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Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs


The most common cause of elbow pain and front limb lameness in large and giant breed is Elbow Dysplasia. The start of the symptoms can be seen around the age of four to ten months and diagnosis usually occurs between four to eighteen months. Breeds most usually affected include Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Bearded Collies, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain dogs, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundland breeds and Chow Chows. It is believed to be caused by a growth of abnormal cells, bone or tissue where four developmental abnormalities lead to a malformation of the elbow joint and degeneration. Elbow Dysplasia is more likely to occur in male dogs rather than females.

Identifying Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs


As mentioned the signs of Elbow Dysplasia can be seen in the puppy as young as four months old though not all affected dogs are obvious. Between the ages of six and twelve months the clinical signs in some dogs are at their worst. Then as they grow older while there will still be symptoms that may not be as severe. However there will be permanent changes in the joint that can cause problems and may need treating with medication or even surgery to make him more comfortable. In some cases after surgery the problems can be completely removed however in some dogs this a lifetime condition to be managed.


Holding the leg out away from the body while walking

Putting no weight at all on a front leg

Mature dogs develop acute elbow lameness due to advanced joint degeneration

Joint fluids build up

Dog expresses pain when flexing or extending the elbow

Advanced degeneration can lead to the bone and joint grating when moving

Exercise aggravates either persistent or intermittent lameness

Stiffness in dog noticeable after he gets up from resting

Grating of bone and joint with movement may be detected with advanced degenerative joint disease

The dog's range of motion is diminished

What Causes Elbow Dysplasia

There are a number of conditions that can cause elbow dysplasia in dogs including;

1) UAP (Ununited Anconeal Process) –

The anconeal process is a projection that connects the ulna to the humerus. This happens in a normal growing puppy between the age of twenty to twenty four weeks. With UAP the anconeal process does not fuse as it should with the ulna, it holds in place with ligaments but that does not keep it stabilized enough. This means the dog's join is unstable and it can be painful for them.

2) Joint Incongruity –

This condition means the elbow joint has not formed to fit together correctly. This usually happens because the bones have not grown at the same rate. The wear and tear on the joint increases and usually leads to general arthritis.

3) OCD (Osteochondrosis) –

In OCD the cartilage and bones of the elbow joint do not form correctly having a thick cartilage as cushion rather than a thin layer. The cartilage gets its nutrients from the synovial fluid but in OCD cases this fluid cannot reach all of the thick cartilage. This causes it to break down and in a lot of cases the dog's cartilage will separate from the bone beneath. This leads to either loose cartilage floating in the joint or a flap of cartilage. The joint will swell and be painful.

4) FCP (Fragmented Coronoid Process) –

The coronoid is an area of the ulna and helps hold in place the humerus bone and helps the dog by distributing its weight via the joint. In FCP it degrades and can break off causing pain in the dog and leading to other potential problems in the joint.

Diagnosing and Treating Elbow Dysplasia

When you visit the vet he or she will most likely rule out other possible reasons for the symptoms before diagnosing elbow dysplasia. Sometimes when the joint has been through some trauma or an infection there may be an arthritic condition occur afterward which will need to be looked into and ruled out. Other potential causes of these symptoms include a tumor so a number of tests will be done to take a closer look including x-rays of both elbow to compare then, a CT scan or MRI, a sample of joint fluid will be sent for testing to a laboratory and an arthroscopic exam done.

Treatment depends on what was found with the examinations. Surgery is possible and if this is the case you will need to take care of him at home afterward. Cold pack the elbow joint to relieve swelling and help with the pain. Apply it for five to ten minutes every eight hours and continue to do so for three to five days. If your vet's instructions differ slightly follow them.

To build up the dog's strength again and get him to bear weight on the limb you will need to have him do range-of-motion exercises. Your vet will show you what movements to do with your dog depending on how severe his condition was and where it was located. However make sure you keep activity severely restricted for at least four weeks to give him time to heal. Just go with light movement on the joint to stop abnormal rigidity or muscle wasting from happening.


There are medications that can be prescribed for your dog to help him with the pain and reduce his swelling. You may also be given something for slowing in arthritic issues down and protection of the joint cartilage. Control the weight of your dog to help decrease the load he has to carry on his joints.

Preventing Elbow Dysplasia

This is a genetic trait so avoid breeding animals who are affected. If your dog is diagnosed with it have it spayed or neutered and let the breeder you got it from know.

If your dog is at increased risk avoid promoting rapid growth with an excessive intake of nutrients.

Restrict weight gain in at risk puppies.