How Elbow Dysplasia May Be Affecting Your Dog

As a pet parent, you know your dog’s behavior patterns pretty well. So, it can be quite concerning when they suddenly seem disinterested in their daily walk or hesitant to join in a lively game of fetch. It’s even more heartbreaking when they display signs of being lame or seem in pain after activity or getting up from a resting position. 

Suddenly play sessions seem to be torture sessions, and to prevent further distress; you may even have found yourself making excuses not to take your beloved pet on their usual adventure around the block. But as you know, this isn’t good for their physical or mental health, so a solution needs to be found. 

However, as you sit there worrying and searching the internet for possible causes, you may be interested to know that these symptoms could be down to a condition called elbow dysplasia. Before you start panicking, this is a treatable skeletal condition that predominantly affects young dogs. 

Learning to recognize elbow dysplasia and understanding its effect on your dog can help get your furry friend back to putting their best paw forward. 

Elbow Dysplasia Explained

The elbow comprises three prominent bones: radius, ulna, and humerus. When these bones are misaligned due to abnormal growth, it causes uneven weight distribution on the joint, resulting in pain and eventually arthritis. 

This condition often affects young dogs and unfortunately worsens as the dog grows and matures, resulting in a deformed elbow joint that further degenerate over time. 

This degeneration is painful for the dog and becomes more painful over time, leading to lameness and a noticeable lackluster approach to activity. Commonly affecting larger dog breeds such as German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, elbow dysplasia is primarily inherited - passed on from parent to offspring.

Therefore, caution should be taken when breeding dogs that suffer from elbow dysplasia. 

Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia

Knowing what symptoms to look for can help you get a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, thus alleviating your dog’s pain.

  • Decreased range of motion in the elbow joint
  • Signs of pain in the joint when walking, running, or jumping
  • Difficulty rising from a seated or lying down position
  • Swollen elbow joints
  • Sudden lameness after activity
  • Persistent lameness/ stiffness that worsens with exercise
  • Awkward holding of elbows away or close to the body
  • Disinterest in daily walks or play sessions
  • Head nodding when walking as their gait compensates for the painful joint

Over time fluid can also build up in the joint, and the cartilage can start to wear away, causing a grating of bone-one-bone. 

Diagnosing Elbow Dysplasia 

If your dog displays signs of elbow dysplasia, you should book an appointment with your vet for an official diagnosis. 

Your vet will perform a physical examination and take x-rays to gain a clear picture of the elbow joint abnormalities and bony fragments causing pain. Sometimes further investigation is required if the x-rays are unclear. This could mean an MRI or CT scan is needed to assess the condition of the elbow joint.

In some cases, joint fluid may be taken from the elbow to test for inflammation or infection that could be adding to your dog’s discomfort. 

Is Elbow Dysplasia Breed Specific?

Many pet parents query whether elbow dysplasia is more common in certain breeds than others, and the answer is yes, in some cases. 

Larger breeds such as the German Shepherd are more prone to elbow dysplasia. The cause of this is often down to genetics passed down from the parents.

However, other common causes are excessive weight gain as a pup or being too active. Who would have thought that a German Shepherd could have too much exercise! 

Too much exercise can cause microfractures in the bones or chips in the cartilage. In addition, a diet high in nutrients can cause them to grow too fast and result in deformed elbow joints. 

Although larger breeds tend to suffer from this condition, smaller breeds such as the French Bulldog are also contenders for elbow dysplasia. In most cases, genetics plays a significant role, but health and growth rates can also be contributing factors. 

For example, an overweight Frenchie pup is more likely to develop elbow dysplasia, but growth rate, nutrition, and even trauma can cause the French Bulldog to suffer from this condition. 

How Do You Cure Elbow Dysplasia?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for elbow dysplasia, but certain treatments can help to ease the pain your furry pal is feeling. 

Treatment is bespoke to your dog’s condition and the severity of the elbow dysplasia. Mild elbow dysplasia can be managed with simple lifestyle changes, while more severe cases may require surgical intervention. 

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate can help to lubricate the joints, reduce inflammation and relieve stiffness.
  • Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help manage the pain.
  • Ask the vet about a proper exercise routine for your dog, one that does not put too much pressure on the painful joint. Exercise is crucial in helping your dog lose excess weight and strengthen weak muscles and joints.
  • Purchasing an orthopedic dog bed can help support joints and lessen pressure on the elbows when sleeping.
  • A heating pad or blanket is also excellent for reducing inflammation and soothing joint pain.

Surgical Intervention:

  • There are several types of surgery your dog may require if they suffer from severe elbow dysplasia. Your vet will diagnose the surgery needed according to the severity/type of elbow dysplasia. Types of surgery include fragment removal surgery, limb realignment, elbow replacement, or bone lengthening surgery (bi-oblique dynamic ulnar osteotomy).

Prevention is Better Than Cure

The saying “prevention is better than cure” is very true regarding elbow dysplasia. And while genetics are not something we as pet parents can prevent, there are some ways we can ensure our faithful friends remain healthy and bouncing around on their paw-pins!

  • Purchase your pup from a trusted breeder; this will ensure you avoid unwanted genetic issues.
  • Avoid excessive or strenuous activities if you own a large/giant dog breed.
  • Don’t overfeed as excess weight can contribute to elbow dysplasia.
  • Avoid high-protein dog food that accelerates growth rate and leads to elbow joint deformation.

A healthy diet combined with proper weight control and exercise can help to prevent elbow dysplasia from developing and causing our loveable friend’s unnecessary pain.


Dylan Dove is the President of Barkspot and loves to contribute information about pets and dogs, and network with related sites.


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