Health Certifications
Protect your dog and the breed
by Karen Leshkivich, DVM

Everyone is mentioning health certifications for their bloodhound lately, and many of you may wonder what they are talking about, and specifically what health certifications they are concerned about.  Of the many health certifications available now, there are eight that are most important in bloodhounds: OFA for hips, elbows, and patellas, PennHIP, cardiac, thyroid, CERF, and DNA.

Some of you may ask "Why do health certifications?"  The first response is "Why not?"  Health certifications screen bloodhounds for potential heritable diseases that can be passed on to offspring and may compromise the health of your dog and future puppies.  The end goal after all is to improve the breed.  Additionally, the health registry identifies a dog as being registered, and provides proof of your commitment to maintaining the highest standards.  There are some serious consequences from not screening your dogs for these problems, and not looking for the problem will not make it go away.  Table A lists the problems that can be screened for and some of the consequences of the disease.

OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.  A group of veterinary radiologists evaluates radiographs (x-rays) to identify dogs with no evidence of dysplasia or other orthopedic problems.  The registry screens for hips, elbows and patellas (kneecaps).  If the dog is evaluated less than 24 months of age, a preliminary evaluation can be assessed.  Over 24 months of age, if the dog is free of orthopedic problems or dysplasia, they are assigned a breed OFA number with a rating.

PennHIP (University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program) was developed to evaluate the laxity of a dog's hips.  Radiographs are taken of the dog with special positioning to assess the degree of laxity, or looseness, of the hips.  The degree of laxity is an important factor in determining the susceptibility to developing degenerative joint disease (arthritis), which is confirmation of hip dysplasia.   A veterinarian has to be trained and certified to perform the PennHIP procedure, so you would have to check with the registry organization (Synbiotics) for a certified veterinarian near you.  A puppy can be evaluated by the PennHIP technique as early as 4 months.

The cardiac registry is designed to identify phenotypically normal dogs without a heart murmur or dogs with an innocent heart murmur and a normal cardiac echo.  There are many cardiac defects that can and do affect bloodhounds.  A dog may act normal, a veterinarian may miss a murmur on examination, but the dog's life could be compromised by an underlying heart abnormality.  Aortic and pulmonic stenosis are becoming more prevalent in bloodhounds.  It is a narrowing of the flow of blood from the heart and can cause collapse, fainting, exercise intolerance, or sudden death. Septal wall defects are holes in chambers of the heart , and a dog may not show any signs of a problem, or they can die suddenly.  PDA (patent ductus arteriosis) and PRAA (persistent right aortic arch) are defects that occur during the final development stages of the puppy, and these problems can cause weakness and collapse, or in the case of PRAA, regurgitation.  Cardiomyopathies can be  inherent or acquired  with age.  The cardiomyopathies that are inherent can be passed on to offspring, and they can cause a shortened life span of the bloodhound.  Cardiac certification examinations must be done by a veterinarian with expertise in recognition of congenital heart disease, in other words a veterinary cardiologist.  A dog must be one year old before they can be cardiac certified.

The thyroid registry identifies dogs that are free from hypothyroid disease.  Hypothyroidism can affect every system of a dog from the reproductive system to the nervous system.  The most common form of hypothyroidism is autoimmune thyroiditis.  The condition has a variable age of onset, but by the age of two to five years old it is usually evident.  If the autoantibodies develop at any time in a dog's life, the dog most likely has the genetic form of the disease.  Periodic testing is required; every year of the first four years, then every other year through the dog's life.  The thyroid blood test must be submitted to one of the six approved laboratories that measure FT4, cTSH, and TgAA.  These laboratories are: Michigan State University, Cornell University, Texas Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, University of Guelph, University of Minnesota and University of California.

CERF is the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.  The purpose is to identify dogs that are free from inherent eye disease.  With bloodhounds, this can include: ectropion and entropion, KCS (dry eye) PPM (persistent papillary membrane), retinal dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, and glaucoma.  The testing must be done by a  veterinary ophthalmologist certified to do CERF exams.  There is no minimum age for the testing, but it must be repeated yearly.

DNA testing is a simple test utilizing a cheek swab from the dog.  Anyone can do the test and submit it to either AKC or OFA to receive DNA certification.  Not only does this positively identify the genetics of the dog, it now required for procedures such as frozen semen collections.

Table B summarizes the certifications, fees, average testing costs, who has to do the testing, and the agency.

Following is a list of helpful information for various testing authorities:
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
2300 E. Nifong Blvd.
Columbia, MO 65201-3856
(573) 442-0418

Canine Eye Registry Foundation
Purdue university
Lynn Hall
W. Lafayette, IN 47907


Table A
Certification Condition Consequences
OFA Hip Dysplasia Lameness, Debilitation, Arhtritis
OFA Elbow Dysplasia Lameness, Debilitation, Arthritis
OFA Patellar Luxation Dysplasia Lameness, Debilitation, Arthritis
PennHIP Hip Dysplasia Lameness, Debilitation, Arthritis
Cardiac Congenital heart defects  Impaired health, Death
CERF Hereditary eye problems Impaired vision, Blindness
Thyroid Hypothyroidism Disease of every system (cardiac, nervous, GI)
DNA DNA Genetic Identification

Table B
Certification Fee Exam/Lab$ Frequency Who Agency
OFA-Hip $25 $175-200 Once at >2 yrs  Veterinarian w/appropriate equipment OFA
OFA-Elbows $20 $80-100 Once at >2 yrs Same OFA
OFA-Patellas $15 $40-80 Once at >2 yrs Veterinarian OFA
OFA-Hips & Elbows  $30 $175-200 Once at >2 yrs Veterinarian w/appropriate equipment OFA
PennHIP $30 $175-200 >16 weeks old  Veterinarian trained and certified in PennHIP Synbiotics
Cardiac $15 $100-250 > 1 yr old Veterinarian w/expertise in recognition of congenital heart problems  OFA
Thyroid $15 $65-100 at 1,2,3,4,6, 8 yrs Approved laboratory OFA
CERF $10 $50-75 Yearly Certified veterinary Ophthalmologist CERF
DNA $15-40     Approved DNA test kit OFA, AKC