysplasia than by the sire and dam’s individual elbow scores alone.

EBVs link all available pedigree information with data collected through the BVA/KC testing schemes.  The information on relatives (who share genetics) influences the genetic risk of an individual. Therefore, the more breeders that make use of these schemes, and the more dogs that are scored, the more accurate the EBV will be. By continuing to elbow score, breeders are securing the future for countless other dogs by providing the information needed to continue Estimated Breeding Values.  For a full list of breeds that currently have an EBV for elbow dysplasia, please click here.  As more breeders continue to elbow score their dogs using the BVA/KC schemes, it is hoped that more breeds will be added in the near future.

What do EBV values and figures mean?

The Kennel Club’s EBVs provide a dog’s elbow score, the EBV, the confidence and a graphical representation of the EBV and confidence. 

EBV scores

The breed average is always set to zero. Dogs with a higher than average risk of passing on genes for elbow dysplasia will have an EBV higher than zero.  Dogs with a lower than average risk of elbow dysplasia will have an EBV lower than zero (i.e. a negative number, e.g. -10).  The further a dog's EBV is from the average, the higher or lower its genetic risk. A dog's EBV can change during its lifetime, either upward or downward, as more information becomes available, either about the dog itself, or its relatives. At birth, a puppy’s EBV will be the average of its parents’ EBVs. For example, a sire with and EBV of -5 and a dam with an EBV of +5 will produce a litter or puppies with an EBV of 0


The confidence is an indication of how much scoring information has been used to calculate the EBV. The more scoring information available, from the dog itself and/or its relatives, the more confident we are that the EBV is close to the actual genetic risk. The confidence of the EBV can increase if more relatives are, or the dog itself is scored.

  • A dog with just its own elbow score, and no relatives scored will have a confidence of about 60%
  • A dog without its own elbow score, but with the score of both parents will have a confidence of around 40%
  • A dog without its own elbow score, but with only one parent scored will have a confidence of around 30%

Breeding Advice

Where EBVs are available for your breed

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. 

Ideally breeders should use dogs that 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. 

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. 

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). 

Previously, the best advice was to ideally use dogs with an elbow score of zero, 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. 

Where EBVs are not available for your breed

Ideally dogs with grade zero elbows should be chosen for breeding and at least 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. This could be done by using the Kennel Club’s Health Test Results Finder to look at parents, grandparents and siblings.

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 between and take into consideration the qualities and compatibility of both the sire and dam that you are considering.

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 the Kennel Club’s Dog Health Group Annual Report.


Related Topics

Dog Health Health Schemes Elbow Dysplasia
Copyright © The Kennel Club Limited 2020. The unauthorised reproduction of text and images is strictly prohibited.