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Dog Elbow Dysplasia

Veterinarian Reviewed on January 12, 2015 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Dog Elbow Dysplasia

Dog Elbow Dysplasia

When puppies are born, their long bones are not just one bone, but rather one bone broken into several pieces. The elbow is formed by the radius and ulna and the ulna starts out as a bone with four pieces.

These four pieces will eventually become one in a normal healthy dog. This is accomplished as the cartilage between the pieces turns to bone.

The elbow is a complicated joint. It pretty well mimics that of the human but is closer to the chest wall. Several ligaments hold the radius and ulna together and allows them to basically perform as one bone. With all of the pieces properly fitting together the humerus (upper arm) and radius and ulna will perform much like the human elbow.

Osteochondrosis indicates an abnormality in both the cartilage and the bone below it. The signs of this particular abnormality will generally be lameness. The rapid growth in large breeds dogs accounts for increased difficulties due to loosening of the cartilage from the bone. This can cause the cartilage to be free or partially attached in the joint, causing extreme pain.

Fragmentation means the degeneration or breaking up of the bone within the ulna. Occurring early in life, it is more prevalent in larger breed dogs such as the Doberman Pinscher and German Shepherd Dog. As diagnostic methods have improved, it has been noted more frequently in some of the spaniel breeds and the German Shorthaired Pointer. This particular abnormality has been closely related to heredity. Exact causes are still unknown and genetic predisposition is what is being investigated at this time.


Usually the dog will hold their leg out while walking, a limp or an attempt to not put any weight on the front leg. This has been detected in puppies that are merely four months old. Usually the symptoms will worsen as the dog ages. After the dog reaches the age of one year, signs may appear just occasionally, but will not be as severe. The condition almost invariably leads to Dog Arthritis which needs to be treated with oral or injected medication. Surgery may help some and can eliminate it completely in a few cases, but is never a first choice for any dog.


Dogs may have several conditions that can cause elbow dysplasia. It is also possible that both legs will be involved. X-rays are the only diagnostic tool that can accurately be used to diagnose the problem.

Elbow dysplasia in a dog.


Treatments for elbow dysplasia vary. It depends on the abnormality that is causing the dysplasia. Puppies may be placed on an exercise program such as swimming which has low impact. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may also be administered. If the condition is too severe, surgery may have to be performed. It all depends on the type of elbow dysplasia that the dog has. If the processes within the elbow are not united, surgery may be the only course that can be taken. The surgery will usually include insertion of screws, pins and/or plates in the leg.


Dogs will function well, as a rule. The long term outlook is guarded at best with arthritis (degenerative joint disease) occurring at a later age.

Read also: Dog Cherry Eye
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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