The OFA is guided by the following four specific objectives:
To collate and disseminate information concerning orthopedic and genetic diseases of animals.
To advise, encourage and establish control programs to lower the incidence of orthopedic and genetic diseases.
To encourage and finance research in orthopedic and genetic disease in animals.
To receive funds and make grants to carry out these objectives.
The OFA Databases
The OFA databases are core to the organization’s objective of establishing control programs to lower the incidence of inherited disease. Responsible breeders have an inherent responsibility to breed healthy dogs. The OFA databases serve all breeds of dogs and cats, and provide breeders a means to respond to the challenge of improving the genetic health of their breed through better breeding practices. The testing methodology and the criteria for evaluating the test results for each database were independently established by veterinary scientists from their respective specialty areas, and the standards used are generally accepted throughout the world. The following databases have been developed and are maintained by the OFA today:
Hip Dysplasia is an orthopedic disorder arising from malformations of the hip socket and the femur. Screening for the presence of hip dysplasia and maintenance of the resulting data has become somewhat synonymous with the OFA. A standard pelvic radiograph (ventrodorsal view) may be taken by any licensed veterinarian. The radiograph is subsequently evaluated by the OFA and its pool of consulting board certified veterinary radiologists. For certification, animals must be a minimum of 24 months of age. After an initial screening to confirm the diagnostic quality and positioning, each radiograph is evaluated independently using a set of standard criteria by three randomly chosen radiologists from the consulting pool. The three independent readings generate a final consensus which is reported back to the owner. The OFA assigns normal grades of Excellent, Good and Fair. Dysplastic dogs are graded Mild, Moderate, or Severe. All normal animals receive an OFA number, and their results are placed in the public domain and are available on the OFA’s website. Abnormal results are available to the public if the owner approves the release of such information. The OFA regularly averages more than 40,000 hip evaluations annually.
Elbow Dysplasia is used to describe degenerative joint disease (DJD) of the elbow joint. It is evaluated through a lateral radiographic view taken of each elbow in extreme flexion. The evaluation process follows the hip process, with each set of elbow radiographs evaluated independently by three randomly chosen board certified veterinary radiologists from the consulting pool, leading to a final consensus which is reported to the owner. For certification, animals must be at least 24 months of age. Elbows are graded as normal, or in the case of dysplastic animals, Grades I, II, or III. In 2014, the OFA performed over 28,000 elbow evaluations.
Companion Animal Eye Registry (CAER) is the OFA’s database for ocular disorders. Results are limited to eye examinations performed by ACVO (American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists) Diplomates. Dogs with normal eye exams, or minor clinical observations that do not negatively impact vision or comfort (breeder option codes) receive eye certifications. Regardless of whether owners submit their exam forms for OFA “ceritification”, all CAER exam data is collected for aggregate statistical purposes to provide information on trends in eye disease and breed susceptibility. This information is published jointly by the OFA and the ACVO in the annual Blue Book. The OFA averages 28,000 eye exams annually.
Patellar Luxation, commonly known as a slipped stifle, is a hind leg deformity that permits the kneecap to dislocate. Luxation can be medial or lateral, unilateral or bilateral, and temporary or permanent. Evaluation is done via physical exam by any licensed veterinarian. Findings are recorded over the veterinarian’s signature and the results are sent to the OFA for registration and inclusion in the database. For certification, dogs must be at least 12 months of age. OFA grades are normal, or Grades I, II, III, and IV for dogs exhibiting some degree of luxation.
Autoimmune Thyroiditis is the most common cause of primary hypothyroidism in dogs. Evaluation is done by laboratory analysis of blood samples to detect the presence or absence of autoimmune thyroid factors. The protocol was developed for the OFA by leading endocrine experts, and includes the following tests: cTSH, TgAA, and FT4D. Each OFA approved endocrine lab undergoes regular standardization and proficiency testing. For certification, dogs must be at least 12 months of age. Based on the laboratory results, the diagnosis is reported as normal, positive autoimmune thyroiditis, positive compensative autoimmune thryoiditis, idiopathically reduced thyroid function, or equivocal.
Congenital Heart Disease is a generalized description of a number of different malformations of the heart or great vessels. The lesions characterizing the congenital defects are present at birth and may continue to develop during neonatal and growth periods. Cardiac exams may be performed by any veterinarian, although it is recommended that exams be performed by those with advanced training and diagnostic experience. Most common congenital heart defects are associated with the presence of a heart murmur, and a careful clinical examination emphasizing auscultation is the most expedient and cost effective examination method. The auscultation results may in some cases call for further examination, usually via echocardiography. The OFA examination protocol was developed in association with the America College of Veterinary Internal Medicine – Cardiology specialty group. For certification, dogs must be at least 12 months of age. Based on the examination, the diagnosis is reported as normal or Grades 1 through 6, depending on severity, for dogs where a murmur was detected. For normal dogs receiving an OFA number, the number will indicate whether the examination was performed by a practitioner, specialist, or boarded cardiologist. The number will also differentiate those dogs whose exam included echocardiography. The OFA is currently working with the ACVIM Cardiology specialty group to develop an advanced clearance which will consider adult onset cardiac disease such as SAS and DCM.
