What is Canine hip or elbow Dysplasia?

Canine Dysplasia is an abnormal formation of a joints socket that, in its more severe form, can lead to lameness and significant pain. It is common in elbows and hips across many dog breeds, particularly medium and large breeds, and is the most common single cause of arthritis in dogs.

Canine Dysplasia – Hip & Elbow

Canine Dysplasia - Hip & Elbow

For the sake of this information directory article we focus on two types of Dysplasia experienced within the canine community; Elbow Dysplasia and Hip Dysplasia. Although dysplasia in dogs is generally found in elderly or extremely active dogs canine hip dysplasia can be found in puppies and small dogs.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is one of the most common causes of front leg lameness in canines. The condition is a general term, meaning arthritis of the elbow joint.

Elbow dysplasia is a disease that affects many large breed dogs; with issues starting as they grow rapidly through their puppy years. However, with some dogs the symptoms are not obvious until after adulthood. Usually the disease will be present in both elbows. There are certain breeds that are more prone to being affected by elbow dysplasia, as higher instances have been noted in:

  • Mastiffs
  • Rottweilers
  • Saint Bernards
  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Newfoundland Dogs
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs

There are four types of dysplasia in the canine’s elbow that have been linked to abnormal development:

  • Growth rate incongruity – This type of dysplasia occurs when the ulna bone and the radius bone grow at different rates.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans – Sometimes known as ‘OCD of the elbow’, this type of dysplasia usually occurs in younger dogs who show signs of lameness.
  • Ununited anconeal process – This type of dysplasia is caused by bone outgrowth within the elbow, which becomes detached and causes degeneration and irritation.
  • Fragmented coronoid process – This dysplasia is caused as a fragment of the bone (small of large) breaks off and moves around inside of the elbow joint.

Hip Dysplasia in dogs

Canine hip dysplasia is a skeletal condition; which, similar to elbow dysplasia, is more common in large breed dogs. However, it can occur in smaller breeds too. It is often easier to understand how the disease works if owners recognise the basic anatomy of the hip joint.

The hip joint works as a ball and socket, similar to humans and many other animals. In dogs with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket do not develop properly, which causes rubbing and grinding instead of sliding smoothly. Over time this causes deterioration of the joint and eventual loss of function.

Known causes of Dysplasia in dogs

Causes of elbow and hip dysplasia differ between conditions, both creating varying levels of pain and discomfort to the dog.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia in canines is considered to mainly be a genetic developmental disease. However, there is also a number of other possible contributing factors which include:

  • Trauma
  • Growth rate
  • Poor nutrition
  • Level of exercise
  • High protein diet
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Hormonal imbalances

A canine’s elbow is made up of three bones: the radius, the ulna and the humerus.  In a perfect working joint these three bones fit together to form the elbow joint. However, dogs with elbow dysplasia have an abnormal developmental problem which results in impaired joint formation.

Hip dysplasia

There are several factors which can lead to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs. The most common is genetics though, as hip dysplasia is hereditary and is often seen in giant and large breed dogs, such as:

  • Great Dane
  • Saint Bernard
  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepard Dog

Although it is less common, small and medium sized dogs can also develop hip dysplasia, so owners of smaller breeds must also be aware of the condition.

Large and giant breed puppies need food which is specially formulated for them, as they have special nutrition requirements. These foods can help prevent excessive growth, which can lead to skeletal disorders such as elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia and other joint conditions. If possible, slowing down the growth of large breeds can allow their joints to develop without putting too much strain on them, which in turn helps to prevent problems further down the line.

Obesity puts a lot of stress on your dog’s joints due to the excessive weight, which can exasperate a pre-existing condition such as hip dysplasia. That is why it is important to talk to your vet about the best diet for your dog and the appropriate level of exercise your dog needs, whichever size or breed you have, as it’s vital to keep them in good all round physical condition.

