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
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
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
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:
German Shepherd, Chow
English Springer Spaniel,
Bernese Mountain Dog, and
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
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.
Symptoms Of Dog Elbow Dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia is a painful condition caused by abnormal elbow
joint development. When the bones in the elbow do not grow
together properly to form a normal joint, it can cause
uncomfortable wear and tear. This results in pain and inflammation that can
affect the way your dog walks and how they behave.
Of course, there are many conditions that can result in a
decreased interest in exercise or a change in behavior, so how
can you tell if elbow dysplasia is the culprit? Here we will
review the telltale signs of this troublesome joint
Signs of Elbow Dysplasia
Because elbow dysplasia causes pain and swelling, the most
obvious symptoms will be physical. Your dog’s behavior may also change as they try
to avoid activities or circumstances that will make their
physical symptoms worse. The severity of the symptoms can vary
from dog to dog -- some may experience only occasional pain or
limping while others will have agonizing arthritis that affects
their every move.
Lameness: Since elbow dysplasia makes it painful
for your dog to walk, you may see limping or complete
lameness in the front legs. If a dog has elbow dysplasia in
both legs, they may not limp because both legs hurt equally.
If one leg hurts more than the other, however, you will
notice them favoring one leg. Many dogs with elbow dysplasia
in both legs will change the way they stand or shift their
weight to be more comfortable instead of limping. Your dog’s
lameness, limping, or shifting may get worse after exercise.
Gait: Many dogs with elbow dysplasia develop an
abnormal gait and the feet may appear to paddle, sweep, or
rotate outward when they walk. In addition, some dogs will
hold the affected elbow away from the body, while others will
pull it in tightly.
Swelling: Elbow dysplasia
commonly causes swelling of the elbow joint, and you may be
able to see and feel it on your dog. The swelling may be
especially apparent after exercise.
Pain: You may
see obvious signs of pain when your dog extends or flexes
their elbow. In fact, one of the ways that veterinarians
check for elbow dysplasia is by extending your dog’s front
legs and seeing how they react.
pain caused by elbow dysplasia can tire a dog out. Many dogs
affected by this condition will try to avoid exercise and
will prefer to spend their time sitting or lying down.
The symptoms of elbow dysplasia usually appear in puppies between the ages of 4 and
10 months. However, some dogs may not show symptoms until they
are into adulthood and degenerative joint disease --
or osteoarthritis --
has set it.
If your dog is showing signs of elbow dysplasia, don’t wait --
contact your veterinarian right away. Improper use of the
affected joint can make the problem worse, and the sooner you
begin treatment for the condition, the better your dog will
More on Dog Joint Health
5 Ways to Prevent Joint Problems in
Joint Health Products
for Dogs with Arthritis
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.