OFA X-Rays Are Not Difficult!

To our amazement, and disappointment, the biggest obstacle to our hip program has been, and continues to be, veterinarians. Although a majority of vets have been supportive and helpful,  our puppy buyers regularly encounter resistance when they ask for the hip x-rays we require, especially regarding the use of anesthesia which we recommend against.

Most people don’t have any idea what the process of getting an OFA hip x-ray is actually like, so they don’t know when the information they are given is false. Let’s go over some of what our buyers face, and then we’ll take a look at the x-ray procedure.

Here are some of the most common roadblocks our customers run into with their veterinarian:

  • The BIG one: “You can’t take an OFA x-ray without anesthesia.” Yes you can. The only exception is a very strong dog that fights the positioning, in which case they can be given a little sedation. We haven’t sedated one since 1996.
  • “The OFA requires anesthesia.” Not true. Here is the veterinarian info from the bottom of an OFA application. If anesthesia was required there wouldn’t be an option to check “Physical restraint only”.

  • “You can’t get good positioning unless the dog is anesthetized.” Again, this may be true for dogs that are big and very strong but otherwise it is not the case, especially if the dog has a prominent spine as English setters have. If the dog is awake the muscle resistance actually helps keep the body lined up.
  • “I won’t do it without anesthesia because I don’t want to expose my employees to more radiation.” The process is identical whether the dog is awake or under anesthesia.
  • “The dog might bite someone.” If that’s a concern the dog can be muzzled.
  • “It’s painful.” Unless the dog is dysplastic this excuse is hogwash! See video below.
  • “OFA evaluations can’t be done before 2 years of age.” From the OFA website:
    “The OFA accepts preliminary consultation radiographs on puppies as young as 4 months of age for evaluation of hip conformation.”
  • “Dogs have to be registered in order to do an OFA”, or “They have to be registered with the AKC”. Not true. If a dog is not registered it will be assigned a study number that includes “NOREG” (we have over 300 reports on file that were done like this).

There are more, but these are the most common.

Here is what it’s really like.

It’s understandably hard to know what to think when your vet is using these arguments. Yesterday we took three dogs in for hip x-rays and shot a video of the process so everyone can see what’s involved.

  • The first dog is a 6 month old puppy. In our experience puppies of this age are virtually always calm and easy to deal with.
  • Second dog is an adult that is strong and fought the positioning more.
  • Third is another adult. She’s not dead at the end, just relaxed and being obedient:-)

The vet has to be able to see the positioning for the hip films, so experience makes a big difference. Our vet got acceptable x-rays first try on all three of these dogs, but to be fair he sometimes takes more than one before he’s satisfied with the positioning.

Two people are all that’s necessary, but a third one in the middle can make it easier to line things up well.

The X-Rays

Here are the 3 hip x-rays from yesterday in the same order as the films were taken.

2019-20 Season Wrap Up

Overall we had a good season and got a lot done with the dogs. Our Sage Grouse season remains closed so our hunting began in Wisconsin in October. We found plenty of Grouse but most were still in broods, which was a little odd for this time of year. Our focus was on the youngsters we started the last couple years and they continued to develop nicely. Here’s a pretty poor shot of Feather pointing a Grouse:

Feather on Point
Feather Pointing A Grouse

And Misty with the first Grouse she’s had shot over her:

Lisa with Misty and grouse
Misty’s First Grouse

On this trip Misty developed a unique style when handling birds. When she smells birds she goes straight to them like a laser beam. She crouches and does kind of a fast stalk, very intense, no side to side motion – just straight to the bird. Very positive – no messing around.

OK, we can’t resist a puppy photo. Heather came from Thorn Plum Kennels in NY.  She’s a nice pup we’re hoping makes a good addition to our crew.

Cliff With Heather
Cliff With Heather

In December we headed to southern Idaho and spent a few days in some of our old Hun covers that we hadn’t hit in years. The birds were still there and they were spookier than ever. Small coveys that ran a lot and didn’t put up with any mistakes. A great challenge for the dogs and they were up to it. It was really nice to see the dogs handling tough birds like this even when we didn’t get shots at the flush.