Canine Dysplasia Symptoms

Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

There are a number of symptoms in dogs that could indicate they have an elbow dysplasia problem, such as:

  • Lameness
  • Abnormal gait
  • Dog’s feet rotating outward
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Joints may appear swollen
  • Pet is reluctant to go on walks
  • Limping during or after exercise
  • Dog appears stiff when getting up from resting

Treatment for elbow dysplasia will depend on the severity of disease in the joint. In a majority of elbow dysplasia cases, most vets will refer patients to a veterinary orthopaedic specialist to consider corrective surgery. Surgery can be performed to either remove bone fragments that are irritating the joint, or to help with alignment of bones. In severely diseased elbow joints it may be necessary to replace the joint. In other cases Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation and pain in the elbow joint.  However, long term use of NSAIDs is not recommended, as these drugs have been linked with cartilage damage, which in turn can make the dysplasia worse.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Some dogs have been known to show signs of hip dysplasia when they are as young as four months old, while other dogs develop it alongside osteoarthritis as they age. There are quite a few symptoms associated with hip dysplasia which owners of larger breed dogs will be familiar with. These symptoms can vary depending on the degree of looseness in the joint, the level of inflammation, severity of the disease and how long the dog has suffered from hip dysplasia.

Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Narrow stance
  • Decreased activity
  • Looseness in the joint
  • Lameness in the hind end
  • Loss of thigh muscle mass
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs
  • Noticeable enlargement of the shoulder muscles as they compensate for the hind end

Commonly used treatments for Dog Dysplasia

Treating Elbow Dysplasia in dogs

Treatment for elbow dysplasia will depend on the severity of disease in the joint. In a majority of elbow dysplasia cases, most vets will refer patients to a veterinary orthopaedic specialist to consider corrective surgery. Surgery can be performed to either remove bone fragments that are irritating the joint, or to help with alignment of bones. In severely diseased elbow joints it may be necessary to replace the joint. In other cases Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation and pain in the elbow joint.  However, long term use of NSAIDs is not recommended, as these drugs have been linked with cartilage damage, which in turn can make the dysplasia worse.

Treating Hip Dysplasia in dogs

There are several treatment options for hip dysplasia in dogs, ranging from relatively easy lifestyle modifications to surgery. If your dog’s hip dysplasia is not severe, then your veterinarian may recommend a nonsurgical approach; in which case they are likely to suggest one of the following:

  • Physical therapy
  • Hydrotherapy rehablitation
  • Complimentary Health Devices
  • Joint fluid modifiers
  • Alternative therapies
  • Weight reduction to take stress off of the hips
  • Exercise restriction, especially on hard surfaces (indoor or outdoor)
  • Anti-inflammatory medications (such as NSAIDS, corticosteroids or aspirin)

However, if your dog is a good candidate for surgery then there are more options. While there are quite a few different types of surgery that your veterinarian may recommend, the most common used to treat hip dysplasia in dogs are:

  • Total hip replacement (THR)
  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)
  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO)

Can Canine Dysplasia be cured? 

If your dog has been diagnosed with any form of dysplasia, then the condition will need ongoing monitoring, even if it’s a relatively mild case. Your dog’s veterinarian will advise you on the best course of therapy, medication or surgery, but whether a dog can be considered cured after treatment will very much depend on the level of medical care, the severity of the condition and (potentially) the age of the dog. 

Regardless of the level of treatment, it’s likely that initially activity will be restricted to short walks for bathroom breaks. If surgery has been required then it may take 4 to 6 weeks until they can safely bear weight on the leg and your dog may need physical therapy to help with their recovery. It is obviously important that your dog maintains a healthy weight before, during and after any treatment. Again, your vet can advise on an appropriate diet plan.

Surgery for elbow dysplasia is normally a success in relieving lameness and pain. However, dogs that have several developmental abnormalities in their elbow joints may proceed to have degenerative joint disease, including arthritis. It is therefore essential, that in these cases life-long veterinary care is maintained to help slow the progression of arthritis in your dog’s elbow joint.