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Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs - Signs & Treatment

In young large breed dogs elbow dysplasia is the most common cause of fore limb lameness.

Dysplasia means abnormal growth so elbow dysplasia is abnormal growth of the elbow.

Normal development of the elbow involves  three bones coordinating growth at the same rate to form the elbow joint. These are the humerus, radius and ulna. If the growth of any one of these bones is affected then they will not allign as they should resulting in elbow dysplasia.

There are many ways elbow dysplasia can occur resulting in different forms of elbow dysplasia. Although there are different forms they can all result in pieces of bone or cartilage breaking off and floating around in the joint and causing pain. Arthritis (joint inflammation) is the longterm consequence.












What causes elbow dysplasia?

Most cases are inherited although a small minority may be be initiated by a previous injury to humerus, radius or ulna

What are the signs of elbow dysplasia?

Generally a front leg lameness will present in a dog less than 12 months old. The level of suspicion of elbow dysplasia is higher in breeds where there is known to be higher risk of the disease. These include German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, St Bernard and Bassett Hounds.

How do we diagnose elbow dysplasia?

If you suspect your dog may have elbow dysplasia then make an appointment with your vet.

Your vet will examine your dog looking for signs of pain, swelling and restricted movement. Most times an xray can confirm the diagnosis. In some cases more specialist techniques may be required including arthroscopy and CT scan.


Some dogs will require surgery. The best outcomes are achieved if surgery is performed earlier rather than later.

Many dogs can benefit from conservative management.

Treatments offered by Balance Vet Rehab that may be beneficial for these pets include:

Animal Biomechanical Medicine

Manual therapy can help reduce elbow pain in dogs with elbow dysplasia but the most benefit is most likely gained from treating compensations in other parts of the musculoskeletal system.

Effects of orthopaedic manual therapy in knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis Shahnawaz Anwer et al


If you are reading this you may have already experienced the relief acupuncture gives for your own arthritis. Our pets can also reap the benefits.

Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis Y. D. Kwon et al

Effectiveness of combined acupuncture and manual therapy relative to no treatment for canine musculoskeletal pain David M. Lane et al

Home exercise program

A well designed exercise program can help maintain and even build muscle in old dogs with arthritis. Increased muscle means less strain on joints and better mobility.

Effect of therapeutic exercise for hip osteoarthritis pain: Results of a meta‐analysis Gabriela Hernández‐Molina et al

Effects of caloric restriction and a moderate or intense physiotherapy program for treatment of lameness in overweight dogs with osteoarthritis Evamaria Mlacnik et al


This can be a fiddly therapy to use in wriggly patients but for the guys that sit still it can be a risk free way to help reduce pain associated with arthritis.

Electro-Acupuncture is Beneficial for Knee Osteoarthritis: The Evidence from Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials Na Chen et al



The studies that are showing benefits of laser treatment in joint problems are vast and increasing every year. This is a short and painless treatment that even the most difficult to handle pets will tolerate.

A randomized blind placebo-controlled trial investigating the effects of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) on canine elbow osteoarthritis Andrea L. Looney et al


Shockwave Therapy (COMING SOON)

A relatively new therapy where studies on small animals aren't numerous. There are plenty of studies in the human and horse field so it is likely that science will eventually catch up to the benefits that are being seen in small animal clinical practice.

Effect of Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy Versus Intra-articular Injections of Hyaluronic Acid for the Treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis June-Kyung Lee et al

Radial shock wave therapy in dogs with hip osteoarthritis Alexandre N. A. Souza et al

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy  

Also a new therapy that is slowly gaining traction for arthritis treatment even by conventional vets.

Effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in the management of osteoarthritis of the knee: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials Vavken, Patrick et al

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