Tony Reeves

Medically Reviewed By

Piet Hellemans, DVM
Veterinarian & Veterinary Consultant

Elbow dysplasia is a common disease in dogs. It occurs when the elbow joint bones do not connect well. This causes pain for your canine’s elbow and causes it to limp. Let’s explore the condition’s symptoms and suitable treatment methods for treat your dog’s elbow.

Common signs and symptoms of elbow dysplasia in canines

Elbow dysplasia in dogs manifests in various symptoms. These include:

  • Limping and stiffness in the dog’s limbs
  • The animal exhibits less enthusiasm for walks and plays
  • The dog’s front paws point outwards, and the elbows seem at a weird angle
  • The elbows appear swollen and puffy
  • The dogs hold their elbows too tightly into the body
  • The affected dogs experience difficulty getting up and supporting their body using the elbow

Elbow dysplasia is often quickly dismissed by dog owners and confused with temporary trauma or injury and remains undiagnosed until a later stage.

You should quickly seek assistance from your dog’s veterinarian for adequate treatment. Knowing there is a joint problem is always a step closer to solving it.

The causes of elbow dysplasia

A dog’s elbow joint comprises three main bones; the radius, ulna, and humerus. If they have a dysfunction, a dog’s elbow will be hugely affected.

Elbow dysplasia can also occur due to trauma caused to the limb, old age, or genetics. Some dog breeds are more prone to elbow dysplasia than others.

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Pre-existing conditions such as medial compartment disease, fragmented medial coronoid process, and elbow incongruence can cause elbow dysplasia in your canine friends:

  • Ununited Anconeal Process: This is usually hereditary and refers to when the elbow bone plate closes improperly. It leads to a joint irritation that affects the dog’s walking. If it’s untreated, it may manifest in elbow dysplasia.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans: This is where a dog’s elbow joint cartilage loosens from the joint and causes inflammation and discomfort. It is abnormal development, seen mainly in large breeds, caused by genetics, rapid growth, trauma, lack of blood flow and dogs, receiving high amounts of calcium.
  • Elbow Incongruence: Some dogs have imperfect elbow bone structures at the elbow joint. The dog’s cartilage then wears out and causes discomfort when walking.
  • Fragmented Coronoid Process: This refers to when your dogs break their inner elbow joint bones. This irritates the joint’s lining and wears off the cartilage. Your animal will develop discomfort and experience difficulty walking.

Canine breeds most vulnerable to elbow dysplasia

While all dogs can get elbow dysplasia, some breeds may be more vulnerable than others. The disease mainly affects the large breed dogs and giant breed dogs such as;

  • Great Danes
  • Golden retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Bassett Hounds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • German shepherds
  • Bernese mountain dogs

Nevertheless, you must understand that the condition is not specific to any breed. It may also affect the smaller animal breeds. Take your dogs to the vet when you notice any symptoms or signs.

How is elbow dysplasia diagnosed?

Besides the signs, how can the vet know that your dogs have elbow dysplasia? Forelimb and elbow lameness and difficulty in walking can be signs of other diseases in dogs. Here are some ways used to check a dog’s elbow for dysplasia.

Physical gait analysis

The vet will physically assess the dog’s elbow as they check for any discomfort in the area. They may apply pressure on the joints to check for any issues. The vet then moves the elbow joint in a full-range motion. If the animal shows any sign of discomfort on the elbow, then the clinician moves onto X-Ray examinations.

X-Ray or an Orthopaedic CT Scan

While elbow pain and discomfort is a big sign for dysplasia, it may be misleading at some points. As such, the vet will perform an elbow CT scan or x-ray to assess the dog’s elbow further. If the scan shows a fragmented coronoid process, osteophytes on the anconeal ridge, or sliding humeral osteotomy, then your dogs may be suffering from elbow dysplasia.

The best ways to treat your dogs for elbow dysplasia

There are several ways that you can treat dogs with elbow dysplasia. You select the treatment option based on your dog’s condition, weight, and other individual aspects. Let’s explore.

Control the dog’s weight

If your animal is obese or overweight, the disease may take a bigger toll on it. To manage this, you need to control your dog’s weight so that the condition does not weigh their elbows down. Weight control can be a simple yet complicated procedure. Youl will need to stick to a proper doggy diet. Your vet can advise you on a personalised treatment plan on how to control your dog’s weight.

Use anti-inflammatory medicines (prescribed by your vet)

While at the vet’s office, your canine will get a few physical and X-ray assessments to ascertain the extent of elbow dysplasia. The vet may then administer anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief and comfort for your dog’s elbow. Ensure that you administer the medications in the required timespan; do not stop until the dose is complete.

IMPORTANT: Never give your dog any pain medication without consulting a vet first, especially if it is intended for human use. Read about the dangers of human pain medication on dogs here.

Practise controlled exercise

Animals need regular exercise, just like we do. You can begin by performing controlled activities such as timed walks, jumping, skidding, and chasing to strengthen the elbow. Start small as you move towards the extended exercises especially on the elbow. If you notice any changes, talk to the vet and determine the best course of action.

Let your canine rest for a while

Has your canine been active for too long? Well, maybe it is time to rest its limbs and elbow. If the dog’s elbow is too painful and you notice too much discomfort when walking, you should let the animal rest for a few days. If nothing changes on the joints area, quickly visit the vet.

Elbow replacement surgery for your canine

In worst-case scenarios, the vet will recommend surgery. Your canine will undergo special surgery to replace its joint. After one or two months, the animal can comfortably walk around before running and chasing while supporting itself. It is a process that alleviates your canine’s pain.

Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy

These are two major activities that your dog’s elbow can benefit from. Hydrotherapy uses resistance, buoyance, and viscosity in water to help your canine move its injured joint and elbow. Your canine feels lighter in water and can recuperate from elbow dysplasia very fast. On the other hand, physiotherapy is when the canine gets physical activities to improve the elbow’s state. Your vet can recommend good therapists.

Administer joint supplements

Supplements containing omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can help fight inflammation and contribute to a quicker recovery.


Elbow dysplasia is a treatable and manageable condition. The hang is identifying it in good time and talking to your veterinarian. If you notice one or two signs of elbow dysplasia, you should quickly go to the vet’s office for further assessment. Remember that elbow dysplasia could be a sign of different elbow joint conditions for your canine. Handle it early and have a happy canine.


David is our expert for all things concerning CBD and your four-legged friends. Animals often need special attention and care and that's David’s specialty, but he’s also an expert in all CBD topics, so whatever your question, he's happy to help.

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