What is PennHIP?

PennHIP (short for University of Pennyslvania Hip Improvement Program) is a programme of the University of Pennsylvania incorporating a new method for screening for hip dysplasia.

Hip dyplasia is a degenerative disease caused by poor quality in the hip joint; the disease is primarily one that is inherited although weight and age are other factors contributing to the problem.  Over time and with wear from even routine exercise, the hip joint will develop osteoarthritis and the dog may experience periods of lameness or stiffness with increasing frequency.

Until now, the screening method for poor hip condition involved waiting until a dog was approximately one year old and then sending x-rays to be scored through a national scheme.  I’ve seen dogs in my massage practice where the owner tells me that ‘ my breeder said that the parents both had excellent hip scores’ and sadly, the dog still has hip dysplasia.

The PennHIP method involves the taking of distinctive views of the dog’s hips with the radiograph images sent to the University for evaluation.  There is a particularly important view taken during the procedure – called the distraction view.   It is this view that is used primarily to measure the ‘laxity’ in the hip joint with a defined scoring system.  Loose hip joints are not a good sign – looser hips mean greater chances of developing osteoarthritis.

To read more about the scoring system used in the Distraction Index, read this page from the PennHIP site.

The PennHIP method can be performed on dogs as young as 16 weeks of age whereas the more conventional type of scoring methods cannot be performed until the age of one year.  This helps when dogs are being chosen for working dogs, agility dogs, or breeding.

The PennHIP programme keeps a database of dogs by breed and this is one of the advantages  of the programme.  Results are reported for the dog relative to other members in the same breed.  It is recommended that breeding dogs only be selected if their PennHIP score is in the top 40% for their breed.  Over time, this will mean that the breed average will move towards dogs with tighter hips.  For an owner of a pet dog, a Hip Evaluation Report will provide useful insight so the owner can prepare for the dog’s care.  Such care may involve keeping the dog at an ideal weight, incorporating supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin, feeding a diet that supports healthy joints, and following a programme of regular massage physiotherapy with controlled and low impact exercise.

There are PennHIP member veterinarians all over the world who must be trained in the technique.  The training ensures that they develop an understanding of the screening method and the importance of accurately positioned x-rays.  The veterinarians are then required to return to their home practice and take the PennHIP x-rays of five dogs.  That’s a total of 25 scans that must be submitted for evaluation!

My vets at the Harewood Veterinary Hospital proudly displays their PennHIP membership status on the door of the practice.  Is your vet a member?

And here’s an example of the Hip Evaluation Report, courtesy of the PennHIP website:

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand



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