We at Darkstone Kennel will not knowingly breed an unhealthy dog, and certainly value traditional health testing as much as most people. However, we are not in the category of “testing zealots,” as common sense, and reality, must also play in role in determining which dogs are candidates to be bred. An “ugly dog” that is horrible conformation-wise in relation to its breed standard, but has every health certification imaginable…is just that: an “ugly dog with a pile of health certifications.” It should not be a breeding candidate, no matter how healthy the dog. However, in our opinion, a wonderful specimen of the breed, in both conformation and temperament, who may demonstrate some non-major, or non-heritable health issue, should be considered as a potential breeding candidate. There seldom comes along a great physical and temperamental specimen that has perfect “health scores” all the way around. Moreover, the health scores of the parents and grandparents on both sides of the pedigree must also be taken into consideration, as that will be just as important, if not more important in some cases, as that single specimen. It is not a “simple” issue, and well thought out judgments must be made in some cases.
The vast majority of our show and breeding dogs are certified on various health certifications. We will do elbows as well as hips. We believe that the hips are much more important than the elbows. For instance, having one elbow that is “grade 1” dysplastic does not mean that a dog has heritable DJD…as many elbow injuries in large breeds are sustained as puppies from jumping off of things (i.e. decks, couches, beds, etc.), and will only show up when X-rayed. The “rating” of that X-ray typically does not differentiate between a bad elbow from an injury, and one that is the result of a heritable disease. We would rely on a knowledgeable vet to tell us if the elbow did not pass because of an injury, or some heritable condition. We also have the heart and eyes checked thoroughly by a specialist, as opposed to relying on a run-of-the-mill mass examination. We will not knowingly pass along a serious “heritable” genetic disorder in one of our breedings.
It must be emphasized that we have made something of a study of the issue of Degenerative Joint Disease (dysplasia, etc.) and health issues. Frankly, if you do not know the statistics, please do not let any breeder tell you that breeding an OFA or Pennhip certified dog “absolutely guarantees” that the pups will be free of DJD. That is NOT possible to predict. Statistically, there is only a 20% greater chance of a puppy being free of DJD as an adult if both parents are free of the same, than if one of the parents has been diagnosed with heritable DJD. Much to everyone’s shock and surprise, many horrible cases of DJD in young dogs have resulted from the breeding of parents that are both “clear.” In fact, the Pennhip people claim that there has been no statistically significant improvement in overall heritable DJD over the past 10-20 years as a result of the OFA testing registry.
Moreover, with the Cane Corso breed, a large percentage of the “OFA excellent” dogs have come from a breeding where one of the parents has been diagnosed with DJD. It is no different than humans. Just because one of your parents suffers from arthritis does not mean that any or all of their children will ever suffer from the same. While it is somewhat of a genetic “crap shoot,” we at Darkstone Kennel will do our best to better the odds by breeding dogs that have been certified clear of DJD. Please note: there is a very large difference between what is broadly termed as Degenerative Joint Disease, or “DJD,” which is demonstrable arthritic conditions in the joint, and a “non-passing” score on a joint exam. Dogs can “fail” an OFA hip or elbow examination, simply due to looseness in an otherwise perfectly formed joint….but demonstrate absolutely NO presence of DJD, or in loose terms, arthritis in the joint. That creates a conundrum for ethical breeders (note: please see separate article on this site in relation to this issue). In select cases, we will breed a dog that has one hip that shows some mild “laxity” or “looseness,” which is not the same as DJD or “Degenerative Joint Disease.” In that case, the dog may rate as “borderline” or “fair” on a score, instead of “good” or “excellent,” simply due to some looseness in the joint, even when the joint itself is very well formed. The issue of what is a “passing” hip score on an OFA or PennHip is a bit confusing, highly controversial in many cases, and is addressed by a more in-depth discussion on this web site.
It should be noted, for those interested in a Cane Corso, that the hip structure seems to be somewhat different than that from other working breeds. In general, there seems to be a greater natural degree of “joint laxity” or looseness than in other breeds that shows on an xray. However, this does NOT mean that the dog will develop DJD, and in fact, most Corso that we have ever known about who may not pass a “score,” tend to live their lives free of any significant joint issues/pain, while dogs of other breeds, who may exhibit “good” test scores more reliably, seem to ultimately experience many more serious joint issues/pain as they age. If you have your Cane Corso X-rayed by a vet who is not familiar with the breed…they are very likely to look at the X-ray and tell you your dog is dysplastic and should be spayed or neutered immediately, simply due to some observable “laxity” or looseness in the joint structure. Do not panic…just send in the X-rays to the various rating agencies, and let them render their opinion…as they tend to be more knowledgeable about the breed’s genetic structure. Keep in mind that many of those traditional rating procedures are also based on the “opinion” of three vets, with the “worst score” of the three being the final score that is indicated, even if the other two scores are much higher. It is far from a perfect system.
Lastly, various schools of thought exist in relation to DJD. Some, like the OFA and Pennhip foundations claim that DJD is a heritable condition, and that by not breeding animals which do not pass their specific certification protocols, instances of the DJD condition will be significantly reduced over time. Others claim that there is no statistical evidence to support the “heritable” DJD theory as it relates to testing and selective breeding based on the same, and point out that given this lack of evidence, DJD must either be related to lifestyle/external conditions, or dietary factors. We suggest that you do your own research on the issue, and keep an open mind. The internet is a great place to start.
