Canine Elbow Dysplaysia

Canine Elbow Dysplasia: Information & Treatments

Elbow dysplasia is a generic term meaning arthritis of the elbow joint. Elbow dysplasia is primarly an inherited disease which primarily affects intermediate and large breed dogs. A high incidence of occurrence has been noted in the Bernese Mountain Dog, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever. Other breeds affected are the Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, Mastiff, Springer Spaniel, Australian Shepherd , Chow Chow, Shar-Pei, Shetland Sheepdog, and some Terrier breeds. Typically, both elbows are affected. However, unilateral elbow dysplasia is also recognized.

The Breckenridge Animal Clinic can provide a number of medical and surgical solutions for canine elbow dysplasia. Based on your pet’s specific needs we will recommend the best course of action.

Read more about canine elbow dysplasia below, or return to canine orthopedic surgery home.

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What is Canine Elbow Dysplasia?

The canine elbow joint is made up of a bones and cartilage which form a complex jigsaw that fit closely together. The elbow joint is complicated, partly due to the fact it is composed of three bones; the humerus, the radius and the ulna. The radius’ main function is weight bearing and the ulna’s primary purpose is to allow smooth back and forth motion (flexion and extension) of the elbow joint. These two bones must grow at exactly the same rate or mal-alignment occurs resulting in rubbing, cartilage erosions and arthritis. All it needs is for one of these parts to change in shape and problems will develop. In many ways the joint is like a hinge. If a piece of grit gets into the mechanism it will not function properly.

The term elbow dysplasia refers to this mal-alignment and accompanying arthritic changes. Elbow dysplasia occurs when the cartilage or the structure around the joint develops abnormally. These abnormalities – or primary lesions – affect the dog’s gait which in turn exacerbates the problems.

Elbow dysplasia is characterized by varying degrees of elbow incongruity, bony fragments (bone chips), and ultimately, severe arthritic change. Clinically, the symptoms range from an intermittent lameness in some affected dogs to severe, crippling disease in others.

There are three main types of lesions associated with elbow dysplasia:

OCD – Osteochondritis Dissecans, common in Rottweilers and St Bernard’s
FCP – Fragmented or ununited coronoid process
UAP – Ununited anconeal process

Identifying Canine Elbow Dysplasia

One of the problems with elbow dysplasia, as with hip dysplasia, is identifying dogs that are suffering from it. Frequently, dogs may develop lesions in their elbows that do not result in lameness and they are able to cope with the pain and distress it causes without complaining or visibly limping.

While dogs who have a “subclinical” elbow dysplasia, may never show signs of lameness or pain. Those who have severe or “clinical” dysplasia are likely to begin displaying the condition between the ages of six and twelve months.

In clinical cases, the onset of pain usually occurs between four and six months of age and corresponds with the fragmentation of the coronoid, the development of OCD, and/or failure of ossification of the anconeal process. Joint fluid entering through fissures and cracks in the cartilage causes marked pain. The fragments are a constant irritant, causing more pain, a more severe lameness, and more rapid progression of arthritis.

The chances of a dog with elbow dysplasia passing on a more serious vesion of the condition to any puppies they may produce is high. So it is vital that owners have their dogs monitored and scored for elbow dysplasia. Screening schemes take three different views of the joint, two from either side and one from the front. The dog will then be graded according to the number of primary and secondary lesions present.

A number of breeds, mostly larger ones, have been identified as having a greater incidence of elbow dysplasia. These breeds are the Basset Hound, Bernese Mountain Dog, English Mastiff, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland and Rotweiler.