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What is the OFA?That's all good and well. Now that we know what Havanese should be tested for (and other tests that are a nice addition), where do we find these test results, how do we navigate the database, and what does it all mean?
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (which will henceforth be referred to as OFA in this post) began when a sportsman began noticing a trend of hip dysplasia in his dogs. Initially, its purpose was to provide radiographic evaluation of canine hips while also managing data and statistics on those evaluations. To this day, it functions as a public database for a myriad of potential genetic health concerns and an accessible resource for unbiased (though technically subjective) review of radiographs. Beyond grading joint conformation and posting other test results, OFA is a fabulous tool for pedigree research and to study health trends within the breed. It is an invaluable resource for breeders and pet owners alike.
What is a CHIC number?
The Canine Health Information Center was created by the OFA in partnership with breed parent clubs. For Havanese, that would be the Havanese Club of America. Speaking from personal experience, our health committee is made up of some wonderful people. Many health surveys, an emphasis on health testing...I believe this has a strong role in why our breed is generally so healthy. Breed clubs follow health trends and what prevalent issues in the breed may be, and based on that, they recommend health tests. A CHIC number is obtained by completing all of the tests the breed club most strongly recommends. Please note! A dog does NOT need to pass those tests to earn a CHIC number, so beyond taking note of the CHIC emblem by a dog's name (in Havanese, purple if the dog has a current annual eye exam on file and white if they don't) and look at specific testing results (I will explain how to do so down-post). In Havanese, the tests require to earn a CHIC number are hips, patellas (knees), BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response...a hearing test), and annual eye exams by a specialist.
There are two approved options for hip testing. I will discuss both. The first is the regular OFA hip test. An experienced veterinarian takes carefully positioned extended hip radiographs on a dog over the age of 2 years. Those are sent to OFA, where three board-certified veterinary radiologists are randomly selected from their pool of 20 or so consultants. Taking age, breed, and sex into consideration, those radiologists grade the hips with one of 7 ratings. The passing ratings are excellent, good, and fair. Because they are done by people, the rating is subjective. One man's good may be another's fair Non-passing ratings are borderline, mild, moderate, and severe. Please note! If radiographs are sent in to be graded by the specialists and they pass, they will automatically be added to the database. Abnormal (non-passing) results require an initial on the application to be posted. If a breeder tells you they have passing hips but they are not anywhere to be found on the OFA database, that is a lie. They may have had their general practice veterinarian take xrays and tell them what they felt they would rate, but the OFA processsing fee is nominal compared to the cost to have those xrays taken. Because of this, unless I see passing results on the OFA database, I assume abnormal results. The same goes for elbows. There is an exception...
PennHip is the other accepted hip test. This test is a bit different, as it is non-subjective and done by measurements. Xrays of multiple views are taken, but the big one is the distracted view, which determines the Distraction Index. This is, essentially, a measure of laxity by noting the extent the femoral head can be distracted from the socket. The amount of laxity can indicate risk for hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. The ideal Distraction Index is .30 or below (that is, 30% distracted), but PennHip is NOT pass/fail, just information to be noted and used. PennHip does not maintain a database, but the results can (and should, IMO) be posted to OFA. Because I do not do PennHip, I am not familiar with the process of submitting those results to OFA or whether there is any way to confirm the results if they aren't posted.
This is, without a doubt, the easiest of the 4 CHIC tests to be and have performed. It can be done by any vet that knows their way around a dog. Same way your dog has its patellas checked at any regular veterinary appointment, the veterinarian manipulates the joints and feels for any luxation, which is graded based on how it presents if the joint luxates. Luxating patellas are a biggie in the breed, possibly the most common ailment for Havs, so this test is arguably one of the more important ones (though I think they are ALL important). This test can be performed after the dog is 1 year old.
The hearing test is administered by a trained veterinarian (able to be a general practitioner) on dogs at any age after 35 days old. Many breeders do this on each puppy before they go home. Wires are attached to subcutaneous electrodes, your dog is turned into a little cyborg, and the brain's response to auditory stimulus is measured. Only bilateral hearing will pass the test. Bilateral or unilateral deafness are failing.
An annual exam performed by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist. There are 10 eye conditions that are automatic fails due to their impact on the dog's health and the likelihood that they are heritable. There are, of course, other conditions/states the eyes can be in. Based on the severity of these conditions, the ophthalmologist will either note NO or Breeder Option, with any condition and notes also mentioned. That "breeder option" means that the dog will pass its eye exam, but there is a condition present that may or may not be inherited, though it does not equate to compromised vision or loss of eye function. "Breeder option" is just that. The breeder can take that information and do what they see fit, whether that be not breed the dog, only breed to dogs with normal eyes, etc. The eye exam can be performed on a dog of any age but is to be done annually.