We arrived in Kansas on New Year’s Eve for another RymanSetters.com Gathering and some Quail hunting. Birds were way down this year but we still managed to get some good hunts in. The RS.com Gathering was fun and informative as usual and we had quite a crowd this year.

Lisa With Thistle
Lisa With Thistle
Rick with Abby
Rick Walking In On Abby’s Point

A highlight for us was what we called a “parade”. We got together one morning for kind of a show and tell session before dispersing to hunt. Breeders present broke out their dogs and described the breeding and qualities of each dog. Very informative.

Breeders’ Show And Tell Session

We switched our focus to getting pups started and had fun watching them discover what life is about.

Dusty Pointing
Puppy Point / Dusty (Brook x Coulter)
Heath REsting Up
Heath Enjoying The Fireplace

Since we weren’t finding many birds we headed back to Idaho to finish out the season on Chukars.

Chukar Camp
Chukar Camp

Bird numbers weren’t spectacular but it was good enough to get a lot done with the dogs. Not to mention it’s beautiful country.

Tillie / Piper x Doc
Tillie (Piper x Doc)
Prince On Chukars
Cliff, Thistle and Misty
Cliff With Thistle And Misty
Fog Bank
Fog Bank Spilling Into Valley

We had great weather and lots of good dog work to wrap up our season. Memories that will carry us through until next year.


English Setters, Taurine, and Dilated Cardiomyopathy

I’ve been receiving a lot of inquiries regarding the news about reports of possible diet related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The reports are pretty scary and people are justifiably wondering what they should do. So, I’ve spent some time reading up on it.

Useful Info

First, here is a veterinarian oriented paper on the subject that I found to be informative. It mentions a number a variables that complicate determining what, if anything, is wrong.

These are recent releases from the FDA. If you just want a quick read that tells you a lot, go through the questions and answers.
FDA June Update
Vet-LIRN Investigation
FDA Questions and Answers

Download all of the reports:

This article covers a number of things pretty well.  1472_001-1
Thanks to Sue for sending this.

I consider Monica Segal to be an especially knowledgeable and rational person in regards to dog nutrition and diet formulation.
Don’t Panic – Thoughts on the FDA Report re DCM

Whole Dog Journal has some good tips about reading dog food labels and picking a formula. The commentary near the end regarding the way the news has been presented is worth pointing out.
Please Don’t Panic About the Grain-Free Thing

My Reactions

I think the sentiment that there is no need to panic just yet is correct. There is “a potential increase in cases of DCM in dogs not genetically predisposed”, and an “apparent” link between certain types of dog food, but nothing is conclusive at this point.

To put this in perspective, out of the estimated 77 million pet dogs in the US there are currently 515 suspected cases of diet related DCM reported, or 0.0006688%. Roughly one case per 150,000 dogs. Not all of these cases have been proven to be diet related, so the real number is likely less than 515.

Worst case this could be the tip of an iceberg, but at this point there isn’t enough data to determine if that’s the case, and there are too many variables in what they do have to draw any definitive conclusions. Hopefully the FDA will find some answers before too long. In the mean time the safe approach is to assume the increase is real, and that it has something to do with kibble formulas.

I think it’s the Legumes

There are good reasons to suspect that legumes could be causing problems. 93% of the reported foods contain them. Legumes have not been used in significant quantities for very long, they have high levels of anti-nutrients that aren’t neutralized in the kibble making process, and the protein is deficient in multiple amino acids. Plus the amount used has increased recently in order to address a high ash problem in meat meals- meals were reduced and legumes increased. Our dog food supplier has been warning me about the use of legumes for the last several years, and he is not at all surprised to see a rise in DCM.

I could be wrong, but I am skeptical that potatoes and some of the other so-called “exotic” ingredients are a problem. Some may be, but potatoes and tapioca for instance have been used for 20+ years with no issues, including no problems with the earlier grain-free foods that relied heavily on them.

Whole potatoes don’t provide much protein, so companies can’t substitute them for animal ingredients and still claim high protein levels like they’re doing with legumes. Legumes also happen to be far less expensive, especially compared to sweet potatoes, which cost more than meat meals.

