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Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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Elbow dysplasia is just one of a number of bone and joint diseases that affect young, growing dogs. A number of diseases that cause front leg lameness need to be considered and excluded by your veterinarian. These include:

  • Osteochondrosis (OCD) of the shoulder joint. Abnormal cartilage development in the shoulder joint can produce a very similar lameness to elbow dysplasia. However, on physical examination pain is localized to the shoulder and not the elbow. A defect is found on shoulder radiographs (X-rays).

  • Panosteitis. Panosteitis is a disease of young, large dogs, which tends to produce lameness that shifts from one leg to another (shifting leg lameness) and where there is pain on deep palpation of certain bones. The exact cause of this bony inflammation is not known and may be mistaken for elbow pain if the bones around the elbow joint are affected. Radiographs of the elbow are normal or show changes consistent with panosteitis, not elbow dysplasia.

  • Hypertrophic osteopathy (HO). HO is a puppy disease that tends to produce swollen limbs, particularly around the carpus (wrist), and with this, fever, lethargy and reluctance to move. Radiographs would confirm the diagnosis and thus differentiate it from elbow dysplasia.

  • Trauma. Elbow dysplasia should be differentiated from other causes of traumatic front leg lameness.

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