What is Elbow Dysplasia?
Elbow dysplasia is generally a disease that affects rapidly growing, large breed puppies, however, some dogs do not develop symptoms until after adulthood. Breeds that have been noted to have higher incidence of occurrence are German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundland Dogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and the Bernese Mountain Dogs. Typically the disease will be present in both elbows.
Elbow dysplasia is a general term meaning arthritis of the elbow joint. This condition is one of the most common causes of front leg lameness in canines.
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Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
- Limping after exercise
- Dog appears stiff when getting up from resting
- Joints) may appear swollen
- Pet is reluctant to play or to go on walks
- Dog’s feet will rotate outward
- Decreased range of motion of one or both elbows
- Abnormal gait
- Pet shows pain upon manipulation of elbow joints
- Dog may hold his elbows out or tightly into their bodies
There are four types of abnormal development that may appear in the canine’s elbow:
- Fragmented coronoid process - A small or large fragment of the bone breaks off and moves around inside of the elbow joint
- Osteochondritis dissecans - OCD of the elbow usually occurs in young dogs, who show signs of lameness in one or both limbs
- Growth rate incongruity - The radius bone and ulna bone grow at different rates
- Ununited anconeal process - A bone outgrowth within the elbow becomes detached and causes irritation and degeneration
Causes of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
Elbow dysplasia in canines is considered to be primarily a genetic developmental disease. Other possible contributing factors may be growth rate, high protein diet, trauma, hormonal imbalances, poor nutrition, rapid weight gain and level of exercise.
A canine’s elbow is made up of three bones, the ulna, the radius and the humerus. These three bones are meant to fit together to form the elbow joint. In ED there is an abnormal developmental problem which results in impaired joint formation.
Diagnosis of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
The veterinarian will take a thorough medical history of your pet. He will ask you when you first noticed the lameness and how it has progressed since. A physical examination will be performed; palpating each leg, checking for swollen joints. The veterinarian may ask to see your dog walk so he can see first-hand if there is limping, abduction of the elbows or an abnormal gait. Your veterinarian may want to take blood and a urine sample of your pet to get a baseline assessment of his overall health.
The most common diagnostic test is to take x-rays of the elbows. X-rays will show if any bone fragments are present within the joint and whether or not arthritis has developed. Usually the dog will need to be sedated or anesthetized to obtain good x-rays. Other diagnostic tests your veterinarian may recommend are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the computed tomography (CT) scan and aspirating a sample of fluid from the joint.
Treatment of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
The treatment will depend on the severity of disease in the elbow joint. In most cases of elbow dysplasia, general veterinary practitioners will refer patients to a veterinary orthopedic specialist to perform corrective surgery. Surgery can be performed to:
- Remove bone fragments or cartilage that are irritating the joint
- Help with alignment of bones
- Reattachment or removal of a bone within the elbow that is causing irritation and degeneration of the joint.
- In severely diseased elbow joint replacement may be needed
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to help reduce pain and inflammation of the elbow joint. Long term use of NSAIDs is not recommended because these drugs have been linked with cartilage damage.
Recovery of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs
Your pet’s surgeon will advise you of post-operative aftercare needed for your dog. Activity will be restricted to short walks for bathroom breaks. It may take 4 to 6 weeks until he can safely bear weight on the leg. Your pet may require physical therapy to help with his recovery. It will be important to maintain a healthy weight on your pet. Follow up visits will be necessary to check on the incision and to monitor the use of any NSAIDs.
Surgery for elbow dysplasia is usually a success in relieving pain and lameness. However, dogs that have several developmental abnormalities in their elbow joints may continue to have degenerative joint disease including arthritis. Therefore, life-long veterinary care will be needed to help slow the progression of arthritis in your pet’s elbow.
Elbow Dysplasia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My Sheltie, Zoey, has been limping on and off. About 2-3 weeks ago, my mom and I came home. When we wanted Zoey to get off her bed so we could pet her, she stood up and started limping towards us while waging her tail lower than usual. We thought it was her right front arm in pain, so we gently squeezed areas on it to see where she would wince or become startled. We even checked with a flashlight. Nothing. We ignored it afterwards and went to bed. It didn't happen again until about a week passed by. Zoey limped towards me and I called for my mom through the house. My mom was getting a bit suspicious that something was going on. It happened on and off, one day there and another day gone. My mom made an observation that whenever Zoey comes back inside from running around the backyard, she starts limping. She started limping again last night, hardly being able to walk at her moderate pace. Whenever she stands in one place and wags her tail, she slightly bends her wrist and lifts her right front foot off the ground, so we assume it's her right front foot (or leg) that's in pain. She's been limping today, so I think the pain since last night hasn't gone. Zoey also seems to want more attention than usual, deeply staring at me for what seems like wanting compassion. Note that I'm only 13 and I don't have any experience of pets acting this way. Neither of my parents have done anything to help with Zoey's pain, and it feels like I'm the one overly concerned about her, so I'm asking for help. Is it Elbow Dysplasia? Is it not? Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, I know it's a bit long, but I'm giving you all I've got. Again, thank you!
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My dog has been limping on his right front leg for 3 months. First vet took X-rays and said it was just inflammation in the humerous bone because of his high activity level and fast growing puppy and it was a self limiting diagnosis. I wanted a second opinion and orthopedic surgeon vet said it was most likely elbow dysphasia and recommended elbow arthroscopy. Do you think surgery is the only option? Or should I start less aggressive and more holistic?
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