Elbow dysplasia is an extremely painful condition that normally affects puppies between the age of 5 and 18 months, with some breeds being more predisposed to it than others. Typically affecting medium-to-large breeds such as Basset Hounds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands and Rottweilers, and often hereditary, if puppies have elbow dysplasia, either one or both of their elbow joints will start to grow incorrectly.
There are three different abnormalities where elbow dysplasia is concerned: fragmented coronoid process (FCP), osteochondritis of the elbow joint (OCD) and ununited anconeal process (UAP), and studies have shown that genetic traits usually determine which of the three a particular puppy may develop. While puppies from the same litter or family may all have elbow dysplasia, their environment may also play a role in it – from their diet and exercise level to their mother’s own environment while they were in her womb.
Wonder if your dog has elbow dysplasia? Look for any sign of stiffness in his front legs that causes him to limp. This limp is usually worse after he’s exercised and doesn’t improve even after he’s rested. Cold, damp weather can also affect his joints. Over a period of weeks or months, his limp may grow worse, and should both of his front legs be affected, it may appear as if he simply has an uneven gait.
In more serious – and obvious — cases, however, his elbows might become swollen and puffy. His front paws might even point out and/or his elbows might jut out at strange angles. These symptoms can cause him to lose a normal range of motion in his limbs, and you may ultimately hear a crunching noise at his elbow joints. By now, he’ll not only be in severe pain but be on the verge of developing canine arthritis, even lameness, and he’ll exhibit little interest in either playing or going for walks.
While it’s impossible to reverse the process and make the joint normal, by having elbow dysplasia diagnosed early and by providing your precious pup with the appropriate care, both his symptoms and his pain can be managed. And as always, this means a visit to your vet.
Along with a thorough physical exam, your vet will x-ray his elbow joints (many dogs require a sedative or short-acting anesthetic to both calm them and allow them to be moved into various positions), and in some cases, send the images to a veterinary radiologist to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment will then depend on the severity of your dog’s elbow dysplasia. For moderate to serious cases, your vet will, in all likelihood, recommend surgery, and the procedures vary according to which of the three elbow abnormalities your dog has. And yet, even if he does undergo surgery, he’ll still develop some degree of arthritis as he ages.
Many dogs, however, can have their condition managed effectively using non-surgical or “conservative” measures that include:
Maintenance of a healthy and steady body weight.
Controlled exercise, i.e. no boisterous activities like running and chasing a ball, turning quickly, braking sharply and jumping down to land on their front legs, and rough housing with other dogs.
Rest, especially after exercis
Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy: excellent for working the muscles without overloading the elbow joints, both help to keep dogs fit and help control their weight.
Dietary supplements: glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate and omega-3-fatty acids may relieve some of their joint discomfort and stiffness.
Prescription diets: available for arthritic dogs, they can also be beneficial.
Prescription medication: anti-inflammatory drugs and others may be required on a daily or as-needed basis.
Given all this, your own dog’s prognosis
By Nomi Berger