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Causes of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

A Painful Joint Condition

By Meredith Alling. January 17, 2014 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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An Old Golden Retriever

Elbow dysplasia is a potentially debilitating form of arthritis that is usually found in large breed dogs and senior dogs. Find out what causes elbow dysplasia and what you can do to prevent and cope with it.

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You’ve probably heard of hip dysplasia, but what about elbow dysplasia in dogs? This painful condition is common in many large breed dogs, and can really affect their quality of life.

Because elbow dysplasia causes swelling and pain in your dog’s elbows, it may result in difficulty walking, exercising, and even standing up. Your dog may not be able to walk or play as much as they would like to, and you may find that they choose to sit or lie down the majority of the time.

But what causes this debilitating condition? Let’s take a look.

Causes of Elbow Dysplasia

The word dysplasia refers to any abnormal development of cells, organs, or tissues. Elbow dysplasia, therefore, is an abnormal development of the elbow.

A dog’s elbow joint is made up of three bones: the humerus, the radius, and the ulna. These bones are supposed to fit together perfectly to form the elbow joint, but in dogs with elbow dysplasia, a developmental problem results in abnormal joint formation.

There are four different types of developmental defects that can appear in a dog’s elbow: 

  • Fragmented coronoid process (FCP): A small fragment of the ulna bone has broken off and floats around inside of the elbow joint, causing irritation to the lining of the joint and deterioration to the cartilage of the humerus bone.
  • Ununited anconeal process (UAP): A bone outgrowth within the elbow becomes detached and causes irritation and degeneration of the joint.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD): A small piece of joint cartilage becomes loose and detaches from the surface of the joint. This causes irritation and pain.
  • Growth rate incongruity: When the radius bone and ulna bone grow at different speeds, it can cause an abnormal curvature of the radius bone. Because the two bones don’t fit together properly, surface cartilage can wear down quickly.

Elbow dysplasia can become more severe if your dog is putting too much stress on the defective joint because they are overweight, or if they are engaging in activities that create a pounding effect on the joint (for example, running on asphalt).

Breeds Likely to Develop Elbow Dysplasia

In general, elbow dysplasia tends to affect large breed dogs. Breeds that are often affected by elbow dysplasia include: Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Newfoundland, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Chinese Shar-Pei.

Most times, puppies begin showing signs of elbow dysplasia between 4 and 10 months of age. Some dogs may not show signs until they reach adulthood and the condition has progressed to degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis.

While it may be difficult to predict this condition with a mixed breed dog, if you plan to purchase from a breeder, you should ask them to provide documentation that the puppy’s parents have been screened for elbow dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

What to do About Elbow Dysplasia

If your dog is showing symptoms of elbow dysplasia, contact your veterinarian. They will typically diagnosis the problem through a physical examination and X-rays. There are number of treatment options available for dogs suffering from elbow dysplasia, including medications, therapies, supplements, and surgeries. Your veterinarian will recommend the best treatment for your dog.

More on Dog Joint Health

5 Ways to Prevent Joint Problems in Your Dog
Joint Health Products for Dogs with Arthritis
A Joint Health Exercise Routine for Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Elbow Dysplasia at a glance

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  • 1Elbow dysplasia is condition caused by an abnormal development of the elbow
  • 2There are four types of developmental defects that can occur in a dog’s elbow
  • 3Large breed dogs are most affected, and some breeds are predisposed
  • 4Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is suffering from elbow dysplasia