Sure. Why not. Testing for more can't hurt, and the more data on file for the breed, the better. I personally would love to see a clear cardiac auscultation on each breeding dog, as heart murmurs can present themselves. As it stands, 6% of Havanese with elbow radiographs (graded the same way as hips, but as either normal or with a grade 1-3 of elbow dysplasia) submitted to OFA have come back as dysplastic, so I have tested elbows as well. Legg-Calve-Perthes is a disease that has been seen in the breed where a lack of blood supply to the femoral head causes bone death. If a dog's hips pass OFA certification, then they are "normal" for LCP (where normal is unaffected). That said, adding the test to your dog's file if passing hips are on file is free, so I also have that done for breed data purposes. A normal OFA thyroid panel sent to a lab is another good thing to look out for. All of that said, I wouldn't write any breeder off for not doing these...it is just my preference that they do!
Ways To SearchHope this helps. Feel free to answer any questions, either here or via PM. I'll answer to the best of my ability. (Btw...Brisket has passed all of his tests thus far, with Good hips! Just eyes to go.)
The most basic way to search for a dog/a breeder's dogs is using the regular search function. It will also get you the most results, so it is more difficult to pare down. When researching a breeder, most of us know their kennel name (ie Fuzzybutt Acres Havanese), so to find their dogs, you can put that kennel name into the search function. For a more common or generic kennel name (ie Happy Havanese) - as far as I know, neither of these are actual Havanese kennels - , your search will yield hundreds of dogs. There are options to sort the search results ( toggles for breeds ordered in alphabetical order or ordered by dogs listed by birthdate are the most useful), but I find this function can be a bit problematic, and the fabulous advanced search function is far easier. I will include screenshots that are annotated with in depth instructions for various ways to search and do research.
Other things to know...
While you are exploring the website, you will notice various emblems, words, and codes. Fear not! I explain these in screenshots too. Why are some CHIC badges purple and some clear? What the heck does HAV-EL2821M24-VPI mean and does it matter? (Spoiler alert: Not much, at least to prospective puppy parents). I will say, the addition of VPI to those codes you will see is one I value, as it means the dog is permanently identified by either a microchip or tattoo, that identification has been confirmed with the AKC, and the veterinarian performing the tests double checked that the number given matched what is actually on the dog. I am not so distrusting that I worry that breeders will test dogs that aren't who they say they are, but it is an extra assurance.
The vertical pedigree is a tool you can use to see the results on a dog, its parents, and its grandparents in one place for every single test. I find it incredibly useful for research. It also shows how many siblings and offspring each dog in the pedigree has listed on OFA and what their results were if they had that specific test done. This will also be included in screenshots. If you really want to fall into a rabbit hole, you can explore the statistics by breed and disease. This is a piece of why I find OFA so important, which I will get into in a moment. Not necessarily an important tool for puppy buyers, but fun to explore nonetheless. Explore the website. Get to know and understand the diseases Havanese are tested for. See what hip dysplasia looks like. It is a fabulous, user friendly database.
Last but not least...Why OFA?
Can't a breeder just have their vet take a hip xray and clear the dog? Can't they tell the breeder that the dog has normal patellas without having to send in a sheet of paper? Technically, yes. But there is so much more to it than that. A public database where the results are posted takes the guesswork out for buyers. Without it, we would have to take everyone for their word, and while some would be honest, others would absolutely not. Results being public and easily accessed holds breeders accountable. Beyond that, the radiologists at OFA are boarded specialists. While your regular veterinarian may think one thing, even if they have seen hundreds or thousands of hip xrays in their day, most vets simply don't have the same training as the boarded veterinary radiologists. At the end of the day, OFA fees are nominal compared to the cost to have the tests done. To get just the four tests required for a CHIC can cost $500+. In comparison, the OFA fees for those four tests are a mere $77. If you are paying to have those tests performed, I believe there is zero reason to not have those listed on OFA unless: 1. They weren't actually done, 2. The dog failed (remember, all passing results are posted, and failing results are only posted with owner permission).
Perhaps the most important reason of all, though, is for the health of the breed as a whole. Havanese are wonderfully healthy little dogs. Many other small breeds lack the same passion for rigorous health testing most of our breeders have. Because so many health test and report to OFA, we have a very large pool for data collection. Trends are followed in breed health by OFA, and the data collection done is one of the most valuable tools there is for a breed to maintain its health and wellness. If a breeder isn't health testing as they should be, including sending those tests to OFA, don't walk. Run. For the sake of our breed.