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Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

What Is Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs?

Elbow dysplasia is a nonspecific term referring to three developmental disorders that include the fragmented medial coronoid process of the ulna (FCP), and osteochondrosis of the distomedial aspect of the humeral trochlea (OCD), and ununited anconeal process (UAP).

""Dysplasia" refers to the “development of tissues, cells or organs that is not normal”. Large or giant breeds of dogs are usually affected by elbow dysplasia. Both of the elbows will be affected for the susceptible dogs, however, occasionally one elbow may be more severely affected.

These developmental diseases of the canine elbow are assumed to be caused due to the inherited polygenic traits that may occur independently or concurrently. It has been speculated that incongruity of the elbow joint and asynchronous growth of the radius and ulna may be underlying factors in the fragmented coronoid process and non-union of the processus anconeus.

The three developmental disorders are

  • Fragmented coronoid process - A bone fragment (small or large) breaks off on the inner side of the ulna bone and wiggles inside of the elbow joint.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans - Subchondral bone underneath the articular cartilage of the joint breaks down or dies due to loss of blood flow.
  • Ununited anconeal process – The bony protuberance of the anconeal process (a piece of the ulna that helps to stabilize the elbow joint) does not join with the ulna.

Symptoms Of Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

  • Decreased range of motion of one or both elbows
  • Dog appears stiff when getting up from resting
  • Joints may appear swollen
  • Limping after exercise
  • Trailing behind when going for a walk
  • Reluctance to walk, unwillingness to climb stairs, play or jump
  • Lameness/ abnormal gait
  • When getting up or down- stiffness or soreness
  • Licking the elbows
  • Whining or barking when touched
  • A change in behavior (normally good-behaved dog becomes aggressive)

Treatment Options For Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

For Mild cases:

Physical therapy, pain medication, joint supplements, and making sure the affected dogs do not become overweight.

NSAIDs like

  • Metacam (meloxicam)
  • Deramaxx (deracoxib)
  • Rimadyl (carprofen)
  • Previcox (firocoxib)
  • EtoGesic (etodolac)

Pain-relieving medications like gabapentin, tramadol, amantadine, etc may be prescribed by veterinarians

In severe cases: Surgery is inevitable for the alignment of bones or to remove bone fragments/cartilages that are irritating the joint or removal/ reattachment of a bone inside the elbow that is causing irritation and degeneration of the joint.

In severe cases, elbow joint replacement may be required.

Joint supplements: Chondroitin/ Glucosamine (e.g., Cosequin, Dasuquin, Glycoflex, Vetri-Flex) and essential fatty acid supplements

Fiberoptic scope (called arthroscopy): Through a small incision, thin flexible fiberoptic scope is inserted into the joint space and cleans out any loose flaps or pieces of bone and/or cartilage.

Home Remedies For Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

  1. Make sure your dog is still active - Like regular walking and playing with your dog to help their joints work better.
  2. Weight management for your dog is important. Multiple studies have shown the link between the increased risk of arthritis and being overweight.
  3. Diet for healthy joints - Home-prepared diets are good for the dogs than dry and canned dog foods. Pasture-raised, organically produced ingredients ensure that your dog will not consume drug residues and pesticides.
  4. Joint supplements - Omega-3 fatty acids, Cannabidiol oil, Glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate.
  5. Make your living space more pet-friendly - Slip-resistant surfaces, non-slip rugs on hard surfaces, providing grippy socks for the dogs and good supportive bedding are the things you can do.

How To Prevent Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs?

Elbow dysplasia etiology is poorly understood. Specific causes are not yet known. However, Hereditary is, perhaps a factor in some breeds and it is better to evaluate the affected dogs before breeding or at least before getting a dog from a susceptible lineage.

Affected Dog Breeds Of Elbow Dysplasia

Large Dog Breeds, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland, Mastiff, Saint Bernard, Rottweiler

Causes And Prognosis For Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

1. Cause:

  • Congenital
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • High protein diet,
  • Hypoadrenocorticism/Hyperadrenocorticism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypopituitarism
  • Kidney disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Skeletal dysplasia

2. Types:

According to the International Elbow Working Group,


Grade 0: normal elbow

Grade 1: mild osteoarthritis

Grade 2: moderate osteoarthritis

Grade 3: severe osteoarthritis

3. Mortality:

Congenital deformities are from birth or present themselves from puppyhood. Typically Acquired Elbow dysplasia occurs later in life and hardly ever need treatment. The mortality rate is almost zero.

4. Diagnosis:

  • Bloodwork to check for hormonal conditions
  • Radiographs to look at the bones and joints
  • Orthopedic exam to check for joint pain or problems
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Arthrograms

5. Prognosis:

Veterinarians usually give suggestions for control or management of the problem since there is no proper cure.

Elbow dysplasia has a guarded prognosis.

Dogs that receive early diagnosis and appropriate treatment have a better prognosis than dogs with chronic conditions.

When To See A Vet For Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs?

Contact your vet right away, if you notice:

  • Decreased range of motion of one or both elbows
  • The dog appears stiff when getting up from resting
  • Joints may appear swollen

Food Suggestions For Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

  • Beef, fish like tuna, and dairy products - milk and cheeses
  • Plant-based protein sources – Lentils, Chickpeas, potatoes, other Nuts, and Seeds
  • Calcium-fortified foods and beverages
  • Milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese
  • Vitamin D: liver, fish, egg yolks, beef
  • Cooked spinach and potatoes
  • Raw meaty bones, raw chicken wings, or lamb flaps


Elbow dysplasia in dogs is a progressive, developmental disease that affects the animal’s joint health and can restrict a dog’s mobility. Most of the treatments are intended at treating the pain and slow down the progression.

So, proper detection of this developmental orthopedic disease is the best way to start a proactive treatment plan.

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