Elbow Dysplasia is the result of abnormal development of the elbow joint. Improper fit leads to excessive wear and tear and inflammation. It gets worse with age and affected dogs eventually develop degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) which can be very painful.
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There are three different abnormalities that may occur singly or together in elbow dysplasia in one or both elbows:
- Fragmentation of the medial coronoid process of the ulna
- Osteochondritis (or osteochondrosis) of the medial humeral condyle
- Ununited anconeal process
Description of abnormalities in the Merck Veterinary Manual
Signs and Symptoms
- Abnormal gait with inward deviation of paw
- Decreased range of motion of the elbow joint
Signs can start in dogs as young as 4 months, but a dog can also have elbow dysplasia without showing any signs.
Elbow dysplasia is polygenic and multifactorial. This means it is genetic and controlled by multiple genes, but also influenced by environmental factors such as weight and age.
- Related dogs with elbow dysplasia
- Rapid growth of a large breed dog
If a dog presents with pain or lameness a veterinarian may do a physical examination, looking for joint laxity or pain, but the definitive diagnosis of elbow dysplasia in a dog with symptoms is by X-ray (radiograph). CAT scans and arthroscopy are sometimes used for further evaluation. X-rays can also detect elbow dysplasia prior to a dog exhibiting signs. Because elbow dysplasia is genetic and very undesirable, X-rays are frequently used to screen dogs prior to breeding. The X-rays can be sent to an organization that provides an independent evaluation of the dog’s elbows. In the United States the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) provides this service; they issue an OFA elbow registry number if the elbows are normal. If not, the degree of dysplasia is rated as Grade I, II or III. There are similar organizations in other countries. Each organization evaluates x-rays, but there are differences in how the dog is positioned for the x-rays, how they are evaluated, and at what age the dog can be evaluated. Although elbow dysplasia is genetic, a DNA test is not yet available.
Note: Treatment of animals should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian. Veterinarians should consult the current literature and current pharmacological formularies before initiating any treatment protocol.
Elbow dysplasia can be treated surgically and/or medically. Surgery is not successful in all cases; it is most effective when performed in young dogs, prior to the development of degenerative changes and osteoarthritis. Canine anti-inflammatory medications prescribed by a veterinarian may be used to relieve the pain (do NOT give human painkillers unless directed by a veterinarian). Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, nutritional supplements, might help although this has yet to be proven in stringent scientific studies.
Dogs with elbow dysplasia should not be allowed to be overweight because the extra weight can increase the stress on the elbows. Light exercise can maintain muscle tone but must be done carefully so as to not cause pain or further injury to the affected joints.
Elbow dysplasia should also be managed in a breeding program. Selecting dogs for breeding based on x-ray screening can reduce, but not eliminate elbow dysplasia, because some dogs can be “carriers” without exhibiting it. Approximately 2-4% of Samoyeds have been found to have elbow dysplasia. Since there are plenty of Samoyeds without elbow dysplasia, those with any grade of the disorder should NOT be bred. Samoyeds with relatives with elbow dysplasia may be carriers and should not be bred unless careful consideration of their entire pedigree shows minimal risk. The following OFA article discusses how to use available information, including a “vertical pedigree,” to help make breeding decisions.
Elbow Dysplasia at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
Elbow Dysplasia in the Merck Veterinary Manual
Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs at vetsurgerycentral.com
Canine Elbow Dysplasia, American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Oberbauer AM et al. 2017. Long-term genetic selection reduced prevalanece of hip and elbow dysplasia in 60 dog breeds. PLoS One 12:e0172918.