Canine elbow dysplasia is a disease that occurs due to multiple skeletal growth problems of the elbow. Puppies, large dogs, and giant dog breeds are more prone to developing this health condition. Elbow dysplasia is an uncomfortable and excruciating experience for any dog. Read on to learn what causes elbow dysplasia in dogs, how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
What causes elbow dysplasia in dogs?
The elbow joint is composed of three bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna. These bones should fit together properly to form the elbow joint. However, in some cases, there may be developmental problems that cause elbow dysplasia in pooches. Below are the five causes of canine elbow dysplasia:
- Elbow incongruency
Elbow incongruency occurs when the elbow joint’s structure is imperfect. As a result, the cartilage wears down more quickly.
- Growth rate incongruity
The different growth rate of the ulna bone and the radius bone leads to growth rate incongruity. Due to this, the radius bone will have an abnormal curvature. The imperfect fit of these bones swiftly debilitates the surface cartilage.
- Fragmented coronoid process
This happens when a small fragment of the ulna bone comes loose inside the elbow joint. It floats within the joint, which causes inflammation on its lining. This causes impairment to the humerus bone.
- Osteochondritis dissecans
Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) crops up when a small piece of joint cartilage breaks off from the joint’s surface. It results in pain, inflammation, and irritation.
- Ununited anconeal process
It occurs when a growth plate is unable to close properly. This causes an outgrowth of a bone to break off inside the elbow. Ununited anconeal process (UAP) generates degeneration and irritation of the joints.
Is elbow dysplasia in dogs genetic?
Canine elbow dysplasia is a genetic disease that every dog breed can develop. However, puppies as young as five months old are vulnerable to elbow dysplasia. Large and giant dog breeds are known to have a greater risk of developing this disease as well. Listed underneath are the dog breeds that are commonly affected by canine elbow dysplasia:
- American bulldog
- American Staffordshire terrier
- American pit bull terrier
- Bernese mountain dog
- Black Russian terrier
- Chinese Shar-Pei
- Chow chow
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- English springer spaniel
- English setter
- Fila Brasileiro
- Golden retriever
- German shepherd
- Irish water spaniel
- Labrador retriever
- Saint Bernard
- Staffordshire bull terrier
Test for elbow dysplasia in dogs
Get your dog tested for elbow hip dysplasia. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Kennel Club (KC) have a scoring scheme.
It involves screening the dogs for any elbow joint faults. Your pooch’s x-rays will be examined by a group of experts. Learn more about BVA and KC’s scoring scheme.
Symptoms of elbow dysplasia in dogs
Knowing the early signs of canine elbow dysplasia is important. Prompt detection of the symptoms helps in getting early treatment for your dog before his condition worsens. Below are the initial signs that your pooch may be suffering from canine elbow dysplasia:
- Expresses pain when his elbow joints flex
- Abnormal gait
- Lack of enthusiasm for walks or games
- Swollen joints
- Difficulty in moving
- Dog’s feet start skewing outwards
How to diagnose elbow dysplasia in dogs
Make sure to immediately bring your dog to the vet if he is exhibiting any of the symptoms above. For diagnosis, the vet will ask for your pooch’s health history. Then, they will proceed to perform a physical exam and a thorough orthopaedic exam, which includes watching his gait and X-rays.
Test for dog elbow dysplasia
In some cases, more advanced testing is required to create an accurate diagnosis. The vet may refer you to a veterinary surgeon. They may require your dog to undergo CT scan, MRI scan, or arthroscopy, which involve examining inside of the joint through using a camera or small telescope. Others may also need to collect joint fluid to be tested for inflammation or infection.
Is elbow dysplasia in dogs curable?
Sadly, canine elbow dysplasia is not curable, but there are treatments and management methods that can ease an affected dog’s pain and discomfort. Treatment on each dog may vary depending on how severe the elbow dysplasia is.
If it is mild, your dog might need changes in his lifestyle. Meanwhile, a severe case of elbow dysplasia may require surgery. Below are different treatments and lifestyle changes that can alleviate elbow dysplasia in dogs.
