Dogs homozygous for the EIC mutation were identified in 8 of 174 CCLR-affected Labradors (4.6%, 95% CI 2.21–8.95%) and 3 of 139 CCLR-normal Labradors (2.2%, 95% CI 0.46–6.44%), which is not a significant difference. Because the number of dogs affected with EIC in the overall pet population of Labradors is low, it is not surprising that we only detected a small number of dogs concomitantly affected with EIC susceptibility and CCLR. It was entirely unknown prior to this study how frequently dogs would be concomitantly affected with EIC and CCLR, therefore several hundred were recruited. Ultimately, though, this study was under-powered to draw strong conclusions about association of EIC and CCLR, due to the relative rarity of dogs with both conditions. This sample cohort demonstrates that CCLR and EIC-susceptibility might be unrelated (p = 0.357, Fisher’s exact test), and, if they are associated, that CCLR is not associated with large increases in EIC occurrence. The test for differences in the proportion of EIC-susceptibility in CCLR cases versus CCLR controls (a 2.4% difference was observed) tells us that this difference could go as much as 2% in one direction and 7% in the other direction, and this is not likely to be a clinically significant difference.
The overall EIC genotype distribution was 67.5% homozygous for the wild-type allele, 29.0% heterozygous, and 3.5% homozygous for the mutant allele (EIC-susceptible dogs). Because our entire cohort was recruited based on CCLR status, it is inappropriate to use this group to calculate prevalence of CCLR in the Labrador breed. However, since these dogs were only subsequently tested for EIC, and they were not recruited based on collapse phenotype, this represents an opportunity to examine EIC frequency in the breed. Our finding that 3.5% of 313 dogs were EE is consistent with the overall-breed frequency of 3% as previously reported , and it is also consistent with the reported percentage of 2.9% EE in “pet” Labrador lines . The 29.0% carrier rate observed in the present study is also consistent with previously reported carrier frequencies: 37%  and 27.9% . These results confirm that the mutant EIC allele is very common in the Labrador breed.
Actual collapse status of the 11 EIC-susceptible dogs is unknown due to the lack of follow-up investigation, which was not undertaken due to the post hoc nature of the EIC testing and the fact that penetrance of EIC-susceptible dogs actually experiencing collapse has been examined in other work. The EIC-associated mutation is not fully penetrant; previous work has shown that dogs homozygous for the EE allele and therefore collapse-susceptible can be phenotypically normal and not experience collapse. One study reported 9% of EE dogs had no history of collapse , while another reported that an average of 83.6% of EE Labradors had a collapse event by 4 years of age , indicating that an average of 16.4% of homozygous mutant dogs had not collapsed by that age. The authors suggested that this could be due to the dogs never having been exposed to sufficient exercise or excitement to trigger the collapse episode, or due to modifying genetic and/or environmental factors. Therefore, it is possible to speculate that not all 11 EE dogs in the present study experienced a collapse episode.
In our cohort, which was recruited without respect to sex or sterilization status, a sex distribution difference was observed between dogs with CCLR versus dogs without CCLR. However, while this was statistically different (p = 0.031, OR 1.65, 95% CI 1.03–2.66), it may not be clinically significant. With hundreds of dogs in the study, a more precise calculation of statistical significance is possible; this can allow detection of smaller (and clinically irrelevant) differences. The group of CCLR cases was 59% female while only 47% of the CCLR control dogs were female; given the confidence interval for these proportions (38.7% to 66.2%, using the Agresti-Coull method), there could be almost twice as many female CCLR cases as female CCLR controls in the global population of Labradors retrievers. This difference, if observed, likely would have clinical significance. However, one could argue that the confidence interval also includes the possibility of 50% case:50% control for both sexes. In effect, these findings can only suggest that female dogs may be predisposed to CCLR.
Some previous studies comprising multiple breeds of dog have not detected a sex effect on rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament. For example, Duval et al. did not detect a difference in prevalence of CCLR between females and males in a sample cohort of 201 dogs . Guthrie et al. similarly reported that sex did not significantly affect the incidence of developing or presenting with bilateral CCLR in a report comprising 426 dogs representing 44 different breeds . While both of these studies included sterilization status as a variable, and Duval et al. did detect an increased risk for CCLR in neutered males and females compared to intact males and females, respectively, neither of these studies recorded the dogs’ age at sterilization, which may have resulted in different findings. Conversely, in a 2011 study by Adams et al., females were found to be twice as likely to suffer CCLR compared to males (189 cases, multiple breeds) . Very few studies have focused exclusively on Labradors with CCLR. One study looking specifically at Labrador retrievers determined that sex did not affect likelihood or rate of rupturing the contralateral CCL after tearing the first CCL, or presenting initially with bilateral CCL ruptures, however this study only represented 94 Labradors and had no CCLR-normal dogs . A Labrador-specific study by Hart et al. that included CCLR cases and controls reported 2.4% of males (19/801) were CCLR-affected and 2.5% of females (17/681) were CCLR-affected .
