Can Dogs Live with Elbow Dysplasia?

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Introduction

Elbow dysplasia is a condition that can affect any dog, anytime, and although painful and certainly not fun, your canine best-friend can definitely recover and live a normal, happy life after having it. At its basic level, elbow dysplasia is a broad term that describes unique, developmental abnormalities that a dog can have in their elbow joint.

The four main types include ununited anconeal process (UAP), fragmented coronoid process (FCP), osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), and elbow incongruency. 

All that to say, "some dogs inherit bad elbow luck", and it's relatively common in large and giant breeds. Doggos can be treated for elbow dysplasia with surgery, moderating weight, leading an exercise-filled life, and using rehab therapies. While surgery isn't always necessary, sometimes doggos need it after all other options have been exhausted.

Regardless, your pup can definitely live with elbow dysplasia! 

So, if you want to make sure you're keeping an eye out for the signs, treatments, symptoms, and causes of elbow dysplasia, read on! We've outlined the go-to guide on how to care for your dog with elbow dysplasia. 

Signs Your Doggo May Have Elbow Dysplasia

Luckily, elbow dysplasia is a fairly easy condition to spot. Unlike other internal issues, there are pretty obvious things that happen to your dog that will help you understand he has an issue with his elbows. 

For example, keep an eye out for lameness in his legs. Do you notice that he can't use one of them correctly? That might be an elbow issue. Also, check his natural gait. Have you noticed a change in the way he walks? Is he holding his elbow at odd angles? How about his fatigue level? Does he still want to move, play, run, and jump like normal? If you notice a change in any of these departments, it might be possible your poor doggo is suffering from an arthritic or agitated elbow joint. 

Check and make sure that your dog isn't tiring himself out with just walking, and if you notice he's stiff, weak, or having trouble standing, these are also good indicators that something might not be right. See if he pays one side of his body more attention, too. That could indicate which elbow he's trying to avoid pain on.

Body Language

Here are a few body cues your pup may be giving you to let you know something is wrong with his elbow:
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Panting
  • Ears drop
  • Pacing
  • Weakness

Other Signs

There are other signs to look out for, too. Don't ignore these symptoms if you see them:
  • Worsening Condition After Exercise or Play
  • Difficulty Getting Up
  • Stiffness
  • Panting and Drooling
  • Tiredness and Fatigue
  • Reluctance to Play, Run, or Jump
  • Favoring One Side Over the Other
  • Elbow Being Held at Strange Degrees or Angles
  • Abnormal Gait
  • Lameness

Historic Causes of Elbow Dysplasia

Historically, elbow dysplasia was thought to be caused by inherited deformities in the canine elbow joint. While still true, there can be a variety of other causes, as well. 

Yes, dogs can inherit elbow joint issues from their breeding line, and some dogs are far more predisposed to it than others (large and giant dog breeds, we're looking at you), however, dog-tors believe they are other factors, too. 

For example, one of the theories of elbow dysplasia is a defect in cartilage or growth. Some others include factors like trauma, injury, diet, exercise, and other combinations that lead to a mismatch of growth between the two bones in the foreleg that are located between the elbow and the wrist.

What Exactly is Elbow Dysplasia?

So, let's talk a bit more about what elbow dysplasia really is. As we've said, it's technically a disturbance in the elbow joint that causes pain, discomfort, and adds a lot of stress to a dog's life. The real cause of this - whether it's genetic, from trauma, or any of the other reasons listed above - is simply from a mismatch of growth between the two bones in your dog's foreleg. 

These bones are located between the elbow and the wrist of your dog's leg. If the elbow(or radius) grows slower than the wrist (or ulna), then it becomes shorter! This leads to increased pressure on the coronid process on the elbow, causing intense discomfort, difficulty walking and exercising, and other painful consequences. 

If the wrist grows slower than the elbow, though, it pushes your pup's upper arm bone against parts of his body (the anconeal process) that can lead to failure of that part to attach to the wrist when your pup finally matures. Sometimes this happens when you have a small, growing pup, but the issue can persist even when your dog grows up!

How to Train Your Dog, and Yourself, To Deal With Elbow Dysplasia

Treating your dog with elbow dysplasia doesn't have to be a difficult process. In fact, it's one of the more mild conditions your dog can have, depending on how serious it is. The best way to train and treat your dog to deal with elbow dysplasia is to simply adapt your lifestyles. 

For example, keeping your dog at a manageable and healthy weight will greatly reduce the stress on his elbows, so make sure you've trained your dog to eat specific meals at specific times. Additionally, exercise will play a large role in how your dog's condition improves or worsens. Make sure your pup gets moderate exercise and is comfortable doing so. Additionally, sometimes rehab therapy is needed, especially water-type exercises. Ensure that your pup is comfortable and happy to get into the water for his treatments. 

Finally, in the event that your doggo needs surgery or has to take anti-inflammatory pills that your dog-tor prescribes, ensure that he's comfortable and happy dealing with these issues. When recovering from surgery, ensure he's comfortable, not messing with his sutures, and certainly not moving about while he's healing. As far as pills go, utilize different ways to train your pup to be ready for medicine.

How to React if Your Dog Has Elbow Dysplasia

  • Consult with your vet about a plan to treat it.
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight.
  • Discuss surgery options with your vet.
  • Discuss rehab options with your doctor.
  • Work with your vet for a regiment of medicine.
  • Ensure your pup is getting the right amount of exercise.