Out of curiosity I searched through the FDA reported cases for “potato” and then looked at the ingredients for each food mentioned. This search only reinforced my doubts. With very few exceptions all of the foods that contain potatoes have legumes as a primary ingredient, usually more than the potatoes, and many of those are also low in animal protein. I only found 2 straight up formulas that use potatoes as the main starch. There are also 2 reported that have only tiny amounts of potato in them, and 4 that have extremely low or zero animal protein (2 are vegetarian). I question why they are even looking at potatoes.

Diet Recommendations

I am not a nutritionist, so keep that in mind. I am a breeder who is interested in nutrition and cares about it’s effects on the dogs. In a nutshell here is what I am going to do, and recommend, until the FDA figures out what is going on.

  • Don’t feed foods that are heavy in legumes.
  • Do feed formulas that have plenty of animal protein in them.
  • I doubt potatoes or grains matter at all, but if it makes you more comfortable limit potatoes and don’t feed grain-free.

One option is to simply use a food that doesn’t have any legumes in it, and no potatoes if you prefer. However, if you are currently using a food you like that does have some legumes, or are considering changing to a different food, here are details on how I read the labels and judge foods. Labels are not perfect or even trustworthy, but they will give you a general idea of what’s in a food.

First, do not rely on the name or the claims on the bag- very often these have little to do with what’s actually in the food.

A rough guide for determining whether an ingredient constitutes a large portion of a food is whether it is listed before or after the added fat, and whether there are multiple ingredients of the same type. The primary ingredients are listed before the first major fat source. Ingredients listed after the added fat are generally minor portions of a formula, as long as there aren’t multiples. Pea starch is used as a binder and is less of a concern than whole legumes, protein powders, or flours.

The FDA highlighted the cases of two Dobermans living in the same house that were diagnosed with diet responsive DCM. Both were eating a formula from the most commonly reported brand. Here are the main ingredients.

  • Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, chicken meal, whole green peas, whole red lentils, whole pinto beans, chicken liver, chicken fat, catfish meal, chickpeas, whole green lentils, whole yellow peas, lentil fiber, eggs, pollock oil…

Ingredients in pet foods are listed by weight before cooking. I crossed out the wet ingredients because once the water is cooked out of them it’s unlikely there will be enough dry weight left to qualify as primary ingredients.

Chicken meal is the heaviest dry ingredient, but to be listed first all it has to be is slightly heavier than the next ingredient. 3 out of the 4 heaviest ingredients are legumes, and there are also 4 more legumes after the chicken fat that if added together might constitute another primary ingredient. This food should be presumed to be predominantly legumes, not poultry. A very large percentage of the foods reported to the FDA were like this or worse.

Here are the primary ingredients of formulas from the next four brands with the highest number of reports:

  • Kangaroo, Kangaroo Meal, Peas, Chickpeas, Pea Flour, Sunflower Oil…
  • Beef, lentils, tomato pomace, sunflower oil…
  • Turkey, turkey meal, garbanzo beans, lentils, peas, potatoes, pea flour, chicken fat…
  • Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Peas, Dried Egg, Pea Starch, Chicken Fat…

Another thing you could do is refer to the the Vet-LIRN study mentioned in the FDA’s press releases as a guide. They are comparing grain-free dogs diagnosed with DCM to healthy grain-fed dogs. The requirement for the grain-fed group is that the foods must contain no more than 2 legume, pulse, or potato (including sweet potato) ingredients that must appear after the animal and grain ingredients.

Grain-free Choices

You’re not going to find a grain-free kibble that doesn’t contain potatoes or other “exotic” starch sources (anything other than certain grains has been labeled exotic). There are however a small number of them out there that eliminate or minimize either legumes or potatoes, sometimes both. A few use tapioca (cassava) or coconut for the main starch.


When considering foods that contain grain (in addition to determining the level of legumes) here are some of the things I consider. I’m not telling you to avoid the ones I avoid, just giving you some ideas to think about.

