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My Dog has Elbow Dysplasia, What Can I Do?

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

The word Dysplasia is scary for any owner to hear and possibly worse when you hear it is a life-long condition. But do not worry! Discover the basics of Elbow Dysplasia in dogs, with the help of Cally our very own client who has been diagnosed, and how you can still form an amazing life for your dog.

A cute brown border collie with elbow dysplasia sitting in her blue dog bed after a dog hydrotherapy sessions at Fit4doguk in the Aquatic treadmill.

So, what is Elbow dysplasia?

The meaning of “dysplasia” is development abnormality. In the case of dysplasia, one of three bones (Radius, Humerus, and Ulna) forming the elbow joint become impacted due to abnormal development (Fitzpatrick Referrals). Once an abnormality begins, movement of that area will cause pressure within the joint. These pressures can lead to osteoarthritis and fractures.

Causes of Elbow dysplasia are most commonly thought to be through genetics, but recent studies have noted that inappropriate exercise and nutrition during the development stages of pup-hood, play a big part, especially in large breeds (Doyalson Animal Hospital). It is also common for Elbow dysplasia to form in the presence of Hip dysplasia.

(Video by CARE - Canine Arthritis Resources and Education)

Exercise during your dogs early years:

It is important at an early stage of growth that a dogs' growth plates form correctly and unfortunately certain activities can be detrimental to this. This can include ball throwing, extended periods of exercise unsuitable for your puppy's age, jumping, or running on unstable surfaces. Dog elbow dysplasia surgery costs can turn into many thousands of pounds, so it worth trying to avoid this kind of activity.

When your puppy is developing, its bones are connected through cartilage forming a temporary joint – cartilage which over time develops into bone is held by ligaments, tendons and muscles. Whilst this holds the joints in place, inappropriate movements can dislodge these joints. It is at this point the dysplasia starts (The Institute of Canine Biology).


What are the common symptoms & signs of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs?

Picture of dysplasia in a dogs legs at Fit4dogsuk ltd physiotherapy area.
Cally, tightly holding her elbows inwards.
  1. Displaying signs of pain (lip licking, yawning, yelping) when extending or flexing at the elbow joint.

  2. Occasional or consistent lameness, usually occurring during or after exercise.

  3. Difficulty getting up/reluctant to exercise.

  4. Swollen joints/stiffness.

  5. The range of motion around the elbow has decreased (reluctance to extend or flex).

  6. Abnormal position of elbows


What are my next steps?

As always, contact your vet if you are concerned. Here, you can receive an appropriate examination which can lead to X-rays if required. The X-rays will reveal all. If your dog has been diagnosed a discussion will follow on whether surgery is required or not. At this point contact your nearest registered Dog Hydrotherapy Centre for a consultation. During these consultations, a gait analysis is used to understand the severity of your dog’s condition, and a discussion takes place to find out more about your dog’s previous/current exercise regime, diet, behavior and signalment (breed, age, size, etc.) to form an appropriate treatment plan unique to your dog.

In Cally’s case, she was already a client of ours due to persistent lameness. It wasn’t until Cally came to our center that we were able to spot further signs using Gait Analysis, to which we then referred her back to the vets for X-rays. Through our partnership with Cally’s vet, we were able to continue with a more appropriate treatment plan, designed just for her.


How important is Hydrotherapy?

Cally is a high energy labrador who is very excited about life - whilst this is a quality we love most about dogs and wish we had more of, there are certain situations this could be detrimental to her condition. Since her diagnosis, we have been working with her owners to encourage calmer responses to situations she finds exciting. This has massively helped her with treatment sessions. We have also worked with Cally's owners and come together with a home exercise regime that is suitable for her condition and provided nutritional advice.

Callie at Fit4dogs during canine hydrotherapy in the aquatic treadmill.
Callie in the Aquatic treadmill

Hydrotherapy for dogs in our Aquatic treadmill enables us to provide Cally with a gentle exercise that improves her muscle strength and condition. The buoyancy of the water alleviates any pressure on Cally’s joints, whilst the resistance engages her muscles. The 30-degree heated water encourages circulation and transportation of nutrients as well as soothing tightness. Paired with therapeutic handling of the therapist and controlled movements along the belt improves the dog’s gait. This type of exercise is perfect for dysplasia.

With each session we consistently analyze Cally's gait pattern to ensure we support her whole body, not just her elbow - because of this, we have seen compensatory patterns occurring in her hind limbs. Due to treatment notes, the equipment we use, regular visits, and working with her own therapist we are able to spot signs like these and alter the sessions and home plans.

Cally's case is not unusual, in fact, it is common! Hydrotherapy is not just about a dog in water, it is the whole story and how that story changes week by week.


10 ways you can help

  1. Seek Veterinary advice for suitable pain management.

  2. Book a consultation with your Hydrotherapist.

  3. Develop an appropriate exercise regime appropriate to your puppy/dog’s age.

  4. Training is an important role. Use it to prevent jumping and to encourage calm behavior during walks, dinner times, and meeting other dogs.

  5. Add rugs to slippery flooring to prevent inappropriate movement and injuries such as fractures.

  6. Use raised feeders to prevent pressure from building on joints when eating.

  7. Look into good quality balanced food, high in lean proteins, and research into supplements for bone health and joint care.

  8. Consult your vet and Hydrotherapist about weight management.

  9. Enrichment is key. This can be used on walks in a form of sniffer's as well as at home to encourage calm activity. This is especially useful after surgery.

  10. Follow up with appointments. Whether it be with your vet, hydrotherapy center, or training, it’s important to keep up with your sessions.

The amazing life we mentioned…

Is you.

Dog owners enjoying exercise whilst helping their dog with increased health & wellbeing
Its a dogs life

You are your dog’s world. Their joy in life is time spent with you, whether that be on a lead or off the lead, playing enrichment games, seeing new places, visiting your hydrotherapy centre together, having a rest day at home, training on their walks, or sniffari's. A dog living with Elbow Dysplasia involves so much more than just pain management, it’s a different more focused (on the owners’ behalf) way of living, but it’s still enjoyable and still a dog living dog's life.

To find out more about Cruciate Ligament Dog recovery or check out our Dog Rehabilitation programme, send us an email at or chat to a member of our team on 01482 888509 and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


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