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What is Elbow Bowing Out?

There are several different reasons why your dog’s elbow may be bowing out, which will need to be determined by a veterinarian. Elbow bowing can be caused by a minor sprain from too much play. However, it can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

The elbow bowing out may be caused by:

  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Canine elbow luxation
  • Sprain 
  • Dyspnea

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Why Elbow Bowing Out Occurs in Dogs

Elbow Dysplasia

 Elbow dysplasia is primarily considered a genetic developmental disease, which causes an abnormality in the dog’s elbow. Additional possible contributing factors may include a high protein diet, poor nutrition, rapid weight gain, injury and excessive exercising of puppies. Breeds predisposed to elbow dysplasia include the German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Chow and Shar-Pei.

Canine Elbow Luxation

Elbow luxation is commonly known as a dislocated elbow. A dislocated elbow is usually caused by trauma (hit by a car), falling from a height, or from fighting with another animal. If your dog has a dislocated elbow he will not be able to bear weight on the leg. Additionally, he may have joint swelling and pain.

Sprain Leg

Your dogs may have acquired a leg sprain from a physical activity (over playing ball or Frisbee), from falling, or by experiencing a trauma (dog fight, hit by a car). Large, fast-growing breeds are more prone to developing leg sprains. Additional symptoms of a sprain may include limping and pain.

Dyspnea

Dyspnea is the medical term for labored breathing. If your dog is having difficulty breathing he may be open-mouthed breathing, have noisy breathing, be holding his head low, and have his elbows bowed out. Labored breathing may be caused by congestive heart failure, trauma, heat stroke, bacterial or viral infection, or by an enlarged abdomen.

What to do if your Dog is Elbow Bowing Out

If your dog’s elbow is bowing out, he should be seen by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will go over the patient’s medical history.  Let him know any additional symptoms you have noticed and whether your dog has had any recent injuries. The veterinarian will perform a physical examination which may include palpating the limbs, and taking the patient’s heart and respiratory rate.  He may recommend a complete blood count, blood chemistry panel, urinalysis and x-rays of the limbs.  If the veterinarian observes labored breathing, he may also request chest x-rays, an electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram.

Mild cases of elbow dysplasia may be treated by providing a diet that allows your pet to maintain a healthy weight, physical therapy, hydrotherapy and anti-inflammatory medications. Depending on the severity of elbow dysplasia and the age of the dog, surgery may be suggested. 

If your dog’s elbow is dislocated the veterinarian will need to put the elbow back into the joint. This will require that your dog is given general anesthesia. After the elbow is in place, the leg will be placed in a splint for two weeks.

Some sprains require splinting to prevent movement. Your dog may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and an analgesic. The veterinarian may also recommend icing the injury.

Dyspnea is treated depending on the underlying cause of the labored breathing (heart issue, bloat, heat stroke). Dogs diagnosed with bloat or heat stroke may need to be hospitalized.

Prevention of Elbow Bowing Out

To help prevent elbow dysplasia, rapid weight gain should be discouraged. It is best not to feed your puppy too many treats or table scraps. Try to read the ingredient label, which lists the caloric count and protein level.  The veterinarian may help suggest what food is best for a large breed puppy/dog.  A growing puppy needs exercise but be careful to not let him overdo it. Dogs that are diagnosed with elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

Some injuries and trauma can be prevented by supervising your dog.  Dogs should not be left outside unattended as they can jump a fence or dig themselves an exit under a it. Once outside the fence, he can be hit by a car or attacked by another animal.

Your pet should not be left unsupervised with children.  Children unknowingly can harm a dog or puppy.  Additionally, the dog could hurt the child. Stairs or a ramp can help small breeds or senior dogs to safely get up and down from a high bed or car.

Cost of Elbow Bowing Out

A sprained leg may cause $600 to diagnose and repair. Treatment of elbow dysplasia in dogs can range from $200 to $3000 depending on the severity of the condition and the response to therapy. Elbow luxation treatment may range in expense from $800 to $2500.

Elbow Bowing Out Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Ozzie
West Highland White Terrier
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Bowing of leg. Slipping on stairs

Left leg bowed out and when he walks his foot rolls to the outside. He slipped going up the stairs yesterday and down the stairs today. He is otherwise a very healthy active 11 year old westie of normal weight. No pain obvious even when I pushed on knee and hip joints. Could it be sprain or worse?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
I’m assuming it is the rear leg based on your question. Without examining Ozzie it is difficult to determine a specific cause, hind limb weakness may be due to spinal issues, hip issues, neurological issues, sprains among other issues. You should keep him rested for the time being and prevent him from going up and down stairs, however it would be beneficial to have your Veterinarian examine him to determine the severity especially given his age. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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