Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments

Elbow dysplasia in dogs is a serious and common health concern that many dog parents aren’t too familiar with. Most people associate bone and joint problems with older dogs, but elbow dysplasia is actually a condition that you will likely see more in younger dogs. If you notice your dog limping or struggling to walk, this could be a sign of elbow dysplasia, which is something that should be attended to right away.

What is Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

Canine elbow dysplasia is one of the most common causes of lameness in a dog’s front limb. It is a joint abnormality in the elbow joint, which causes pain for dogs when they apply pressure to it. The different bones that make up the elbow don’t come together right, which is a common reason you might see a young dog limping.

The elbow is a complex joint that is made up of three bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna. The humerus is the long bone in a dog’s upper forelimb that works with the radius and ulna to help your dog move. These three bones are supposed to fit together perfectly in order to withstand a dog’s active lifestyle. With elbow dysplasia, the bones don’t line up like the they should.

In fact, there are a few different types of elbow abnormalities that are considered forms of elbow dysplasia. Here are some examples:

  • Ununited anconeal process (UAO) – when a small bone projection called the anconeal process doesn’t properly fuse and unite with the ulna.
  • Fragmented medial coronoid process (FMCP) – when the medial coronoid process of the ulna is deformed or becomes separated from the ulna.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans of the medial humeral condyle (OCD) – when the inside of the condyle forms a thicker flap of cartilage, causing the bones to not line up properly.
  • Elbow Incongruency – when the joint’s structure is abnormal, causing cartilage to wear down faster.

What Causes Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is an inherited condition, so it’s not something that can be easily prevented. Dogs that share similar genes are more likely to get this condition. In fact, as a dog parent, this is not something you can avoid. Dog breeders are the ones who should be cautious and do everything they can to avoid these problems. This is why you will most commonly see elbow dysplasia in puppies.

Large breeds are often more likely to get elbow dysplasia than smaller breeds. Here are a few breeds that are the most likely to suffer from elbow dysplasia, according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA):

  • Chow Chow
  • Rottweiler
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Black Russian Terrier
  • Newfoundland
  • Shar-Pei
  • Fila Brasileiro
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • American Bulldog
  • German Shepherd

Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

If your dog has elbow dysplasia, it might be difficult to notice at first. However, it can be extremely painful and damaging for their joints, so it’s best to catch it as soon as possible. If a dog is suffering from elbow dysplasia, they will likely have a decreased range of motion and it will likely seem painful or uncomfortable for them to be active.

They could also limp when they walk or have stiffness in their leg. For old dogs, joint problems are more common, but if you notice your puppy in pain when they exercise, elbow dysplasia is likely to blame. If the condition worsens before you notice it, they could even get a fluid buildup in their joint due to their cartilage slowly wearing away.

To spot symptoms of elbow dysplasia in dogs, you should pay close attention to your dog’s behavior. If you notice any significant changes in how they move or how they behave when they exercise, that could be a sign that something is wrong. Not only will they appear in pain or be unable to exercise as much, but they might outright refuse to walk if they don’t have to. Some dogs might be reluctant to go on walks if they’re lazy, but if your dog usually loves going outside, not wanting to go for walks is a huge concern.

If you suspect that something is wrong, inspect your dog’s legs carefully. Look for any signs of them being swollen, and see if there are any noticeable differences between the two front legs. Oftentimes, you might notice your dog lying down or sitting weird because it’s the most comfortable position for their elbow dysplasia.

How to Diagnose and Treat Elbow Dysplasia

Just like any other serious health concern, elbow dysplasia should not be taken lightly. If your dog is showing symptoms and you suspect that elbow dysplasia is the cause, then you should contact your vet right away. Your vet will be able to do an in-depth orthopedic exam to get a closer look at your dog’s legs through an x-ray. A radiograph can help vets get a closer look at your dog’s bone structure so they can see exactly where the abnormality is occurring.

If your vet concludes that your dog does have elbow dysplasia, then they need to figure out the severity of it to find out the ideal treatment. Surgery is recommended for most cases. However, if the problem is minor, it could possibly be fixed through medications to help prevent pain.

For dogs who need surgery for their elbow dysplasia, there are a few different procedures that might need to be done. For example, some dogs might just need coronoid fragments or loose cartilage removed. Others could need an altercation on the elbow to move the weight away from the damaged area. In extreme cases, they might even need their joint replaced if there’s already too much damage. The procedure simply depends on what type of elbow dysplasia your dog has and how serious it is.

Surgeries are never cheap, but they are sometimes necessary for keeping your dog healthy. Treatment for elbow dysplasia often ranges anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 per elbow. The earlier you spot the injury, the less serious the treatment will need to be.

For any dog parent, their dog’s health is a priority. That’s why it’s always important to pay attention to your dog’s behaviors to ensure that there are no sudden changes. Elbow dysplasia is something that your dog could have from birth, so even if you are the most caring dog parent in the world, you can’t avoid it completely. Therefore, check your dog regularly for unusual behaviors and always contact your vet as soon as something out of the ordinary occurs.

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