Elbow Dysplasia - what is it ?

Elbow dysplasia is more common in larger breeds however can appear in smaller breed dogs as well. It usually appears in puppies (under a year in age) but can appear later in life. There are certain breeds that are more likely to be affected such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers.


The elbow is made up of the humerus, radius and ulna. All three come together to form the elbow in the dog. They are meant to fit together properly to form the elbow joint. However there are times when this is not the case.


Generally elbow dysplasia, which is a general term for arthritis in the elbow joint, is a result of any of the four following abnormalities:


a) Fractured coronoid process or FCP. This is a developmental defect of one of the coronoid processes which are the two small bony protrusions on the end of the ulna within the elbow joint. In this condition, one of the coronoid processes develops a crack and separates from the rest of the bone.


b) Ununited Anconeal Process or UAP. This occurs when the small bony projection called the anconeal process doesn’t connect to and fuse with the ulna.


c) Osteochondritis dissecans or OCD. This is a disease of the cartilage, where the cartilage is either damaged, or grows abnormally.


d) Elbow incongruency which is a term used to describe flawed conformation of the joint, which then causes the cartilage to wear down quickly.


Some of the symptoms of elbow dysplasia might be limping in the foreleg(s), especially after either resting for a long time or exercising, the dog appears to get tired quickly when walking, their paws might turn outwards and they prefer to sit or lie down. It can look like they are paddling their paws outwards. Another possible sign is crepitus, which is a crackling sound when the elbow is moved.


If your dog is limping or displaying any of these symptoms they should be taken to a veterinarian for a correct diagnosis, and to determine the severity of the disease. Surgery might be, but is not always, required – it will depend on the amount of pain the dog is in and the arthritic changes that have occurred. As with any dog, it is important that they are not overweight as this puts additional pressure on the joints.


Depending on veterinarian advice, therapies such as underwater treadmills, therapeutic exercises by a physical therapist and massage by a qualified massage practitioner, can all be beneficial in managing pain.


Healthypets with Dr Karen Becker – Canine Elbow Dysplasia
ACVS – Canine Elbow Dysplasia
Canna-Pet: Elbow Dysplasia in dogs – recognise the signs