“Elbow Dysplasia” is often used to
describe three separate conditions of the elbow joint:
Ununited Anconeal Process (UAP)
Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD)
Fragmented Coronoid Process (FCP)
Young, intermediate to large breed dogs such
as the Rottweiler, German Shepherd Dog, Bernese mountain dog, Golden retriever
and Labrador retriever are most often affected.
Involvement of both elbows is common.
The elbow is comprised of three bones
along with tendons, muscles, and ligaments working together to provide
normal function of the joint:
The exact cause of elbow dysplasia is not
known, but many theories exist.
Defects of the elbow bones lead to instability
and inflammation of the elbow joint.
Osteoarthritis, elbow pain and lameness are
the end result of elbow dysplasia
Diagnosis is typically made based on symptoms,
exam findings and X-rays of both elbows.
Foreleg lameness or, if both elbows are involved,
generally abnormal gait.
Exercise intolerance and reluctance to exercise
may also be noticed.
The elbow is often painful, thickened, swollen,
or unable to be completely flexed
Surgery for Elbow Dysplasia
Medical treatment with pain relievers, “joint
physical therapy, leash exercise, and weight control is usually recommended
for dogs greater than 2 years of age.
Surgical treatment is generally recommended
dogs less than 2 years of age with minimal osteoarthritis.
Goals of Surgery
Dogs less than 2 years of age with minimal
osteoarthritis are the best surgical candidates.
Dogs greater than 2 years of age with mild
to moderate DJD may also be surgical candidates, but expectations are limited
regarding post-operative improvement.
Most moderately affected dogs, with or without
surgery, are able to cope with the disease by having their weight and exercise
controlled and periodic use of pain relievers.
Regardless of the treatment, some arthritis
will develop in the elbow.
General anesthesia is utilized for the procedure
The faint scar remaining after surgery usually
becomes covered with fur again.
An overnight stay is required so discomfort
can be controlled with injectable medication.
Confirm the pre-operative diagnosis.
Relieve pain associated with bone defects.
Decrease the amount of arthritis which will
inevitably develop in the elbow.
Limit stress put on the opposite limb and
other limbs and joints.
OCD and FCP require a single incision on the
inside of the elbow to remove the defects.
UAP requires two incisions; one on the outside
for the known defect and one on the inside to identify and remove other
defects which are present as much as 80% of the time.
Arthroscopic surgery has reportedly been used
in older dogs to remove arthritis. I do not advocate or perform this
Total Elbow Replacement may be available in
the near future for older dogs with severe symptoms. This procedure
will require special training, equipment, and facilities.
The recuperative period typically lasts for
a total of 6-8 weeks.
Lameness is worse immediately following surgery
and improves slowly over the following weeks.
Initially, exercise is limited to walks to
Skin sutures and a light bandage are removed
10-14 days after surgery.
Leash exercise is gradually increased over
the following weeks; swimming is also fine.
Pain medication and antibiotics are administered
for several days after surgery.
No running, jumping or playing is permitted
for at least 8 weeks following surgery.
Cost of the Procedure
Most pets are permitted to resume normal activity
several months after surgery.
Some dogs have lameness after surgery which
is controlled with medication.
In general, the younger the dog and the less
arthritis present at the time of treatment, the better the prognosis.
This typically includes examination, pre-anesthetic
bloodwork, anesthesia, surgery, hospital care, post-operative medications,
and two follow-up examinations.
Please ask your veterinarian for a detailed
surgical estimate for your pet.