Disease and Illnesses of dogs – Canine Elbow Dysplasia

What is Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia (ED) is a condition in which there is abnormal development of the elbow joint. The main cause is the genetics of the dog but other factors such as diet and exercise can influence the course of the disease. Elbow Dysplasia begins when dogs are puppies but it progresses to cause problem in later life. It is generally medium to large breed dogs that are affected by elbow dysplasia with some breeds seemingly predisposed. These breeds include Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Newfoundlands and Rottweilers.

Elbow Dysplasia is a generalised term that covers several more specific problems. These problems include Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD), Fragmented Coronoid Process (FCP) and Ununited Anconeal Process (UAP). These are the primary problems within the elbow joint that lead to abnormal wear and tear of the joint, in particular the cartilage. This eventually results in osteoarthritis (OA) in the joint, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD).

These problems are present in dogs when they are puppies and lameness may start then but in some cases the problem may stabilise when the dog becomes skeletally mature, usually around 18 months old. Some dogs have what’s called sub-clinical disease, meaning they have these problems in their elbow joints but they do not show any signs of lameness.

 How is Elbow Dysplasia diagnosed?

The clinical history can be suggestive of elbow dysplasia. Persistent lameness in a dog around 6-12 months would warrant further investigation. On clinical examination of the elbows, they are often painful when flexed and extended and can be swollen. You will often see lameness in dogs affected with elbow dysplasia which will show as a stiff gait when walking and running. The diagnosis is confirmed with x-rays of the elbows.

Usually two views of the elbows are needed to thoroughly assess all areas of the elbows. These can be taken by your own vets and will be taken under heavy sedation or general anaesthesia.

Elbow Dysplasia Scheme: The British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club run a scoring scheme for elbow dysplasia to try and reduce the incidence of this disease in the dog population. Two x-ray views of the elbows are taken by your own vet and then sent to an expert panel who assess the elbows for signs of elbow dysplasia. The grading system is as follows:

0=normal elbows       1=mild dysplasia       2=moderate dysplasia          3=severe dysplasia

As elbow dysplasia is passed on from affected parents to their puppies, the aim is to only breed from dogs with a score of 0-1 and eventually, if enough dogs participate in the scheme, then elbow dysplasia could be eradicated or at least greatly reduced in the canine population.

 How is elbow dysplasia treated?

Many dogs with elbow dysplasia can be managed in a conservative way with techniques such as weight management and exercise control. Weight control is very important as any excess weight will put more strain through the affected joints. Exercise control can also be important, again to reduce strain on the elbows. It is usually recommended to control the exercise levels until dogs are skeletally mature at around 18 months of age.

Some dogs may need medication if the elbow dysplasia is causing them pain. This is especially the case when dogs are older and are developing osteoarthritis in these joints. Joint supplements containing Glucosamine and Chondroitin, such as Seraquin, Flexadin and Cortaflex, can be helpful, especially if started early, before clinical signs of lameness are seen. These help to repair damage to the cartilage in the joint and slow the progression of the arthritis. If these are not enough to control the problem then pain relief in the form of non steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAID’s) such as Metacam and Previcox can be given. These are given daily to control the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

In some very severe cases, surgical treatments can be an option. These involve removing any damaged cartilage and even bone fragments that may have formed from the joint. This is usually a procedure that requires referral to a specialist centre.


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