Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

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    What is Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

    Photo Credit: PetMD

    Elbow Dysplasia in dogs is defined as the abnormal development of the elbow joint in young, large, rapidly growing dogs. It involves abnormal bone growth, cartilage development, or joint stresses. A dog’s elbow joint is made up of three bones; the radius, ulna, and humerus. If the three bones fail to fit together properly, typically due to growth abnormalities, the result is an irregular weight distribution in areas of the joint that causes pain, lameness, and the development of arthritis. 

    What Causes Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

    Elbow Dysplasia in dogs is considered to be predominantly hereditary. However, there are other suspected contributing factors including trauma, growth rate, a diet high in protein, hormonal imbalances, and rapid weight gain. 

    When the bones that make up the elbow joint don’t come together perfectly, painful movement in the forelimb occurs leading to Elbow Dysplasia. However, there are a variety of other conditions in the elbow that are considered to be different variations of Elbow Dysplasia including: 

    • Ununited anconeal process (UAP)
    • Fragmented Anconeal Process (FMCP)
    • Osteochondritis dessicans of the medial humeral condyle (OCD)
    • Ununited medial epicondyle (UME) 
    • Elbow incongruity  

    Who’s at Risk of Developing Elbow Dysplasia?

    Elbow Dysplasia is primarily observed in large breed dogs such as Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. However, Elbow Dysplasia is not breed specific and can also affect smaller dogs and dogs of all breeds. 

    What are the Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

    There are a number of symptoms that your dog may display if they’re affected by Elbow Dysplasia. However, many of these symptoms may point at other conditions and be difficult to identify. Keep an eye out for symptoms including: 

    • Limping and stiffness may worsen following exercise and activity  
    • Reduction in wanting to go for walks or play 
    • Joints appear swollen 
    • Reluctant to play or go for walks 
    • Stiffness among rising 
    • Abnormal gait 
    • Front paws rotating outward 
    • Lameness 
    • Decreased range of motion in one or both elbows 

    How can Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs Be Prevented?

    Since Elbow Dysplasia is primarily a genetic condition, the best way to prevent the condition is to refrain from breeding dogs with the condition. Breeders have access to screening programs to ensure a dog has healthy elbows prior to breeding. This is the most reliable way to ensure the dog you’ve selected will not develop the condition. Early intervention is key for younger dogs. 

    However, there are other actions that can be taken to help reduce the risk of your dog developing Elbow Dysplasia. Joint supplements may be helpful as they improve function, reduce inflammation, and slow down the progression of joint damage. Glucosamine is the most common ingredient for joint health in dogs. It’s a naturally occurring compound in both human and animal’s bodies but the supplement helps keep up with cartilage health. It reduces pain and stiffness in arthritic joints by reducing inflammation, inhibiting cartilage loss, and improving cartilage repair.

    How is Elbow Dysplasia Diagnosed in Dogs?

    In order to properly diagnose your dog, a combination of an exam and diagnostics will be done by your vet. The vet will likely palpate each of your dog’s legs to check for swollen joints and observe your dog’s gait to determine if any lameness is present. Bloodwork may also be done in order to get an overall assessment of your dog’s health.  X-rays will likely need to be performed to show if any bone fragments are present within the joint and if arthritis has developed. Your vet may also recommend an MRI, CT scan, or aspirate a sample of fluid from the joint. 

    What is the Treatment for Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

    Photo Credit: Dogs Monthly

    There are a number of treatment options dependent upon the primary cause of the condition and severity. Treatment options range from day-to-day management and changes to corrective surgery. 

    In the majority of cases, corrective arthroscopic surgery is the best treatment. The surgery can be performed for a variety of reasons including: 

    • Removal of bone fragments or cartilage irritating the joint 
    • Help to align the bones 
    • Reattach or remove the bone within the elbow that is causing the degeneration of the joint
    • In severe cases, the elbow joint may be replaced 

    In cases where surgery isn’t necessary or viable for your dog, your vet may recommend the below to help treat the condition: 

    • Weight reduction in order to take stress off the elbow joint 
    • Restriction of exercise or reduction of exercise on hard surfaces such as concrete
    • Physical therapy 
    • Joint supplements 
    • Prescription medications including NSAIDs or corticosteroids to manage pain and reduce inflammation temporarily 
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