Taken together, it is unclear whether the statistically significant difference in sex distribution of CCLR-cases versus CCLR-controls in the present study is clinically significant or not, particularly since previous work offers mixed results and many previous studies did not consider age at sterilization as a variable. The question of sex differences for CCLR deserves further investigation. As a final perspective, it is interesting to note that the rate of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture in humans is three times higher in females compared to males . There are likely multiple reasons for this sex difference in humans.
Human orthopedic disease studies typically do not need to consider the effects of lost gonadal hormones (at least in premenopausal women), whereas the majority of US dogs are sterilized, often at a young age, and there has been concern that the early loss of gonadal hormones may influence orthopedic disease development later in life. The removal of gonadal hormones can delay long-bone growth plate closure [18, 19], which may result in stifle joint angle or other changes that predispose the dog to CCLR. One study examining CCLR across several breeds found that sterilized dogs of either gender were significantly more likely than sexually intact dogs to have CCLR . The present study had sterilization status information for all but two dogs and counters these findings, as no statistically significant differences were observed between dogs that were intact versus those that were sterilized when examining CCLR frequency separately amongst females and males (Females: p = 0.485, OR 2.25, 95% CI 0.41—22.89; Males: p = 0.141, OR 0.503, 95% CI 0.19—1.27). A more balanced population of intact dogs to sterilized dogs would allow drawing of stronger conclusions; as it stands, the confidence intervals, particularly with the females, are wide.
Since there were so few intact dogs in the present study, the subset of all sterilized dogs were examined for the age at which they sterilized, and whether this was associated with CCLR status. Differences were observed between those sterilized at a young age (≤ 1 year) versus an older age (>1 year). For both sexes, more CCLR cases were observed in dogs sterilized at a young age compared to those sterilized at an older age, and these differences were statistically significant for the females, though they were not quite statistically significant in the males.
Other studies have also examined the age at sterilization of CCLR cases. In one study, which looked exclusively at Golden Retrievers, a significantly higher percentage of both male and female early-neutered (sterilized at < 12 months) dogs had CCLR compared to intact dogs and to late-neutered (≥ 12 months) dogs . Another study, which examined exclusively German Shepherds, found a significantly higher occurrence of CCLR in both males and females that were neutered at less than one year of age compared to intact dogs of the same sex . A Labrador retriever-specific study found that males neutered at ages < 6 months had significantly more CCLR than intact males and that CCLR was increased in females with early sterilization, but not at a significant level . These studies, with the exception of the Golden Retriever study , make statistical comparisons between a neutered-young group and the intact group, while the present study is comparing the frequency of CCLR cases exclusively in sterilized dogs (less than one year versus over one year at sterilization); therefore not all results are entirely comparable.
While it is tempting to simply conclude that sterilization at a younger age predisposes a dog to CCLR, and the present cohort supports such a conclusion, it should not be ignored that there were many CCLR controls, both male and female, that were similarly neutered at a young age. Also, it is important to note that in this study typically the owner, and not a medical record, provided the age at the time of their pet’s sterilization, introducing a potential inaccuracy. In addition, if there is a relationship between age of sterilization and CCLR occurrence, there is no current biologic explanation for a dichotomous (e.g., < or > 12 months of age) relationship. It is difficult to draw firm conclusions regarding what impact sterilization, at any age, has on development of CCLR with only this cohort, but, taken together with results from previous studies, these data suggest that early sterilization might be a risk factor for eventual development of CCLR. Prospective evaluation of this association would address potential errors or bias in data collection and allow for a more precise evaluation of the relationship.
The lack of follow-up information on these dogs is a limitation of this study. Without lifetime follow-up, it is possible that a subset of any of the controls (sterilized or intact) may have developed CCLR at a time after their enrollment in the study. Additionally, a subjective body condition score (BCS) was not consistently or uniformly assessed in this cohort of dogs. Excess weight has been suggested to contribute to CCLR [6, 14], but does not appear to be predictive for whether or not a Labrador will rupture the contralateral CCL after tearing the first CCL . Certainly carrying excess weight is assumed to add to the biomechanical stresses on a joint.
Finally, given the size of the present cohort (~300 dogs, and for the age at sterilization data <200 dogs), these results should be considered preliminary, and in need of further confirmation in larger populations. Such limitations deserve to be addressed in future work attempting to better understand the risks and causes of CCLR in Labrador retrievers, which hopefully will shed further light on what risk, if any, is truly contributed by EIC status, sex, sterilization status, and age at sterilization.