Great Dane staring at OFA CHIC logo.

Understanding the OFA CHIC Certification for Great Danes

If you’ve ever looked into adopting a Great Dane from a breeder then you’ve probably noticed that many reference their breeding stock as having CHIC numbers and certifications. You probably nodded your head, smiled along, and wondered what the heck that even means! But don’t worry, you’re not alone 😉

To best answer that question we need to explain the origin of “CHIC”. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) created the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) by partnering with parent clubs to identify breed-specific health issues. Using this knowledge, specific protocols for health testing were then created on a breed-by-breed basis. Dogs whose health testing follows this protocol are issued CHIC numbers and certifications. These numbers are stored in a public database and referenceable by anyone.

Specific to Great Danes, the OFA partnered with the Great Dane Club of America to create a specialized set of CHIC health testing requirements. The Great Dane screening requirements include: hip dysplasia, eye, thyroid, and cardiac evaluation.

Why testing is important

From a Buyer’s Standpoint:

If you don’t test, you just don’t know. When buying a new puppy, people aren’t always given the correct information regarding their new dog’s health history— breeders can lie, not be supportive, give misinformation, or just not know particular information in general. Health certifications also help potential purchasers along with breeders to track the health history of the entire lineage of the dog. Hopefully providing insight on the parents of litters you may be interested in.

Dogs of any breed could have serious underlying health issues or issues with training or temperament that you wouldn’t be able to identify just by looking at them. Great Danes can look and act perfectly healthy, but without the proper testing, you would not be able to discover silent illnesses that can affect them such as hip dysplasia.

If breeders make a claim about their puppies’ health, you can double check that they are supported through health tests and other testing certificates and data.

From a Breeder’s Standpoint:

Testing can be especially helpful for breeders looking to plan a breeding program. As a breeder, the goal is to be knowledgeable about the health history of your dogs in pedigrees and line, and should not make any health claims you can’t back up and be willing to share the information you do have. This can help ensure that undesirable temperaments and health issues aren’t passed onto the next litter and subsequent generations.

By testing early on, you may be able to catch and prevent these diseases from being spread to future generations. If the dog forgoes a health test and is selected for breeding, they could potentially pass the genes carrying the defect to their offspring, increasing the likelihood that they are also affected.

What is the OFA CHIC Certification Program?

Health screenings don’t come in a one-size-fits-all format. They must be tailored to the breed in order to give the correct insight into their individual health history as well as general health risks. To better achieve this, the OFA created the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) that focuses on the research and maintaining of information of health issues found in specific breeds. They also established a recommended protocol for health screenings for certain breeds.

The hopes behind the CHIC program is to gather more information on these specific breeds so we can better understand the health issues they are at risk for and to also provide health information to owners and breeders. It is encouraged that breeders attain CHIC certifications if their breed participates in the program.

Once a dog is tested according to that protocol and achieves a normal score, they are recognized and registered with a CHIC number and certification. This information is then listed on OFA’s website in the public domain for breeders and potential purchasers to use for research.

Great Danes are one of the many breeds that are a part of the CHIC program. For the certification, it is not required that Great Danes have normal results, but their score must live in the public domain so responsible breeders or inquiring owners can make more informed decisions regarding their new dog.

It should be said that not all the health screening requirements for Great Danes are all encompassing; there may be other health tests that are also appropriate for the breed or other health concerns that require a different set of screening protocol.

The Great Dane OFA CHIC Testing Requirements

To obtain a CHIC number for your Dane, the OFA requires four different health tests for your Dane must complete. Lets take a look at each of them.

1. Hip Dysplasia

This typically occurs due to an abnormally developed hip joint, but can also be caused by injured or damaged cartridge around the hip. Over time, the cartilage loses its thickness and elasticity and eventually becomes painful with any joint movement. Severity of the disease can be effected by your Great Dane’s weight and how much exercise they get. 

The exams for hip dysplasia

There are two acceptable ways for your Dane to be examined for hip dysplasia. The first and most common way is the standard OFA exam.

X-rays are taken of the dog with hip positioning according to American Veterinary Medical Association recommendations. To take this radiograph, the dog must be placed on its back with its hind legs extended and parallel, keeping the knees turned in and pelvis symmetrical.

The grade classifications for this exam are split into 7 categories: excellent, good, fair, borderline, mild, moderate, or severe. Hip grades of excellent, good, and fair are within normal limits and are given OFA numbers. While this exam can be performed at a young age, it is recommended that Danes be x-rayed at the age of two to be properly rated by the OFA.

The second exam is more intensive exam and is called the PennHip evaluation.

It involves 3 separate hip positions and x-ray images: hip extended (same as OFA), compression, and distraction. The compression and distraction x-rays help from diagnosing a false negative. Hip extended x-rays can be considered normal because that view is limited on showing evidence of arthritis or changes in the hip.

