ANSWER: Often you will see dogs who are OFA certified. OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org) which is a nonprofit organization that attempts to screen for genetic orthopedic diseases in dogs. Typically hip dysplasia is the main focus, but testing is available for elbows, sebaceous adenitis (skin disease), Legg-Calve-Perthes (degenerative hip condition), thyroid and cardiac diseases, deafness, and patellar luxation.
Many of these require X-rays to evaluate the presence of genetic orthopedic conditions once the dog is skeletally mature, typically at 2 years old. The goal is to identify animals that will pass on these traits to future generations. Responsible breeders will not continue to breed any animal diagnosed with any genetic problem. Unfortunately, there are a number of breeders who do not go to the trouble and expense of having breeds prone to these diseases evaluated or will continue to breed animals that have a known genetic condition.
I counsel people that OFA certification does not guarantee the dog will not develop hip, knee, or elbow problems. Like many human diseases, genetic conditions can have a complicated pattern of inheritance. Offspring can develop genetic diseases from parents who are carriers but do not have outward signs of the condition. Also the scoring system is subjective. For hips, the rating is from excellent to poor, and there is variation from one evaluator to another.
There is another screening method for hip dysplasia called Penn-Hip which is used by some breeders and veterinarians. No matter what system has been used, the goal is to help you find a dog that is hopefully free of some of these potentially debilitating diseases.
ANSWER: You should have your rabbit evaluated by your veterinarian, as he may be having trouble with hairballs. Any cat owner knows too well the trouble with hairballs that cats can have, but rabbits differ in one critical way. They are physically incapable of vomiting. This means that the hairball will continue to grow in the rabbit s stomach. This is typically a result of a lack of appropriate roughage in the diet. Rabbits have a digestive system similar to horses, in which the lower part of the intestine, called a cecum, acts as a fermentation vat. Inadequate roughage, usually in the form of pellets and treats, slows down the digestive process and rabbits will over-ferment. This then leads to soft stools and a drop in appetite from the overgrowth of detrimental bacteria in the cecum. Some hairballs (called trichobezoars) can be large enough to require surgical removal.
Your veterinarian will help you formulate a treatment and change in diet that can get the process moving and work toward breaking down the hairball inside the rabbit s stomach. Prevention is centered on having constant access to high-quality roughage like timothy hay. Any digestive condition in rabbits can have a potentially fatal outcome, so have your rabbit seen right away.
Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.