Canine Joint Disease

Joint disease can be a problem faced by many dogs. Hip dysplasia is the most common that people are familiar with as a cause of rear limb lameness. Its front limb counterpart is elbow dysplasia.

Elbow dysplasia has only been recognized as a disease in dogs in the last 10 to 15 years or so, whereas hip dysplasia has been diagnosed for the last 30 to 40 years. Dysplasia means a developmental abnormality, it can be in the size, shape, or formation. Elbow dysplasia is a combination of four developmental abnormalities: an ununited anconeal process, osteochondrodystrophy (OCD) of the distal humoral condyle, a fragmented medial coronoid process, and elbow incongruity. Dogs may have just one abnormality or in some cases all four.

In English, the anconeal and coronoid processes are bony bumps on the ulna located near the elbow. The ulna is the arm bone that runs from your little finger upto the elbow. The humoral condyle is a bump found at the end of the humerus near the elbow. The humorus is the large arm bone extending from the shoulder to the elbow. Problems with the humoral condyle and coronoid process are normally due to abnormal cartilage formation. Sometimes the bones do not fit together properly resulting in elbow incongruity or an ununited anconeal process.

Classic presentations of elbow dysplasia is an active large breed dog. Rottweilers are the posterchild of this disease. Other commonly affected breeds are Bernese Mountain dogs, Laboradors, and Golden Retrievers. There is a breeder certification process available and an elbow registry. It is important for dog owners to check the breeder's certification to insure that elbow dysplasia is not present somewhere in the breeding line. Problems usually begin in dogs at around 6 months of age or older.

Owners may notice their dogs become lame in the forelimb. Generally one leg can appear worse than the other. In most cases both front legs are affected. There can often be swelling of the joint and dogs usually exhibit pain on range of motion.

The most common treatment available is Arthroscopic surgery. Dogs owners who elect to have surgery generally have a better overall prognosis which an excellent chance of returning to normal function. Prognosis for each dog will vary depending upon the severity of the disease. Post operative care is also an important factor in the success of surgery. After surgery cage rest is highly recommended for around 4 to 6 weeks, this means the dog must spend most of its time in the cage and only be allowed out for short walks and always on a lead. The dog must not be allowed to play, it must have complete rest and stay off his elbow to aid recovery.

Dogs who have suffered with elbow dysplasia may later in their life develop some degree of degenerative joint disease, which is simply a form of arthritis.

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