The databases above represent the largest numbers of OFA registrations; however, the OFA also maintains databases for Legg-Calve-Perthes, shoulder OCD, sebaceous adenitis, congenital deafness, and many diseases based on DNA testing such as von Willebrands, degenerative myelopathy, and primary lens luxation.
The OFA Website
Where the OFA databases themselves are the core of meeting the organization’s objective to provide control programs to lower the incidence of inherited disease, the OFA’s website, www.offa.org, provides breeders the primary toolset to make more informed breeding decisions. Over one million individual health screening results are available on the OFA’s website. Using the site’s sophisticated search engine, users can create broad queries such as a search for all records for a specific breed, or very narrow queries such as a search for a specific dog. Search criteria include breed, registration number, OFA number, registered name, sex, birthdate ranges, database, test result, and reporting timeframe. These criteria can be used singly, or in any combination to create robust searches which are as broad or narrow as those described above.
Once an individual dog record is accessed, it displays detailed information of all recorded health tests, including results, age at the time of testing, and any resulting certification numbers issued (if appropriate). All dog records also provide summary health information and one click links for the dog’s sire and dam, as well as any full siblings, half siblings, and offspring contained in the databases. For families of dogs where health testing has been routine, this can mean access to hundreds of results on a single screen from a single search.
Each dog’s individual record also provides access to a unique feature called the vertical pedigree. While all dog breeders are familiar with the traditional horizontal pedigree which expands with each generation from left to right, the vertical pedigree takes the traditional pedigree and expands it vertically. The vertical view provides a summary of health results for any full siblings in the database. As an example, when comparing two dogs in a vertical view, we may see that while both dogs had OFA Good hips, the full siblings of one dog all had either Good or Excellent hips, while the full siblings of the other Good dog had a mixture of normal hips including Goods and Fairs, but also a few dysplastic ones as well. This familial type data is a very powerful tool when using pedigree research to make genotypic assumptions using phenotypic data. These same concepts can be used whether applied to health, conformation traits, or working ability. The key is to have a tool to collect the data and make it available in a user friendly, searchable database.
The OFA website is highly functional and is not limited to database searches. The site contains disease information, details regarding the OFA’s processes, database statistics, fee tables, information on club sponsored health clinics around the country, downloadable reports, downloadable OFA application forms, references, recommended reading, and useful links. The site averages over 2 million page requests per month.
OFA BREED HEALTH SURVEYS
Searchable by Breed - The OFA offers breed surveys for a number of breed parent clubs.
CHIC – The Canine Health Information Center
The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) is a program sponsored and administered by the OFA. CHIC is a centralized canine health database collecting health test results from multiple sources. Participation is initiated at the parent club level, with the clubs determining the most appropriate health screening protocol for their particular breed. Dogs tested in accordance with the parent club recommended protocol are assigned “CHIC Numbers” and their results are available on the OFA. CHIC is not about normalcy. It is about encouraging health screening in accordance with a parent club determined testing protocol, sharing test results, and increasing health awareness, all in an effort to improve the overall health of the breed and allow breeders to make more informed breeding decisions. As a result, dogs do not need to necessarily test normal. Abnormal test results, as long as they are available in the public domain so others can benefit from the information, still qualify dogs for CHIC. Since its implementation with 8 pilot breeds in 2001, over 90% of the AKC recognized breeds participate in the program, and to date, over 100,000 dogs have been tested in accordance with their breed specific requirements and been issued CHIC numbers. Since dog breeding in the US is not regulated, the CHIC program has become a primary means to differentiate the efforts of responsible breeders in the US that factor health testing into their breeding decisions.
The CHIC DNA Repository
An additional component of the CHIC program has been the establishment of a canine DNA bank. With the completion of the mapping of the canine genome, canine health research at the molecular level will continues to increase exponentially. To date, research has been both delayed and hampered by a lack of appropriate DNA samples. Too often research projects have spent up to a year in the sample gathering phase, before the real research efforts could even begin. The mission of the CHIC DNA bank is to facilitate the research process by collecting samples, along with the corresponding critical elements – pedigree and phenotypic health history – and making the samples available to approved research efforts up front.
Samples may be submitted via blood or cheek swabs. The Molecular Genetics Lab at the University of Missouri is the bank’s laboratory partner for blood, performing the receipt, extraction, and storage of purified DNA. The Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California – Davis is the lab partner for receipt and storage of cheek swabs. Both laboratories have a long history of successfully collecting and utilizing DNA samples for canine health related research.
The DNA Bank was implemented in the fall of 2005 with Golden Retrievers as the pilot breed. Since that time, over 20,000 DNA samples have been successfully banked, and over 5,000 samples have been distributed for research at more than 15 leading research facilities and universities internationally.