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Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

Elbow dysplasia in dogs is one of the most common causes of elbow lameness and pain in larger dogs.

It is usually caused by a genetic growth abnormality in a dog’s tissue, bones, and cells.

As the abnormalities in the elbow become more acute over time, it can lead to the deterioration of a dog’s elbow joints.

It is very similar to the symptoms and outcome of arthritis, yet it occurs in the elbow joint.

There are also a number of elbow-specific diseases that are considered as different forms of elbow dysplasia.

Elbow dysplasia is usually seen in puppies who grow too quickly. A diagnosis can be made within the first 18 months of a dog’s life.

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Elbow Dysplasia Symptoms

Some of the symptoms of elbow dysplasia could be displayed at four months old, while some dogs might not have any symptoms until later in life.

Both elbows are usually affected, although one may show more severe symptoms than the other.

Vet checking black lab for elbow dysplasia

Some of the most common signs of elbow dysplasia:

  • Limping
  • Pain and lameness in forelimbs
  • Thickening of the elbow
  • Development of arthritis, or inflammation of the joint
  • Advanced joint disease
  • Painful to extend the elbow
  • Raising hurt limb outward as in a slow kick
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty in getting up after sleeping
  • Fluid in the elbow joint

Breeds Affected by Elbow Dysplasia

Medium sized and larger breeds that are most commonly affected by Elbow Dysplasia.

Some common breeds that suffer from Elbow Dysplasia are the following:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Labradoodles
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Chow Chows
  • Collies
  • German Shepherds
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Newfoundlands

Related: 10 Things You Must Know Before You Buy Pet Insurance

Causes of Elbow Dysplasia

There are a few factors that can lead to elbow dysplasia issues:


Some joint deformities that are present at birth (congenital) can cause elbow dysplasia when the joints haven’t properly grown.

This can be due to a breed-specific condition or just an abnormality.


Dogs who are overweight or have not been fed properly will develop elbow and joint issues because of the excess weight.

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Your vet will run a variety of tests to determine if there are other conditions other than elbow dysplasia such as an infection, arthritis or an injury to the joint.

X-rays are likely to be taken to rule out tumors or any other growth.  They can further determine if there are any joint breaks or fragment around the elbow.

An MRI or another imaging test, a CT scan, can also help diagnose the same more precisely.

Your vet will also want to run some blood tests, a urinalysis, and even an arthroscopic exam.

It’s important to get treatment for your dog’s elbow dysplasia as soon as you see the signs as there are other afflictions that can occur as a result of the disease such as canine osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis can cause constant pain and swelling.

Elbow Dysplasia Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the exact form and stage of the disease. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications are options when surgery is not feasible, as is physical therapy.

Below are some of the different treatment options available:

Lifestyle Change

If your dog is young and already has signs of elbow dysplasia, a change in lifestyle will be necessary.

Weight management will be imperative to keep the dog lean and a change of exercise.  Walking instead of running, swimming or low impact exercise.

Weight Control

It is very important to keep the weight down of dogs’ with elbow dysplasia.  The less weight your dog has, the less stress he will put on his or her joints.

Your vet can give you some specific recommendations of the right diet for your pup and it might even be a weight-control prescription formula.


Some dogs are good candidates for surgery.

The surgery is intended to take out the broken or loose pieces of the joint or cartilage in the hurt elbow.

After surgery, it’s equally important to do the follow-up physical therapy necessary to aid your dog’s elbow joint in healing.

Your veterinarian will give you recommendations of different range-of-motion exercises to perform on your dog.

Activity will be restricted after surgery, but it’s vital to exercise your dog’s limbs to stop atrophy in that elbow and even the other limbs from occurring.

Rehabilitation Therapy

There are many different forms of alternative and rehab therapies that can help dogs with elbow dysplasia such as:

  • Massage
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Swim Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Joint Mobilization

Does Pet Insurance Cover Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is covered by many pet insurance companies, as long as your dog has coverage before he shows any signs of the condition when it is then considered pre-existing.

Since elbow dysplasia usually affects both sides of the body, policies would have to cover bilateral conditions to cover treatment of both forelimbs.

With the cost of surgery and even rehab costing anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, pet insurance can save you up to 90% of the cost.

Plans like Healthy Paws can help with not only the cost of surgery but the rehab that is required to help your dog heal with alternative therapy being covered in all their plans.

If you have a breed that is pre-disposed to this condition, make sure that you enroll your dog in a pet insurance plan before your pup exhibits symptoms and the condition is then called pre-existing.


Because elbow dysplasia is a genetic trait, it is generally recommended that dogs who exhibit symptoms of elbow dysplasia not be breed.

And then spaying and neutering would be advised for the specific dog.

Weight management is also helpful in reducing the risk of elbow dysplasia and, really, any other condition in a dog.

A proper, well-balanced diet will also aid in weight control and appropriate nutrition.


If your dog has elbow dysplasia or any type of elbow issue, it’s important to keep up with your annual vet exams to determine the condition of your dog’s elbow.

Your veterinarian will usually conduct follow-up X-rays and blood work to make sure the elbow and the other joints are functioning properly.

If you continue to see your vet, keep your pup’s weight in control, and keep your dog active, but overly so, your dog can continue to enjoy life without pain.

If you are interested in learning more about other diseases or conditions that could afflict your dog, our dog glossary is a great resource of information.


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