Golden Retriever Hip & Elbow Scores Explained

When you’re getting a new Golden Retriever, you should be checking that certain tests have been carried out. Two of those tests carried out are hip and elbow scoring tests. These test for two common issues found in a lot of large breed dogs – Hip and Elbow Dysplasia. Both of these conditions can be passed down to the offspring via either parent.

When looking for a new Golden Retriever puppy, you should always ensure that you’re getting them from a responsible breeder.

A responsible breeder cares about the longevity and health of the breed. They will always health check their dog/bitch prior to breeding them to ensure that the litters produced only carry desirable traits. 

Read on to find out exactly what that means and how it affects you and your Golden Retriever.

All About Hip Dysplasia in Golden Retrievers

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

The hip is a ball and socket joint. In a healthy hip, the ball fits nicely into the socket and has a good range of movement. 

In an unhealthy hip joint, the socket may be too shallow or misshapen or the ligaments (which hold everything in place) are unusually weak. 

Over time if untreated, the joint will deteriorate, leaving your Goldie with inflammation, pain, and loss of mobility.

How Does a Golden Retriever Get Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia usually affects large breed dogs and is often passed down genetically. With this knowledge, when buying a Golden Retriever puppy it’s always wise to check that both parent dogs have been screened for hip problems.

However, it is worth noting that sometimes hip problems in your pup can develop despite both parents showing no signs. The problem can also be made worse if your Golden Retriever is overweight which can put more stress on their joints.

Sometimes over-exercising puppies can cause issues further down the line so be sure to check how much exercise is recommended for your pup. You can find out more about how much exercise your Golden Retriever needs here.

Excessive growth can also be a contributing factor here, as well as nutritional factors. The best way to avoid it would be to research so you can make sure your Goldie is a healthy weight, eats a proper diet, and gets enough exercise.

What Are the Signs of Hip Dysplasia?

In very mild cases, the signs of hip dysplasia may go unnoticed until your Golden Retriever is middle-aged or older. But depending on the severity of the condition it may produce symptoms when your Golden is as young as 6-12 months old. 

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia to look out for:

  • ‘Bunny hopping’ when both of their back legs move together.
  • Lameness or stiffness when moving.
  • Trouble getting up and lying down.
  • Loss of interest in walks.
  • Difficulty with stairs or climbing onto furniture.
  • A swaying walk.
  • Hips that lack muscle bulk/tone due to weak muscles.

The parent dogs can be screened for hip dysplasia once they pass the age of one. It’s something that all breeders should do, but anyone can request the tests from the vet.

How Is Hip Dysplasia Assessed?

Your Golden Retriever will be sedated and their hip joints will be X-rayed. The X-rays are then sent off and analysed by a specialist. 

Each hip is given a grade between 0-53 giving a combined score of up to 106. Ideally, a combined score of less than 20 is considered good. For example, scores of left hip 7 and right hip 5 would give a combined score of 12 – a good score.

The lower the score, the better the hips. 

0:0 is quite rare, I can’t recall ever seeing a dog with such hip scores. 

Joint & Scoring LeftRight
Norberg Angle (0-6)
Subluxation (0-6)
Cranial Acetabular Edge (0-6)
Dorsal Acetabular Edge (0-6)
Cranial Effective Acetabular Rim (0-6)
Acetabular Fossa (0-6)
Caudal Acetabular Edge (0-5)
Femoral Head/Neck Exostosis (0-6)
Femoral Head Recontouring (0-6)
Total – 53 from each hip (106 total) 

How Is Hip Dysplasia Treated?

The good news is that there are treatments available once your Golden Retriever has been officially diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia. In minor cases, lifestyle changes might be enough, while more severe cases might require surgery.

Treatments of Hip Dysplasia:

  • Physical therapy.
  • Diet and weight control.
  • Exercise control.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Joint fluid modifiers.
  • Total hip replacement.
  • Femoral head ostectomy.
  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy.

Your vet will be able to inform you which treatment will be best for your Goldie and answer any questions you might have.

All About Elbow Dysplasia in Golden Retrievers

What Is Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow Dysplasia is a common inherited condition that causes incorrect development of the elbow joint. Over time the rubbing of the joint can cause osteoarthritis.

Similar to hip screening, elbow screening is carried out via sedation and X-rays of the elbow joints which are sent off to a panel to assess and score. Again, this is carried out only after the dog reaches the age of one. Both sets of tests are usually completed during the same session. 

How Does a Golden Retriever Get Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow Dysplasia is a problem that is also inherited from a Golden Retriever’s parents. The most common issue is when there’s abnormal development and growth in their joint – made up of their radius, ulna, and humerus. This growth can lead to these conditions:

  • Elbow Incongruency.
  • Fragmented Coronoid Process.
  • Ununited Anconeal Process.
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans.

These four conditions can all lead to your Goldie developing Elbow Dysplasia and over time, it often results in arthritis.

What Are the Signs of Elbow Dysplasia?

Signs of Elbow Dysplasia include:

  • Limping or lameness in their legs.
  • Decreased range of motion.
  • Signs of pain when moving the elbow.
  • Aversion to exercise.
  • Front feet turning out.

How Is Elbow Dysplasia Assessed?

The scoring system for Elbow Dysplasia is 0-3. With 0 being clear and 3 being badly affected. The score is generally posted as a single number. If the dog’s elbows are rated differently, they use the higher score as the overall assessment. 

So for example, your dog’s left elbow may be a 0 (clear) but their right elbow is a 1 (slightly affected). Their overall score will be 1. Ideally, only dogs with a rating of 0 will be bred to help eliminate the condition but sometimes dogs with a score of 1 are bred too. 

How Is Elbow Dysplasia Treated?

Once your Golden Retriever has been diagnosed with Elbow Dysplasia, your vet will be able to explain all the possible options for managing their pain and discomfort.

In milder cases, Elbow Dysplasia can be treated by:

  • Pain relief medication.
  • An exercise plan.
  • Weight control.
  • Hydrotherapy.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Joint supplements.

In more serious cases, surgery may be the only route to help your Golden Retriever. Ask your vet for all the options and they’ll help you decide which treatment is best for your Goldie.

How Can I Get My Golden Retriever Hip and Elbow Scored?

Before you breed your Golden Retriever, make sure that you get all the necessary health checks done. To find out everything you need to know, have a look at the Kennel Club’s website here.

Once your Golden Retriever is one year old, book them in at the vet to go in for the day to have all the tests done – including X-rays. You’ll need to take their Kennel Club registration form with you.

Up to eight weeks later you should get the results back which will determine if it’s sensible to breed your Golden Retriever or not. After this, you can access all the information on the Kennel Club website, and check your Golden’s lineage to track their scores through the generations.

Closing Thoughts

Should your dog be diagnosed with either (or both) of the conditions, don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world. 

Although there is no cure for either, there are lots of management options to help ease the pain for your pal including physio and hydrotherapy, and pain medications. 

Ideally, supporting breeders that check their breeding dogs for these conditions will help to lessen the frequency of these issues but as mentioned above. But sometimes dogs are just unlucky and develop these issues regardless.

If you found this post interesting, you might want to read this post about genetic conditions that Golden Retrievers can suffer with.

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