Elbow Dysplasia or ED is most often found in medium to large breeds of dogs and is most common in breeds such as the German Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Rottweiler, Retrievers and Chow Chows. Some of the medium sized breeds such as the Shetland Sheepdog and the Shar Pei also have high incidence of elbow dysplasia. Males are between 25 and 30% more likely to exhibit elbow dysplasia in the breeds that are prone to the condition. Elbow dysplasia can occur in one or both of the elbows and is particularly puzzling because not all dogs that have the condition will become lame and those that do become lame may have periods where the condition comes and goes at least in the early stages.
Often the first signs of elbow dysplasia that an owner will notice are a general stiffness in the front legs when the dog first gets up from resting. With a bit of mild exercise the lameness seems to disappear, but then with continued exercise it becomes noticeable again. It is also common for one leg to be significantly more affected than the other leg or one leg not affected at all. Typically the dogs will exhibit mild to severe levels of pain with elbow dysplasia and this will increase with the age of the dog and the amount of exercise and joint wear. In the more moderate to severe cases the elbow joint may appear swollen and the area will be hot to the touch.
Elbow dysplasia can be seen in puppies as young as six to seven months of age but it can also not develop until the dog is into its adult years at five to seven years of age. Often the severity and onset age of the condition is due to the actual cause of the elbow dysplasia that can be one of four distinct conditions or a combination of two or more of the four. The four conditions all include irregular formation, shape, or size of the elbow joint.
In cases were the elbow joint is malformed there is additional wear on the joint causing pressure to be applied to the cartilage and wear on the joint itself. Often this type of elbow dysplasia is noticed early in the puppy's life as the bones scrape in the joint, leading to pain and discomfort for the puppy. Less noticeable malformations including slight size differences and shapes that only become pronounced with increased wear as the dog matures and the joint area continues to wear.
Treatment for this genetic condition is arthroscopic surgery, which has a very high success rate for dogs treated in the mild to moderate stages. After the procedure dogs must be kept very still until the joint fully heals, often four to six weeks is required of full rest and then a gradual build up to normal activity. Specialty diets and anti-inflammatory drug therapies may be prescribed during the recovery phase.