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How can I help my dog with Elbow Dysplasia?

Posted by Robert Porter on

Elbow dysplasia in dogs is a painful condition that commonly emerges in puppies aged 5 to 14 months, particularly in medium-to-large breeds and often stems from hereditary factors. This condition involves abnormal growth in one or both elbow joints. Some breeds are more predisposed to it than others. Let’s talk about what causes elbow dysplasia in dogs, how it’s treated, and prognosis after treatment.

Components of Elbow Dysplasia:

Ununited anconeal process (UAP): UAP is an orthopedic issue affecting the elbow joint, arising from incomplete fusion of the anconeal process to the ulna during growth.

Fragmented coronoid process (FCP): FCP results from the fragmentation of the ulna's coronoid process in the elbow joint, mostly affecting larger dog breeds. Treatment usually requires surgical removal of the fragmented part to restore joint stability.

Osteochondritis of the elbow joint (OCD): OCD involves cartilage and bone defects and cartilage fragments in the elbow joint, commonly affecting young, growing dogs. Treatment often requires surgery to remove the affected cartilage and cartilage fragments for proper joint healing.

Elbow Incongruity: This condition occurs when the two main bones (radius and ulna) of the forearm grow at different rates. Surgery is needed to create better alignment.

Each of these abnormalities can cause joint instability and limited joint movement, create inflammation, pain, lameness, and in some cases progress to arthritis if left untreated. 

Genetic Disposition:

Studies demonstrate the role genetics play in determining the predisposition of a puppy to certain abnormalities. Puppies within a litter may develop elbow dysplasia during their growth. Additionally, a dog's environment can influence the likelihood of acquiring this condition, influenced by factors like diet and exercise levels.

Breeds at a Higher Risk of getting Elbow Dysplasia:

  1. Basset Hound
  2. Bernese Mountain Dog
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Great Dane
  5. Newfoundland
  6. Labrador Retriever 
  7. Rottweiler
  8. Golden Retriever

What Does Elbow Dysplasia Look Like in My Dog?

Elbow dysplasia in dogs can present symptoms when your dog is just a puppy. You may notice stiffness in the front legs causing limping, particularly after exercise, persisting even after rest. You may notice that cold or damp weather exaggerates the joint discomfort, and your dog may seem more sluggish.

Over time, these symptoms progressively get worse, spanning weeks or months. In severe instances, swelling and puffiness may develop in the dog's elbows. Observable signs might include outward-pointing elbowsand front feet. The painful nature of elbow dysplasia often leads to reduced enthusiasm for activities, such as playing or going for walks, and can ultimately result in canine arthritis. Your dog may struggle with mobility and a crunching noise in the elbow joints may become apparent. As the condition advances, lameness due to pain might become noticeable, ultimately limiting your dog's normal movement.

Treatment of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

Since there is not a cure for elbow dysplasia in dogs, let’s talk about treatments for elbow dysplasia in dogs for an improved quality of life for your pet. A proper diagnosis with the proper care can help your dog manage his pain and symptoms.

Once you notice these symptoms in your dog, it’s time for a visit to the Veterinarian for a physical exam. Your veterinarian will perform radiographs of the elbow joints and assess the situation. In more complex cases, the images may be sent to a Veterinary Radiologist to confirm a diagnosis and a consultation scheduled with a Veterinary Surgeon.

Treatment after diagnosis depends on the severity of your dog’s elbow dysplasia. For moderate to serious cases, surgery for your dog might be the solution. Possible surgical procedures might include: 

  • Removing coronoid fragments or loose cartilage (if the diagnosis is FCP)
  • Changing the elbow joint to take your dog’s weight off of the damaged part of the elbow
  • Reattaching or removing a UAP to the medial joint compartment (if the diagnosis is UAP)
  • Surgically correcting the joint
  • Replacing the joint completely

In many cases, treating and managing your dog’s pain is what is needed. There are many recommendations that you can try first for pain management, especially in an older dog where surgery might be needed but cannot happen due to the age or health of your dog. Working with your Veterinarian and Veterinary Rehabilitation Practitioner can help.

  • Weight control: If you can help your dog maintain a healthy weight, you avoid the excess pressure on his joints. Symptoms will worsen if your dog becomes overweight.
  • Exercise: Despite your dog not being in the best situation, they still need to keep fit to stay healthy. Regular, short walks will do the trick.
  • Medication: Your vet may suggest anti-inflammatory medication to help manage your dog’s pain.
  • Rest: Make sure your dog gets proper rest, especially after exercising. It’s important to maintain mobility, but you do want to make sure that your dog is getting his rest too.
  • ComplementaryTherapy: A Veterinarian or Physical Therapist with specific training in the recover from surgery and pain management can be helpful with treatments such as Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, Extracorporeal Shockwave, Hydrotherapy and Therapeutic Ultrasound. 

Since there is no cure for this ailment, elbow dysplasia in dogs needs lifelong treatment and pain management. Some dogs may have a shortened lifespan due to chronic pain and debilitating symptoms, while others respond well to treatment and live happy, healthy lives. In closing, it’s important to seek early diagnosis and treatment. This will really help your dog’s quality of life. Contact us today to learn more about DogLegg’s products. We are here to help.