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Elbow Dysplasia

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Elbow Dysplasia           
Marie Bartling, DVM, cVMA, IVCA, CCRT, CVPP

First, if you are reading this, let me say I am sorry.  It means that your dog may have a lameness in one or both of their front legs.  Elbow dysplasia is a term we use to describe
a problem with the growth and fit of the elbow joint.  And, since this is a growth related problem, it is often identified in dogs at about 6 months old.  In some cases, mildly affected dogs may not have clinical signs until they are older and they are diagnosed with arthritis, secondary to elbow dysplasia.

It can involve a floating fragment or bones that have not completely joined in the ossification centers as well as low grade laxity in the joint. The net effect of this is that when a dog with this problem walks there is friction in the joint that leads to damage to the cartilage, bones and ligaments around the joint. Overtime as this becomes more painful, they can also develop strain in the biceps muscle and tendons that protect the joint and will need help maintaining range of motion and flexibility in the tissues around the joint.

Pain getting up
Laying with the front legs in strange positions
Hesitancy to go down or sideways navigation down stairs

There is a big range of how severe this condition may be for each dog. To fully understand what is wrong with the joint and if there are fragments we may need to perform: 
Radiographs with sedation
CT (computed tomography)
Arthroscopy surgery to locate and then also remove any fragments
More information about surgery:

Early intervention goal: prevent joint damage
Start pain relief x 30 days
Start protective joint supplements: Adequan, UCII, Omega 3 FA have the best data
- Read more about Adequan
- Read more about UC II and fish oils (omega 3FA):
- Consider a joint health diet from Purina or Royal Canine
Manage weight for optimum fitness
Start specific rehab exercises with a professional to create strong posture and shift stress off the joints
- Use this Rehabilitation locator

Resolving pain and maintenance long term: 
Treat pain episodes by specific diagnosis with a rehabilitation veterinarian!

Example: biceps tendon pain is best treated with hands on therapy and Rimadyl will actually delay healing over time, this will need to be specifically diagnosed.

Example: shockwave and ultrasound can be used to improve tissue flexibility and healing and reduce joint damage and to reduce lameness related to tendon injury

- Read more about shockwave
- Consider stem cell therapy and joint lubrication injections for yearly long term care
- More information: joint injections 
Keep up on diet and reduce inflammation of any other skin or GI conditions as they can also drive pain globally in the body
Regular rechecks with your rehab doctor - 2x per year
Evaluate your dogs comfort in transitions for getting up and down regularly, this will be more important than limping in some cases
Video Example of exam

Prevent injury and help your dog live a great life
Avoid jumping down off of any furniture, the car, or activities that include this (agility)
Avoid teaching this dog to play ball unless already in water
Maintain strong core exercises and swimming so that this dog has excellent joint protection and flexibility for the whole life span

Long term planning for non-drug therapy at home: 
Laser therapy: More info
PEMF therapy:

The Big picture: 
These dogs can have a great and active life hiking and walking with you, they will be painful with certain types of activity and this will be a problem that we constantly manage for pain and prevention of joint destruction. 

Here is the best news, if your dogs is young (this is often diagnosed before 2 years old), you are ahead of the game in so many ways, there is a lot more we can do to prevent arthritis these days, and we have much better success solving smaller issues vs “waiting” until this is a bigger problem.

Good luck and we send you all our love, we are here for you.  To see some dogs successfully managed for elbow arthritis, check out Ellie and Apache on my Case Examples Page.

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Dog trainers, behaviorists and veterinary industry professionals - we all need to know when they are dealing with a painful problem vs a behavioral problem, or both.  I have some podcasts and will host workshops for you!

Start in the posture gallery, if you want to learn more, advance your skills with some in person training.  I offer shadow opportunities for a reasonable daily fee and will be offering you hands-on classes to recognize abnormal postures in 2023.


Joint supplements are confusing. 

Can you tell me which is most important? 

Yep.  My dog Roy has chicken allergies and he has knee arthritis.  In this article I will tell you what he takes and what he takes when I can't make myself give him EVERY supplement he would benefit from.

Note: I can't tell you it will be perfect for your dog and you will need to see your vet to diagnose the problems your dog has, AND, you should ask them if these are right for your dog!

Dr. Marie Healthy Dogs – focused on integrative canine health: nutrition, fitness, pain management, injury. prevention/recovery & optimal physical function.

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Any opinion shared on my website or in my blog articles is strictly my own. I only invite companies I respect and adore to be partners in affiliate marketing or sponsors for my podcast. Any revenues I make are used to deliver this free content to you!

Please know that all dogs are different and what I have used for a specific dog may or may not work for your dog.  Please also know that I can not give any specific medical advise over the internet - all my patients have to see my for yearly exams in person. 


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