- Give him proper exercise.
Ask help from the vet in designing the right exercise routine for your dog. Strenuous activities can do harm than good. It puts extra pressure on his debilitated joints. However, properly planned exercise will aid your dog in losing weight and strengthen his muscles and joints.
- Consider sending him to rehabilitation therapy.
Swimming therapy, range-of-motion exercises, and underwater treadmills can boost your dog’s joint function. It also prevents the weakening of the joints and improves mobility. Before you start, consult the vet to establish the limitations of what your dog can do during the therapy.
- Anti-inflammatory medications and shots may be needed.
Sometimes, the vet may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID). These help in decreasing the pain and discomfort brought by elbow dysplasia. Be sure to follow the dosage given by the vet as overdosage may lead to negative side effects.
- Try giving him supplements.
Chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and omega-3 fatty acids are dietary supplements that can reduce joint inflammation. These lubricate the joints and relieve some of the stiffness and irritation. Prescription diets for arthritic dogs can also help in soothing his joint pains.
- Fragment removal surgery
It is the most common surgery for dogs with elbow dysplasia. Many times, it is performed as a key surgery or laparoscopic surgery, which is a minimally invasive method. The most suitable patients to undergo this treatment are young dogs. Statistics show that 60 to 70 per cent of cases exhibit an improvement in lameness.
- Limb realignment surgery
In this surgical operation, the joint loading is moved away from the abnormal inside part of the joint. Then, it is transferred to the healthier outside location of the joint.
- Bi-oblique dynamic ulnar osteotomy
It is also known as bone lengthening surgery. It corrects the small abnormality that occurs between the bones that form the elbow joint.
- Salvage surgery
This type of surgery is usually meant for dogs with severe cases of elbow dysplasia. It involves elbow replacement surgery and elbow fusion.
How to manage elbow dysplasia in dogs
For dog owners, it is a heartbreaking sight to see your dog suffer from the pain of elbow dysplasia. You can help reduce his discomfort by following the tips below:
- Invest in an orthopaedic dog bed.
The orthopaedic dog bed is designed to give extra support for the joints. This will lessen the pressure on your dog’s elbows whilst he is asleep. Choose an orthopaedic dog bed that is not too elevated. It will prevent him from exerting too much force on his elbow joints when climbing in and getting out of the bed.
- Give him warmth.
Provide your dog with a heating pad or blanket. The insulation will greatly help lessen the inflammation and soothe the joint pains.Note that a sudden change of temperature from hot to cold can trigger joint pains. Thus, make sure that his sleeping area has a consistent temperature. If he needs to go out on a cold day, be sure to let him wear leg warmers or a sweater.
- Keep your dog slim.
Make sure that he maintains a healthy weight. Obesity is one of the biggest contributors to elbow dysplasia. Consult the vet for a weight-loss plan catered for your pooch.Measure his food portions daily and cut back on treats. Be sure to take note of his weight-loss progress by checking his weight every week.
- Think about switching him to new dog food.
Avoid dog food that contains high levels of protein. It is observed that it worsens the conditions of dogs with elbow dysplasia. Ask the vet for the right food that has balanced nutrients and minerals and contains omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and other anti-inflammatory ingredients.
How to prevent elbow dysplasia in dogs
The most effective way to prevent canine hip dysplasia is to get your pooch from a trusted breeder. They are largely responsible for producing a healthy litter with a low risk of inheriting genetic diseases. Reputable breeders also make sure that each puppy is tested for any predisposed hereditary health problems.
For those who already have puppies and dogs especially large and giant dog breeds, make sure to limit their exercise. Excessive running, long walks, jumping down furniture, climbing up and down the stairs, and other strenuous activities should be avoided. These activities place too much tension on their joints, which can lead to joint damage.
Give your dog a healthy and balanced diet. Keep in mind that obesity is linked to canine elbow dysplasia, so never overfeed nor free-feed him. Avoid high-protein dog food as well, as it contributes to triggering the disease. Combining proper weight control and a healthy diet is an effective way to keep elbow dysplasia at bay.