Elbow dysplasia in dogs

Elbow dysplasia in dogs

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is formerly referred to as osteochondritis of the elbow. A majority of developmental elbow abnormalities in dogs are related to osteochondrosis (commonly abbreviated OCD). Osteochondritis of the elbow is actually a syndrome where one or several of the following problems are present: Osteochondritis dissecans, Ununited anconeal process, and Fragmentation of the coronoid process.

Normal bone growth vs. Osteochondritis

In a normal, newborn puppy, a lot of the bones consist of several pieces of bone connected via cartilage. As the puppy grows older and bigger, the cartilage will turn into real bone and the pieces will fuse together. The ulna – a bone located in the forearm of the dog – will for instance consist of four pieces of bone when the puppy is born and then gradually fuse into one single bone. 

In a dog suffering from osteochondritis, the fusing process does not proceed according to plan. Instead, the cartilage fails to change into bone. In many dogs, the cartilage will also become thickened. Osteochondritis can be caused by several different factors, including genetics, trauma and improper nutrition. Giving your puppy excessive amounts of calcium is not a good idea, since this has been linked to osteochondritis. Osteochondritis can also be a result of low Vitamin C intake.

Osteochondritis is especially common in large breed puppies that grow very fast. The first signs of abnormal bone growth will typically appear when a dog is 6-9 months old.  

Elbow dysplasia symptoms in dogs

The symptoms of osteochondrosis of the elbow will normally appear when the dog is around 4-8 months of age. The problem is twice as common in male dogs as in female dogs.

In 30-70 percent of the affected dogs (the figure varies from study to study), both elbows will be affected by elbow dysplasia.

Common symptoms of elbow dysplasia in dogs are swelling of the joint, intermittent lameness, and external rotation and abduction of the dog’s paw. In most cases, osteoarthritis will eventually develop.

Elbow dysplasia treatment for dogs

In serious cases of elbow dysplasia, surgery is often the best treatment. The exact surgical procedure will depend on which type of elbow dysplasia that your dog is suffering from. A dog with ununited anconeal process (UAP) related problems can for instance need to have the UAP reattached and secured with a screw or small pins. If the dog is older than 2 years, removal of the UAP is more common. If your dog’s problems are related to the fragmentation of the coronoid process (FCP), surgically removing bone fragments and cartilage can be very helpful. The surgeon can also correct any incongruity of the elbow joint.

In mild cases of elbow dysplasia – especially for dogs suffering from FMCP or OCD of the medial humeral epicondyle – surgery may not be necessary. Such dogs can instead benefit greatly from regular exercise and control of body weight. Pain medication can be administered to make life more pleasant for the affected dog. The exercise should be low-impact, e.g. controlled swimming. Between the ages of 12-18 months, many dogs suffering from elbow dysplasia improve significantly.

Skeletal and muscular disorders in dogs: (click for more info)
Canine hip dysplasia
Congenital vertebral anomalies in dogs
Craniomandibular osteopathy in dogs
Elbow dysplasia in dogs
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy in dogs
Hypertrophic Osteopathy in dogs
Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome in dogs
Luxating patella in dogs
Masticatory muscle myositis in dogs
Masticatory Muscle Myositis (MMM) and Extraocular Myositis (EOM) in dogs
Osteoarthritis in dogs
Osteochondritis Dissecans in dogs
Panosteitis in dogs
Spondylosis in dogs