Frankly, we here at Darkstone Kennel try to cover all the bases. Not only do we work very hard to breed dogs with the best possible overall health certifications, we attempt to control the environmental and dietary factors. One should never let a large, working breed puppy place undue stress on their joints until they are at least 18-24 months old. This includes jumping off of high places (decks, beds, furniture) which results in huge numbers of injuries to the shoulder and elbow joints, as well as stair climbing, constant run/play on slippery surfaces (hardwood, linoleum, etc.), etc.
We are also believers that diet plays a role in the development of joint problems and illness in all breeds of dogs. It certainly does in humans…so why would a dog be any different? The bottom line was that many of today’s DJD issues, as well as many other health issues (i.e. ACL/Cruciate ruptures), did not seem to be nearly as prevalent in working dogs, as well as many other breeds, prior to commercial dog food becoming the standard diet. Nor were the current high incidences of cancer and other serious illnesses. There are many theories, but few answers. Perhaps the real answer is that there is just more information out there in terms of the rates of canine health issues than in the past, or that more “testing” of companion animals takes place at the current time than in the past.
In any event, we do not promote any one brand of dog food, or the raw/BARF diet. However, we ensure that we feed our dogs only those ultra-premium dog foods that are absolutely “free of preservatives.” As with humans, modern science is very rapidly coming to the conclusion that many health issues in dogs are directly related to the types of preservatives used in the preparation of foods, as well as some of the actual food preparation methodologies. No dog, particularly a large, working dog breed, is genetically programmed to be able properly digest corn, soybeans, white flour/wheat, etc. They are CARNIVORES…their bodies are designed to digest high quality protein. Cattle are herbivores, and genetically set up to digest corn, grain, soybeans, etc. Dogs are not. So DO NOT feed them foods that have within their top 5-10 ingredients list: corn, wheat/wheat flour, soybeans, white rice, and other highly indigestible items. The simplest way to think of it is this: Dogs are genetically designed, as are some people, to excel on the “Atkins Diet.” That means lots of proteins, moderate fats, and low glycemic index carbohydrates (ie. Vegetables). High glycemic index carbohydrates are, for the most part, not well digested or processed by canine carnivores, which historically are predators who did not have access to these types of carbohydrate sources.
Bottom line: off the shelf dog foods which are prepared with low-quality, low-digestibility ingredients, and heavily loaded with preservatives to extend shelf life are the “doggie equivalent” to eating fast/junk food at every meal. At some point, the body has to break down, including the joints. That being said, like humans, each dog seems to be very much an “individual.” A diet that one dog excels on will nearly cause the death of another. It is in some ways a “trial and error” process to determine which high quality food available is the best fit for your canine companion.
There are many great articles that have been published citing recent research into dog diets, particularly in relation to the types and amounts of preservatives used. Do your own research…and take the responsibility for your dog’s health. Your dog is not browsing the shelves deciding what food they will get to eat…you are. There are several brands of ultra-premium dog food that are considered to be amongst the leaders in “no-preservative, high-digestibility” dog foods: Solid Gold, Wellness, Innova, Natural Balance, Eagle Brand, and others. Do your research, and scrupulously check the ingredients on the bags. They are listed in descending order of ingredients….ie. the “first ingredient” is the largest ingredient in the food in terms of composition, the “second ingredient” is the second largest ingredient, etc. Lastly, dogs, like humans, are all individuals. What one dog excels on can be another dog’s downfall…even if they are both eating the same super premium, all natural food. So, try the best brands until you find one that your dog excels on.
We believe in supplementation. There are a variety of high quality supplements available that contain significant doses of glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and Ester-C, as well as a number of other vitamins and minerals. Ester-C is possibly the most overlooked supplement when it comes to joint health in large breed dogs. It is a highly digestible form of vitamin C. It is critically important in the development of ligament and joint tissue, as well as the production of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints.
If you search the web under the headings of Ester-C and joint research, you will eventually come across a major study done several years ago in relation to Ester-C and joint health in dogs. A large group of severely dysplastic dogs, as determined across a number of X-ray, joint mobility, and agility tests, were put into a double blind study to test the effectiveness of Ester-C, as compared with regular vitamin C, or receiving a placebo. The results were almost startling. The group of dogs on the high dose of Ester-C (2000 mg per day minimum) showed dramatic improvement in scores of joint mobility/pain reduction and agility tests within weeks. The group of dogs being fed smaller doses of Ester-C showed significant improvement, but not to the same degree as the group of dogs on the higher doses. Those dogs on smaller doses of Ester C showed results that were somewhat consistent with the dogs in the control group that received large doses of regular vitamin C. Dogs on the placebo showed no improvement. Bottom line: Ester-C seems from all indications to be a powerful, naturally occurring substance that has been demonstrated to effectively alleviate (but not cure) the symptoms of heritable DJD. We have not seen any direct studies in terms of Ester-C’s ability to prevent DJD in growing dogs, but logically, it should have some meaningful impact. Many long time breeders believe, based on experience, that it is also very important to feed one’s puppies Ester-C in order to ensure that their feet tighten properly and are not splayed, as well as ensuring strong pasterns, as both are based on the development of the ligaments and tendons in the area. Ester-C works on these body parts simply because it is a critical ingredient in strengthening connective and joint tissue.