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Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs


Bone lengthening is a continuous process in which rapidly growing cartilage at the ends of bones becomes calcified and is gradually incorporated into the bone. Osteochondrosis is a disease caused by a defect in the calcification process of this growing cartilage. In a dog with osteochondrosis, the cartilage is calcified in an irregular instead of a uniform fashion. This creates areas of uncalcified, defective cartilage over the ends of the bones. With stress on the joint, the defective cartilage breaks into loose fragments called joint mice. This process, which is accompanied by joint pain and swelling, is called osteochondritis dissecans.

Osteochondrosis most often involves the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint. It also occurs in the elbow, where it is responsible for many of the defects of elbow dysplasia. Osteochondrosis occurs less commonly in the stifle and hock joints. In the stifle, osteochondrosis involves the femur at its articulation with the tibia. Symptoms of intermittent lameness may look like luxating patella. In the hock, osteochondrosis involves the articulation between the tibia and the talus (the first bone of the hock).

Osteochondrosis is a common disease of rapidly growing large-breed puppies. The first signs show up at between 4 and 8 months of age. The symptoms may resemble those of panosteitis (see this page), another disease that causes lameness in growing puppies. The typical presentation is gradual lameness that seems to stem from the shoulder, elbow, stifle, or hock in a young dog of one of the large breeds. Lameness often gets worse with exercise. Symptoms may appear following a traumatic episode such as jumping down stairs. Pain is present on flexing and extending the joint. X-rays may show fragmentation of joint cartilage or a loose piece of cartilage in the joint. The diagnosis may not be made definitively until the dog is 18 months of age.

Treatment: Medical treatment involves restricting activity and prescribing analgesics and chondroprotectants,as described for the treatment of degenerative joint disease. Preparations that contain polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (such as Adequan) may be of benefit in limiting further cartilage degeneration and relieving pain and inflammation.

In most cases surgery will be required to scrape away defective cartilage and remove any joint mice. The best results are obtained in the shoulder and elbow joints. The results are less favorable for the hock, which is a small joint, and for the stifle, which is a more complex joint. In the hock and stifle, degenerative joint disease is likely to occur over time.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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