In the compression view x-ray, the dog’s hind legs are positioned in a neutral, weightbearing position and the femur is gently seated into the hip socket. This can help identify critical landmarks on the hip and determine how well the joint is fitting into the socket.

A distraction radiograph has a dog’s hind legs in the same position as the compression, but this time a special device is used to look at the dog’s joint laxity (looseness), giving an accurate measurement of the maximal hip laxity. The PennHip method uses the amount of joint laxity to reveal that the dog is actually susceptible to developing hip dysplasia.

2. Eye Exams

A comprehensive eye exam conducted by a board ACVO ophthalmologist is required for CHIC certification and it is recommended to be performed often or at least annually. Cataracts and other abnormalities can show up later in a Great Dane’s life so best to test regularly.

During the exam, the doctor will examine the eyes to see if there are any abnormalities. The aim is to identify problems early on and initiate treatment for the issue. The exam itself is pretty laidback—it doesn’t require sedation or restraint, and is not painful and relatively quick, usually lasting around 10 to 25 minutes.

Take a look at the ACVO homepage to locate an ophthalmologist.

3. Thyroid Evaluation

Hypothyroidism is a condition that is known to affect humans and dogs alike. It happens when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones that control the metabolism called throxine. This is often suspected of Great Danes who have trouble losing or putting on weight or who suffer from skin problems. Dogs should be tested periodically as the onset from dog to dog varies greatly.

Dogs must get examined by a veterinarian and have a serum sample sent to an OFA approved lab for testing. An OFA number will be issued to all dogs who test normal.

4. Cardiac Exams

Heart problems in dogs are never good news. In some cases, they can even be precursors for even more dangerous conditions. In the case of cardiac testing, there are different methods for the test that are accepted for OFA submission.

While auscultation, or monitoring of the heart via stethoscope, used to be an acceptable method of testing of Great Danes for cardiac issues it’s no longer accepted by the OFA. For Danes, if was found that an auscultation is not an effective means of determining if a dog has congenital heart defects, or malformation of the heart and its vessels.

The only way this can be determined with certainty is through an echocardiogram. OFA records showing the cardiac results will indicate if the test was done via “echo” and if it was done by a practitioner or a cardiologist. The echocardiogram uses a doppler examination of all cardiac valves then it is checked for abnormalities by a cardiologist.

5. Additional CHIC Test Requirements

In addition to the previously mentioned testing criteria, dogs who are needing to obtain a CHIC number must be at least two years old and be permanently identified either through a microchip or a tattoo.

How to verify health test results (as a puppy buyer)

Any Great Dane that has had a health test completed and has passed with a normal rating will receive a certificate. The results are also published onto OFA’s website, a public and open database, for breeders and owners to use as a resource.

When you are puppy shopping, it is important to ask the breeder for the certificate and inquire about which health screenings were performed. It’s also not a bad idea to cross reference on the OFA website as some breeders have been known to falsify health certificates. You are also able to view the health history of any family members that have received certificates.

It is important to note that a CHIC number does not mean the dog has passed all four tests—but it does mean all results will be published on the CHIC and OFA websites.

How to get your dog OFA certified

If you would like to get your Great Dane CHIC certified then you’ll need to wait until they are at least two years of age to begin the “official” testing. If you’d like to pursue testing sooner, the OFA does allow for preliminary testing to begin between the ages of 4 – 24 months. However, these preliminary results cannot be used for CHIC certification, and the tests will need to be re-done once the dog is two years or older.

Assuming your Dane is over two years, they can begin taking the necessary hip dysplasia, eye, thyroid, and cardiac evaluations. While many providers will already have the OFA forms for each respective test, it won’t hurt to print them out yourself and bring them to the test. Downloading them from the OFA website also guarantees that you’ve got the latest copy of the form for when it’s sent in.

In addition to mailing these results to the OFA, you’ll also need to pay a service fee for each test. For Great Dane required tests the service fees are as follows:

  • Hip dysplasia – $35
  • Eye – $12
  • Thyroid – $15
  • Cardiac – $15
  • Service fee total – $77

For the tests involving radiographs, it typically takes two to three weeks for the results to be processed once they reach the OFA. The soft tissue tests e.g. cardiac and thyroid are usually turned around in one week. Once they have completed the required hip dysplasia, eye, thyroid, and cardiac evaluations and the results have been recorded by the OFA a CHIC number is automatically issued!

Conclusion

Health screening for your dog is critical for understanding which health problems are likely to arise down the road. It is responsible both on the breeder and owner’s parts to use the results to make an informed decision on how to take care of your pup or when not to use in breeding. The tests can also bring peace of mind to you if you suspect your Dane’s lineage is prone to health issues—it’s always best to catch and treat early instead of waiting to see the obvious signs and it be too late.

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