What is canine elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia refers to the abnormal development of the elbow joint. It occurs when the three bones in the elbow don’t quite fit together as they should, causing them to put pressure on certain parts of the joint. This can cause osteochondrosis (damage to the cartilage surface of the joint) and can lead to the development of osteoarthritis.


What are the symptoms?

Elbow dysplasia is especially common in large dog breeds, and most dogs start showing symptoms while they’re still growing. However, dogs with more mild elbow dysplasia may not show symptoms until later in life, once they have developed osteoarthritis.

The key symptoms to look for are:

  • Limping or stiffness (usually worse after exercise)
  • A loss of enthusiasm for walks or playful activities
  • Reduced weight-bearing on the limb or outward rotation of the paw
  • In severe cases, you may notice your dog develops swollen, puffy elbows

 

The diagnosis

After other causes have been ruled out – such as trauma to the joint, infection or tumours – your vet will conduct X-rays to examine your dogs’ joints. Because elbow dysplasia often occurs in both elbows, both joints will need to be examined. Your dog may also be referred for a CT or MRI scan to look for bone fragments.

 

How do we treat elbow dysplasia in dogs?

There is a wide range of treatments available for dogs suffering from elbow dysplasia. Your specialist will be able to advise on the best course of action for your pet.

Non-surgical management: Before surgery is considered, non-surgical options will be trialled to help manage your pet’s pain. Non-surgical treatments include bodyweight management, physiotherapy, exercise modification and anti-inflammatories.

Surgical management: If your dog doesn’t respond to non-surgical pain management, surgery may be recommended. The most common operation for elbow dysplasia is fragment removal surgery, which removes any loose fragments of cartilage and bone from the inside of the elbow joint.