Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms and Diagnosis

What is It?

Elbow dysplasia is malformation of the joint when the bones grow abnormally.

What Causes It?

The radius, ulna and humerus bones make up the elbow joint.

There are three conditions that result in elbow dysplasia:

  • A growth plate does not properly fuse during bone development
  • Cartilage does not properly harden into bone during development, leaving a thick layer of cartilage at the joint
  • One of the two small protrusions on the end of the ulna splinters and separates from the bone

All three of these situations leave the joint with abnormal stress and increased friction resulting in elbow dysplasia. 

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What Are The Symptoms?

  • Lameness in one or both front legs
  • Difficulty moving
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Hesitancy to play
  • Swelling in joints
  • Stiff joints
  • Legs rotating inwards and elbows rotating outwards
  • Cracking sounds from elbow

Is it Life Threatening?

No. It can be incapacitating but with treatment many dogs have happy lives. It is important to diagnose and treat as soon as you see symptoms. Elbow dysplasia can evolve into osteoarthritis.

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How is It Diagnosed?

A vet will do a full physical exam and a medical history questionnaire. The vet will check range of motion in the joint. An x-ray, CT scan, MRI and/or arthroscopy will allow the vet to better assess the condition.

What Are The Treatments?

The severity of the condition will dictate recommended treatment. In mild cases a combination of weight loss, modified exercise, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatories can greatly improve your pup’s mobility.

Joint supplements that promote lubrication in the elbow can also be helpful. In severe cases surgery to increase proper movement in the joint may be the best option.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pup’s condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian. Or, consult a virtual vet here.

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