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What is Wrong With my Dog’s Elbow?

What is Wrong With my Dog’s Elbow?

Elbow dysplasia could be causing your dog’s elbow to be uncomfortable, making it hard for your dog to walk.

Many large breed dogs including Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Bearded Collies, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, and Newfoundlands are prone to elbow dysplasia.

If you notice your dog is limping or is trying to avoid putting weight on a leg – this could indicate your dog’s elbow is giving him trouble. Interestingly, elbow dysplasia is very common in dogs and symptoms can arise in dogs as young as 4 months old.

However, like most dog joint problems, it can take up to 1 year for your dog to show her elbow discomfort.

Read on for the facts on dog elbow dysplasia including a detailed description of the condition, the signs and symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Dog Elbow Dysplasia?

Dog elbow dysplasia is a common condition caused by the abnormal growth of the cells, tissue, or bone in the elbow. The elbow is the first joint in your dog’s leg.

According to, this elbow condition is characterized by developmental abnormalities that lead to the malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint.

Elbow dysplasia is the most common reason for elbow discomfort and lameness. Additionally, it is one of the major causes of front limb lameness in large and giant breed dogs.

This dog joint condition is often diagnosed when your dog is between 4 and 18 months. This diagnosis really depends on how well your dog manages to hide his elbow discomfort. As we know, dogs are experts at hiding joint discomfort.

To make things more complicated, not all dogs show signs of elbow dysplasia when young – some dogs can suffer from an acute onset of the condition as a result of more general joint deterioration.

Elbow dysplasia is a genetic condition, therefore it’s important you do not breed a dog who has been diagnosed with the condition. As well, it’s important that you contact your breeder and let them know that your dog has been diagnosed with elbow dysplasia.

This dog elbow condition can also be exacerbated by the amount and quality of nutrients your dog eats. If your breed of dog is prone to elbow dysplasia, it’s key that you keep your dog at a healthy weight, particularly while he is growing and developing.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dog Elbow Dysplasia?

The signs of dog elbow dysplasia include:

  • Your dog limps.
  • Your dog tries to stick his sore leg out from his body as he walks, in an attempt to avoid putting weight on it.
  • A limited range of motion in the impacted leg. Your dog might appear to have a stiff leg.
  • Lameness that is made worse with exercise.
  • Stiffness and an inability to weight-bear after your dog has been sleeping or resting.

If your dog has elbow dysplasia, he can experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • A sudden and acute onset of lameness as a result of degenerative joint disease.
  • Discomfort when the elbow is flexed.
  • Swelling due to fluid build-up in the elbow joint.
  • The elbow joint bones may grate or rub during movement.

If you notice any changes in your dog’s ability to walk, run, jump, or sit comfortably – contact your veterinarian. Remember, dogs are experts at hiding all signs of elbow joint discomfort until the discomfort becomes too severe to hide.

How is Dog Elbow Dysplasia Treated?

The treatment for dog elbow dysplasia really depends on the severity of the condition and the age of your dog.

To diagnose elbow dysplasia, your veterinarian will do a full physical assessment, ask you questions about your dog’s mobility and behavior, and use x-rays to identify the abnormalities in your dog’s elbow joint and bones.

The treatment options for this dog elbow joint discomfort include:

  • Surgery: this approach is often used in young dogs or in puppies when the elbow dysplasia is caught early. There are surgical approaches that can correct any defects in the elbow joint, preventing the defects to continue as your dog grows. The decision around surgery really depends on how well your dog can recover from surgery.
  • Rehabilitation therapy: many dogs respond well to physiotherapy or other rehab therapy. This treatment protocol can include range-of-motion exercises, spending time in a pool doing non-weight bearing exercise, massage, and walking on an underwater treadmill.
  • Weight management: maintaining an ideal weight is critical for any dog, but especially for dogs with elbow joint discomfort. For puppies that are prone to elbow dysplasia, maintaining a healthy weight minimizes the stress and pressure on the elbow joint. Discuss any weight management strategies with your veterinarian – there might a recommended food that can help your dog maintain a healthy weight and also provide extra joint support. Do not change your dog’s diet without speaking to your veterinarian.
  • Natural supplements: a natural supplement that is proven to support your dog’s mobility can help ease elbow joint discomfort. An all-natural dog chew like Leaps & Bounds help ease inflammation in dog joints and restore your dog’s mobility range.
  • Supportive exercise: the natural tendency is to think you should limit your dog’s exercise and play time if she’s suffering from elbow dysplasia. However, it’s important to remember that your dog needs to keep her supportive muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and flexible. The best way to do this is with exercise. Additionally, to help avoid weight gain, it’s important for your dog to do supportive elbow joint exercises. And, don’t overlook the reality that your dog wants to move and play – limiting her motion can cause depression, sadness, and boredom in your dog. Talk to your veterinarian about the best and safest ways for your dog to get her exercise and play time.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: depending on the severity of your dog’s elbow dysplasia, your veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the discomfort.

The good news is that elbow dysplasia is a widely recognized and understood elbow condition in dogs. It’s important that you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations and do not make any sudden changes in diet, exercise, or routine.

Does your dog have elbow dysplasia? It’s likely that many dogs and dog parents in the SierraSil Leaps & Bounds community are living with elbow dysplasia – tell us how you’re caring for your dog’s elbow joint discomfort.