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Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs- An Owners insights

Ziggy in the Fit4dogs hydrotherapy pool getting ready for elbow dysplasia treatment

Find out how Kate, an owner whose Flat-coated Retriever Ziggy, has been diagnosed with Elbow Dysplasia and how she has dealt with his condition from elbow dysplasia diagnosis to rehabilitation, to management.

Ziggy is a large Flat-Coated Retriever and started showing signs of Elbow Dysplasia at a very young age. Knowing this condition is life-long it appears very unfortunate that Ziggy was showing signs so young, but the silver lining of this misfortune is that Kate was able to manage the outcome much earlier on. So, let’s find out more from Kate in our interview below.


Interview with Kirsty, Owner and Lead Hydrotherapist at Fit4dogsuk Dog Hydrotherapy center and Kate, owner of Ziggy

Kirsty: Tell us about Ziggy’s condition...

Kate: Ziggy was diagnosed just after his 1st birthday with Developmental Elbow Disease, or Elbow Dysplasia as well as Osteoarthritis. This has been found in both his elbows, although the grade in his right elbow is not currently significant or deteriorating at anywhere near the rate of the left.

Elbow Dysplasia means the bones in his elbow don't fit together absolutely perfectly as a result of abnormal development; the consequence is an abnormal concentration of forces on a specific region of the elbow joint. The rubbing of bone on bone in the joint and the forces on the joint in the wrong place cause fragments of bone and cartilage to become detached within the joint. Our specialist has described this as feeling as if you are wearing the wrong size shoe and the shoe has stones in it.


What symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia did you notice with Ziggy?


When Ziggy was around 9 months old, I noticed when he was tired toward the end of a walk his gait wasn't even. I'd not call it a limp or lameness, but he just wasn't right. I felt the issue laid within his front right leg, which I now know was actually him compensating for the pain which was in his left leg. I also noticed after rest he was stiff which I didn't feel was right in a dog his age. When he was sat up or stood still, he positioned both front paws outwards and I could see he wasn't bearing weight equally on either leg.


What surgical procedure did Ziggy have?


Once diagnosed Ziggy initially underwent arthroscopy with fragment removal at Fitzpatrick Referrals - this involved a small incision made in the elbow for a small camera to be inserted, the specialist could then remove the small fragments of bone and cartilage which had become detached inside the joint. Recovery was 6 weeks of crate rest and very limited on lead exercise. This was at 1 yrs. old.

Ziggy is now almost 4 and having noticed the same symptoms again we had him referred back to Fitzpatrick’s for another CT and MRI scan in early Feb 2021. The outcome of this was that his left elbow had further deteriorated. We were offered 2 options; further fragment removal and a procedure pioneered by Noel Fitzpatrick called Biceps Ulna Release Procedure (BURP), or a Sliding Humeral Osteotomy (SHO). We discussed the options with Noel and decided on the fragment removal and BURP with a review at 12 weeks post-op via a further arthroscopy. If at that point, there is continued deterioration then the SHO will be the only option. We made this decision as the SHO procedure would be a much bigger trauma for Ziggy along with a longer and more difficult recovery. We decided if we could avoid the need for that then we'd rather try the BURP and fragment removal as the first option.


Has anything changed following the surgery?


We are now 1-week post-op from the second fragment removal and BURP. It's too early to say if anything has changed yet. After the first fragment removal, we had to re-introduce exercise very carefully which was incredibly difficult with a 1 yr old flat coat! He turned into a kangaroo wanting to leap everywhere! Once back up to full exercise we were encouraged to get him as fit as possible which we did through walks, Canine Hydrotherapy, and training sessions. His gait returned to normal, and he was able to do everything other dogs do. We did introduce supplements to aid his joints, salmon oil, golden paste, and had to be very conscious of his weight.

Photo of a flat coat retriever in a swimming pool


Has Ziggy’s exercise changed since his diagnosis and if so, how?


His exercise had to alter during recovery and Currently, we are on 3, on lead walks a day of no more than 10 mins each. He has to be restricted to one small room in the house and crated at night. He isn't allowed to climb on or off furniture or go up or downstairs. This is for 3-weeks post-op, then the walks can increase to 15 mins each. At 6-weeks post-op we will review with Noel. After the first fragment removal recovery was similar and once signed off by Noel, we were able to add hydrotherapy to his routine and increase his walks slowly. Once fully recovered from the first fragment removal we were able to do 3 walks a day.


How has Hydrotherapy helped Ziggy?


Hydrotherapy in the Fit4dogs swimming pool has been a huge help for Ziggy for both post-op and for maintenance. He is giddy when he gets to Fit4dogs as he knows he's going for a swim! It’s great for him to have non-weight-bearing exercise especially in the later stages of recovery when he is allowed to do more and is also mentally stimulating for him which adds to the benefits especially for a dog who has been on crate rest and reduced exercise. Ziggy also loves to be the center of attention so adores his treatments and having a fuss made of him.


Are there any other measures you have had to take to maintain his condition?


Other measures we've taken to maintain good condition with Ziggy are supplements and diet. He is raw fed and was initially on golden paste and salmon oil. Noel has now given him two different supplements, Antonil and Synoquin - these will now be given on-going.

He is also currently on Gabapentin which is a nerve pain relief medicine and Galliprant which is an anti-inflammatory. We had a lot of issues after the first fragment removal finding an NSAID which didn't make him very sick, even when given with something like Omeprazole. At the time Galliprant was very new to the UK and it was only through Fitzpatrick’s we were able to try it. We've found it very effective and has no side effects with Ziggy. If anyone has a dog that struggles with NSAID's I would definitely recommend speaking to your vet about it now it is widely available.


Is there any advice you would give to other dog parents?


The advice I’d give other dog parents... Take out the best insurance you can afford.

I have lifetime cover for Ziggy which covers each condition for £10k a year and that figure resets every year. I can’t say how much of a relief it was to know he had sufficient cover once diagnosed. It also pays for his hydrotherapy and his supplements.

I would also say if you feel your dog isn't right find your answers. When I first felt Ziggy wasn't right a vet trip didn’t provide the answer I was expecting – Ziggy is a typical flat coat and is very stoic, loving, and happy therefore hides any signs of pain during an examination. I maintained the feeling that he wasn't right so asked for a referral to a specialist which was when he was diagnosed.

In the words of Padraig Egan at Fitzpatrick Referrals who initially treated Ziggy - "You know your dog. If you aren't happy and don't feel your dog is right no one else is likely to know your dog as well as you do"

If you think your dog may be suffering from Elbow Dysplasia, find out more, 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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