The Importance of Good Positioning for OFA Hip X-Rays

Helli's hip x-rays. The film on the left was first one submitted to OFA and was rated Mildly Dysplastic with subluxation (not well set in socket) in the left hip. The film on the right was done about 2 months later and was rated Good by OFA.

The following describes my personal experience getting OFA ratings on my two Australian Shepherds. This was the first time I'd had hips done, so I didn't really know what to look for. As a result, I submitted x-rays with poor positioning and got a faulty reading.

My intent is not to discredit OFA or their procedures. Hip evaluations are a valuable tool for both breeders and buyers. I only hope that others will learn from my experience so that their dogs' evaluations will be based on good x-rays. Please email me if you have any comments or questions:

I had Mika's and Helli's hips done March 23 in Anchorage at a vet that many friends have used. Both were done with anesthesia. The vet had no problem with Mika and she came back OFA Good. The vet told me she took 7 or 8 films on Helli because she had trouble getting her positioned. She gave me the best one she got for Helli. I also got duplicate films for both.

I submitted the films to OFA within a day or two. After I mailed them, I was comparing Mika's to Helli's and noted that the positioning wasn't so great on Helli's. I recalled reading on OFA's website that their protocol included reviewing films for quality before they are rated, and trusted that they would be returned if there was a problem. Since I'd already mailed them in, I decided to wait for the outcome.

The ratings came back and Helli was mildly dysplastic with subluxation on the left side. I believed there was a good chance that bad positioning was reason for the rating. Plus, I'd read in the discussion forum on the OFA site, that being under anesthesia for too long might yield a faulty reading. So I wrote the vet who took the x-rays and asked if she thought I should have Helli redone. Basically, her response was OFA would have sent the film back if they were bad, and since they didn't must not be anything wrong with the x-ray.

I wrote to OFA to see if they would look at the films again to see if they agreed with me that the positioning was bad. Their response was -- paraphrased -- our vets are board certified and we cannot be wrong.

Still not satisfied, I went to a local vet for a second opinion. The receptionist took Helli's x-ray back to him. A few minutes later, he met me in an exam room and without me saying a word said -- "These are absolutely horrible. They should never have been submitted." Then he proceeded to point out all the reasons that the positioning was bad. His recommendation was to re-do the x-rays with "perfect" positioning and resubmit.

On June 7, Helli's hips were x-rayed again. When I went to pick her up, the vet said nothing about having trouble getting the films. When he showed me the film, the positioning was beautiful!

A few weeks later, I got the official certificate rating Helli's hips as GOOD -- three grades higher than the first rating. I wrote to OFA again to tell them about my experience and recommend that they beef up their protocol.... They basically responded as they did before. It's hard for me to believe that they missed such bad positioning in the pre-screening, not to mention that the three vets who evaluated them didn't notice!!!

I also wrote a rather terse email to the vet who did the first x-rays, asking for refund. She was surprised, but was more than willing to refund my money. I was planning to be in Anchorage the next month and agreed to bring the new x-rays to show her. She and her technicians looked at them and were surprised to see the difference. To her credit, she said that in the future she would recommend trying again if she has trouble positioning a dog.

I don't know for sure WHY the first vet had so much trouble positioning Helli. It may have been the anesthesia. It may have been that she didn't have her "summer" muscle tone since it was early in the spring and we don't get out as much in the winter during the work week. By early June, she had been getting daily off-leash exercise and was in pretty good shape. Perhaps the better muscle tone helped make positioning her easier.

Another interesting note is that the second x-ray was done 1 week to the day before she came into season. Typically, you wouldn't want to do hip x-rays one month either side of a heat cycle because some bitches' hips seem to become more lax...Obviously, this wasn't the case with Helli. :-)

It would have been interesting to get a Penn-Hip rating on Helli to see just how lax her hips were. It would have been even more interesting to see if there was a difference between the Penn-Hip rating in March vs. June.

This experience has certainly given me less confidence in OFA than I had before. However, I still regard OFA ratings as an essential piece of information for both breeders and buyers. Flawed as their process might be at times, it's the best thing we have to evaluate hips at this point.

I've also learned that I need to be more critical of the x-rays BEFORE they are submitted and not just blindly trust the vet's opinion.