Elbow dysplasia in dogs is a painful condition that can occur as some puppies grow. Some dogs are more predisposed to it than others. Learn more about what causes elbow dysplasia in dogs, how it’s treated, and prognosis after treatment.
What Causes Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?
Elbow dysplasia normally starts to affect puppies when they are between 5 and 18 months old. Typically, this condition affects medium-to-large breeds and is often hereditary. If a puppy has elbow dysplasia, either one or both of its elbow joints will start to grow incorrectly. There are three places in the elbow where dogs can get elbow dysplasia. Depending on the dog, they may have elbow dysplasia in one or more of these areas.
The three different abnormalities are:
- Ununited anconeal process (UAP)
- Fragmented coronoid process (FCP)
- Osteochondritis of the elbow joint (OCD)
Studies show that genetic traits usually determine which abnormalities a puppy may get. Puppies from the same litter or family may all have elbow dysplasia as they grow. Your dog’s environment may also determine if they get elbow dysplasia. Possible environmental factors include diet and level of exercise, as well as the environment their mother was in while your puppy was in the womb.
Some breeds of dogs have a higher risk of getting elbow dysplasia. These include:
- Basset Hound
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- German Shepherd
- Great Dane
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
What Does Elbow Dysplasia Look Like in Dogs?
There are several symptoms of elbow dysplasia in dogs that you can look out for in your puppy. First, you may notice that your dog gets stiffness in their front legs that causes them to limp. The limp is usually worse after exercising and doesn’t go away even after your dog is rested. Cold, damp weather can also affect your dog’s joints. Over time, the stiffness and limp get worse, usually over a period of weeks or months. If both front legs are affected, it might be difficult to notice or diagnose since it might just look like an uneven gait.
In some serious cases, your dog’s elbows might become swollen and puffy. You may notice that their front paws point out or that their elbows stick out at a strange angle. Since elbow dysplasia in dogs is painful and usually leads to canine arthritis, your dog might not be excited to play or even go for a walk.
These symptoms can cause your dog to lose a normal range of motion and you may eventually hear a crunching noise at their elbow joints. Your dog’s pain may even progress into lameness.
Treatment of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for elbow dysplasia in dogs. But diagnosing it and giving your dog proper care can help them manage their pain and symptoms.
Diagnosing Elbow Dysplasia. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, your vet will give your dog a physical exam. Next, your vet will perform radiographs of the elbow joints to get a closer look. Your vet may ask to give your dog a sedative or short-acting anesthetic so that they can get your dog into the right position to take the radiographs. This will also keep your dog calm throughout the process, which can be uncomfortable. In some cases, the images may be sent to a veterinary radiologist to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatment Options. Treatment depends on the severity of your dog’s elbow dysplasia. For moderate to serious cases, your vet will likely recommend surgery. Depending on which of the three abnormalities your dog has, surgery might include:
- Removing coronoid fragments or loose cartilage, if the cause is FCP.
- Changing the elbow joint to take your dog’s weight off of the damaged part of the elbow.
- Reattaching or removing a UAP to the medial joint compartment (if the cause is UAP).
- Surgically correcting the joint.
- Replacing the joint completely.
If your vet doesn’t think that your dog needs surgery, there are other things that you can do to treat and manage your dog’s pain:
- Weight control: Symptoms will worsen if your dog becomes overweight. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will avoid putting excess pressure on their joints.
- Exercise: Even if your dog isn’t excited to exercise, they need to keep fit to stay healthy. Regular, short walks without too much running or jumping will help.
- Medication: Your vet may give your dog anti-inflammatory medication to manage the pain.
- Rest: Make sure your dog gets proper rest, especially after exercising.
- Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy: These are great ways for your dog to get exercise and are both easy on the joints.
Elbow Dysplasia Prognosis. Elbow dysplasia in dogs needs lifelong treatment and management since your dog will probably get arthritis. Some dogs respond well to treatment and live happy, healthy lives. Others may have a shortened lifespan due to chronic pain and debilitating symptoms.