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What is Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

What is Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

Dog elbow dysplasia is abnormal development of the elbow joint. It causes pain, swelling, instability and often leads to arthritis. Elbow dysplasia is most common in medium to large breed dogs, most frequently: Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, German Shepards, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Newfoundlands and Bassett Hounds.

Dog Elbow Dysplasia Braces

Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

Elbow dysplasia is a painful condition that causes one or both elbows to develop abnormally while a puppy is growing. There are three main areas inside the elbow joint that can be affected; some dogs have just one affected area, while others suffer with a combination. It predominantly affects larger breeds but can also sometimes be found in smaller breeds. In fact, elbow dysplasia in small dogs is thought to be often mis-diagnosed, leading to it being greatly under-reported.

Elbow dysplasia is predominantly a hereditary disease however, like hip dysplasia, it can also be triggered due to excessive exercise or your dog being overweight while young and their joints are still developing. It is the most common cause of forelimb lameness in young, large breeds. Most dogs have a limp on one or both front legs. This can be seen as a nodding of the head when the good leg is placed and lifting of the head when the bad leg is placed. Some dogs that limp on both front legs will not have a limp, but will have an unusual “paddling” gait. Lameness is often triggered by prolonged rest and exercise. For this reason, many dogs will be lame when they wake up but after a warm-up, they will exercise freely then limp again afterwards. Although most dogs will be diagnosed before they are two years old, some dogs will not limp until they are older.

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia in dogs

The severity of symptoms in dog with elbow dysplasia can vary, ranging from mild, intermittent lameness to more severe and constant discomfort.

Here are some of the common symptoms:

  • Intermittent lameness in one or both front legs
  • A typical walk has your dog ‘head nodding’ or ‘paddling’ while walking
  • Limping and/or stiffness in front limbs, this is usually worse after exercise but can be difficult to spot if your dog is lame in both elbows
  • Reluctance to go for their usual walks or to play
  • Difficulty rising, such as when getting out of their bed or climbing stairs
  • Front paws pointing outwards and/or elbows held at a strange angle
  • Swollen, puffy elbows (in severe cases)

What causes Elbow Dysplasia in dogs?

Elbow dysplasia is considered a multifactorial condition, meaning it has various contributing factors. Firstly and primarily it is a genetic predisposition, so it is worth checking both parents for elbow dysplasia when choosing a puppy. Similarly you should not be breeding from your dog if it has this genetic trait, as it will pass this on to its offspring.

Other, environmental factors do play a role in the development of elbow dysplasia however which can influence whether or not your dog will develop it. If you know that your puppy may be at risk of developing elbow dysplasia, it is worth taking measures while they are young to try and reduce or even prevent it developing.

Other factors which increase the chance of your dog developing elbow dysplasia are:

  • Being overweight while young and developing
  • Growing too rapidly
  • Being excessively exercised
  • Being given the ‘wrong’ or concussive exercise, which impact their joints

What age does a dog develop Elbow Dysplasia?

Most dogs start showing symptoms between 5 - 18 months old. However, sometimes dogs with mild elbow dysplasia may not show signs until later in life, once they have developed arthritis in their elbows.

How to help your dog around the house

Appling a brace can help to support your dog, see below in the treatment section for more specific details.
Keeping your young and energetic dog can be a challenge but something like a snuffle mat or a dog puzzle can keep them mentally stimulated and entertained.

Treatment for dog Elbow Dysplasia

The treatment for elbow dysplasia depends on the severity of the condition and the individual dog's circumstances. Treatment can range from conservative (non-surgical) management to surgical intervention.
Non-surgical options can involve giving your dog anti-inflammatory pain killers, weight management, controlled exercise and/or applying a supportive brace which can help to support their elbow joints.

If your dog suffers with elbow dysplasia, it is really important to keep your dog at an ideal weight. Any extra weight that they carry, directly increases the strain on their elbow joint(s), thereby making symptoms worse and increasing the amount of pain which your dog will experience. Furthermore, research has shown that if your dog is overweight, or receives excess calories while young and growing, their chance of developing elbow dysplasia is greatly increased or if they are already genetically predisposed to it, they it will develop it to a greater degree.

If your dog has already developed elbow dysplasia, it can be a difficult balance of making sure they receive enough exercise (especially when trying to controlled their weight) and making the problem worse by over-exercising. You will need to make sure your dog stays fit by doing the ‘right’ type of exercise. Regular, short lead walks are ideal. Prevent your dog from jumping, skidding, chasing, racing around and walking or running for longer periods.

If you are looking for supportive Dog Elbow Braces, we recommend looking at two in particular. The Balto Soft is for a single elbow, and Balto Soft Plus is a double elbow brace. The Balto Soft offers excellent moderate support designed to protect the dog in cases of hygromas, sores, calluses on the elbow and bursitis. The Balto Soft Plus Elbow Brace is a double brace designed to protect both your dogs’ elbow. The second brace which we recommend and which receives excellent customer feedback, is the Kruuse Rehab Pro Dog Elbow Protector. This brace cushions and compresses the elbow joint, providing warmth and support to the affected area.

Both are well made quality dog elbow braces which can be worn all day, indoors or outdoors.

Surgical options can include arthroscopy, osteotomy (surgical correction of bone deformities) or joint replacement in severe cases. Post-surgical care involves many of the steps which conservative management does; weight management, controlled exercise and anti-inflammatories. Applying a supportive elbow brace post-operatively can also help your dog’s recovery and support their joint more fully.
Elbow dysplasia will always lead to the development of arthritis in your dog and so it is recommended also to give your dog a joint supplement to slow the progression of this and keep your dog more comfortable and active for longer.

Dog Elbow Dysplasia and Elbow Weakness

Looking for help with your dog and elbow dysplasia?

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