  • Whole corn (not corn gluten meal) is OK as a starch source if processed correctly so dogs can digest it. It has a bad reputation compared to other grains that isn’t really deserved. There are concerns about glyphosate and other chemicals due to GMO varieties.
  • Rice has arsenic.
  • Millet has some good points, but it is one of the few foods that has goitrogens that aren’t neutralized by cooking (fava beans are worse). Since ES have the highest rate of hypothyroid disease of any breed I avoid this.
  • Gluten grains are anecdotally associated with Hashimoto’s disease, the human equivalent of autoimmune thyroiditis in dogs. Cause and effect is not proven, and extrapolating to dogs is not proper, but I’m doing it anyway. Seems prudent to avoid.
  • Oats avoid the above problems but whole oats don’t seem to work very well in kibbles because of the husk. Rolled oats in a home prepared diet work fine.
  • The kibble we’re using right now has sorghum as the main plant ingredient. Brown rice is in there too, but as a minor ingredient so hopefully not too much arsenic: Chicken Meal, Pork Meal, Grain Sorghum, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Brown Rice…

Conventional Kibbles

Many of the Golden Retriever people seem to be jumping to the old style of corn gluten meal, brewer’s rice, or soy based formulas that are endorsed by vet schools. These are highly refined foods made mainly from cheap by-product types of ingredients. They rely more heavily on added vitamins, minerals and amino acids to meet AAFCO guidelines. Here is one that claims to be designed specifically for setters.

  • Brewers rice, chicken by-product meal, chicken fat, soy protein isolate, corn, natural flavors, dried plain beet pulp, fish oil, pea fiber, rice hulls, vegetable oil…

When we switched away from foods with similar ingredients our vet bills went down and we saw improvements in performance and stamina, so I can’t comfortably recommend them for long term use.  However, if you feel safer going that route until any problems with kibble formulations get worked out, these foods are not going to kill your dog or anything.

Home Prepared Foods

I think this can be the healthiest choice, and is undoubtedly the best way to provide dietary taurine. However, I highly recommend against it unless you are willing to spend many hours of research learning how to do it correctly so you don’t cause harm. Or better yet hire someone who does know how to design a diet that meets the individual dog’s nutrient needs.

English Setters and Taurine

So now to what is probably the most important thing I found in all of this. The first paper in the links above mentions English setters as one of the breeds that might be predisposed to taurine deficiency related DCM (the same author has also written this elsewhere). There is no reference to the original source of that information so I can’t comment on how much data there is, but to be cautious it’s probably best to assume there is something to it. And there is no downside to making sure a dog gets enough dietary taurine.

Taurine is not considered essential for dogs because they synthesize it from other amino acids. If setters really are prone to taurine deficient DCM it is because at least some of them don’t synthesize taurine very well.

Poor taurine synthesis has been proposed as one reason why Golden Retrievers are over-represented in the recent reports of DCM. There are reasons to suspect the numbers could just be due to reporting bias for that breed, but it’s also possible Goldens are more sensitive to taurine deficiency in the diet or anything in the food that interferes with taurine. 

Even normal dogs can’t make enough taurine when they are under stress. Traveling, working in the field, hunting, pregnancy and nursing, etc. are all stressful enough to cause this to happen. So, with our hunting setters we may have a double whammy going on here.

The best way to ensure enough dietary taurine is to feed some extra foods that are good sources. It doesn’t seem like the amount of taurine in various foods is very well established, but a couple of sources consistently mentioned are seafood and raw meat. I’ve seen suggestions like giving a can of sardines once a week.

Using a taurine supplement may be worth considering (and possibly L-carnitine, although I have read mixed information on how useful it is). Taurine is available in bulk powders that are affordable. It would not be a big deal to put a little on top of the food on a hunting trip for instance, and it may be beneficial full time with English setters. That’s something I will be considering for our own dogs. A little canned mackerel or sardines every few days wouldn’t be all that difficult either, and you would get the added benefit of some omega 3 fatty acids.

Giving the dogs a reasonable amount of taurine, either through foods or supplements, can’t do any harm and may help prevent DCM. Maybe learning about doing this for our setters will be a side benefit of the grain-free scare.



Breeders of Classic foot hunting English Setters from Ryman and other close working bloodlines.

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