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Elbow Dysplasia

What is hip dysplasia?


Elbow dysplasia, much like hip dysplasia, is a developmental joint disease affecting growing puppies.


Elbow dysplasia is really an umbrella term for several conditions that can affect the elbow joint as it develops. These are:

  1. Fragmented medial coronoid process

  2. Ununited anconeal process

  3. Osteochondrosis (OCD) of the distal humerus

Symptoms can range from very mild to extreme lameness. Diagnosis is often conformed with CT or MRI scan. Symptoms can occasionally be managed conservatively but often surgery is required to treat the problem

Has my dog got elbow dysplasia?

Larger pure breed dogs such as Labradors, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are typically affected but it can occur in any breed. Signs and symptoms are usually noticeable from 4 to 10 months of age. Diagnosis will be made by your veterinary surgeon by manipulation the hips to assess for laxity and X-Rays to confirm the laxity and show signs of arthritis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

• Stiffness after exercise 

• Forelimb lameness

• Adducted elbow conformation

• Reluctance to exercise or play (due to pain)

• Occasional clicking of the joint(s)

• Lying down a lot

What can be done?

There is a natural tendency for puppies with mild hip dysplasia to overcome acute pain as they mature. This is due to progressive fibrosis and thickening of the joint capsule, which provides better stability. Although this sounds positive, please do not forget that this is the inevitable secondary arthritic phase of the disease process and can present problems in itself which need careful management. It may take 18 months for symptoms to subside. In some dogs with mild dysplasia, the disease may go undetected and they may go on to lead fairly normal active adult lives.

In more severe cases, pain and lameness will become evident and treatment of the condition is required. Conservative management is an option and needs to be discussed with your vet or vet physio. Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, controlled exercise, joint supplements, diet and weight management all play an important part in the successful management of ED.

There are important changes you can make to your dog's lifestyle right now that may improve their situation.



Despite conservative management, in severe cases and if pain cannot be satisfactorily controlled surgical intervention may be appropriate. In this instance your vet may refer you to a specialist referral centre for orthopaedic cases. The veterinary surgeon will discuss with you the best surgical options based on the individual circumstances of your pet. Techniques may include subtotal coronoidectomy, osteotomy of the humerus, fixation of the aconeal process

Surgical management:

If surgery has been advised - please do not put this off. Often if the underlying joint disease is severe, prompt surgery by a specialist orthopaedic surgeon will provide the best chance of reducing pain and a better opportunity for your dog to lead a relatively "normal" active life in the future

How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapy aims to reduce pain and improve function and well being. Physical rehabilitation techniques are used to improve elbow range of motion, proprioception, forelimb muscle control and strength. Owner education, lifestyle modification, exercise advice and weight management are key for your pet to achieve optimum comfort, function and a good quality of life for the future.

Treatment will include:

• Joint range of motion/stretches

• Joint mobilisation techniques

• Active strengthening exercises

• Balance/proprioceptive exercise

• Pain relief where necessary

• Prescription of home exercises

• Advice on controlled exercise

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