And many responsible breeders test all their dogs for this disease, before they consider breeding from them.
So what exactly is elbow dysplasia?
Where does it come from?
And what do you need to do to make sure your puppy doesn’t get it?
What is elbow dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia is a broad term given to a number of developmental defects that can occur in the elbow joint of an affected puppy’s front leg or legs.
These defects mean that the joint doesn’t move as freely as it should and the joint becomes prone to osteoarthritis. Sometimes at a very young age.
The disease is more common in some breeds than others. And like hip dysplasia it is more of a problem in larger, heavier dogs.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include stiffness that gets worse with exercise, limping, an odd gait, a turned out foot, or swelling around the joint.
One or both front legs may be affected.
Frequently it is both.
One or more of these symptoms may appear in puppyhood, well before the dog’s first birthday. Or they may not be obvious until the dog is older
How is elbow dysplasia diagnosed?
Your vet will need to X-ray your puppy to confirm the diagnosis.
The puppy will need to be anaesthetised or sedated to keep him completely still whilst the X-rays are taken.
What is the treatment?
Elbow dysplasia can’t be cured, but it can be treated. In mild cases anti-inflammatory drugs may be sufficient to restore the dog to a normal level of activity and comfort, but in many cases, surgery will be required at some point.
A treatment plan, including how much rest or exercise your dog will require, will need to be discussed with your veterinary surgeon, and possibly with an orthopaedic specialist.
One of the most important aspects of treatment is to keep the dog at minimal weight, so if your puppy is diagnosed with this conditions you will need to be vigilant in keeping him slim.
How can we prevent elbow dysplasia?
The defects in the joint which cause the problem are inherited. Passed down from adult to puppy. So if we can detect problems in the adult, we can prevent them being passed along by excluding that dog from any breeding programme
To do this, we must look at the joints of an adult dog and assess them. We can then grade them according to how close to perfect they are.
UK Grading scheme
In the UK the British Veterinary Association and The Kennel Club have got together to set up a grading scheme for elbow dysplasia. There is an equivalent scheme in the USA
These schemes enable breeders to make better breeding choices, and to enable puppy buyers to make better buying decisions.
Here in the UK a perfect elbow is graded as zero. So ideally all dogs used for breeding will have an elbow score of 0/0 That’s one score for each leg.
The worst grade is 3. Or severe elbow dysplasia.
Your best chance of a puppy with perfect elbows comes from two parents with scores of 0/0 and this is what you should be aiming for.
The USA grades are similar with no grade given for a perfect elbow and displastic elbows graded I to III with III being the worst.
At risk breeds
Some breeds are particularly at risk for elbow dysplasia. They include the Basset Hound, Bernese Mountain Dog, Dogue de Bordeaux, German Shepherd Dog, Great Dane, Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Wolfhound, Large Munsterlander, Mastiff, Newfoundland, Otterhound, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, and St Bernard
Elbow dysplasia is a painful and serious condition that affects young puppies as well as older dogs. I hear from more and more puppy owners that are coping with this disease.
It is relatively common in some breeds, including our very popular Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd dogs.
If you are considering a puppy from one of the affected breeds its important that you see the elbow score certificates of both parents.
Neither should have a score above 1, and ideally (unless there is something incredibly outstanding about the dog in other respects) both should be 0/0
If there is no certificate – don’t buy the puppy. It isn’t worth the risk.
If you already have a puppy that seems lame or reluctant to exercise, do get him checked over by your vet as soon as possible. The sooner these things are diagnosed, the better the chance of a good outcome.
More information and resources
- Information from the Orthapaedic Foundation for Animals
- Information from the British Veterinary Association