HOW TO Treat Your Dog’s Elbow Dysplasia

Big dogs make wonderful companions, but unfortunately they come with a host of joint problems, including elbow dysplasia.

According to, “Elbow dysplasia is an often-times painful degenerative condition that affects various popular breeds of large dogs such as Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Great Danes.”

A genetic disease, elbow dysplasia usually affects large breed puppies in the first six months of their lives. The condition is a result of small incongruities that form in the puppy’s elbow joint. These incongruities could have an adverse affect on the puppy’s growth and proper development of the elbow joint. says, “In nearly every instance, this condition occurs when a piece of bone or cartilage breaks, interfering with the proper joint construction of the dog’s elbow causing great discomfort and joint instability in the animal. Because this condition is a genetic one, veterinarians are still unsure of the causes, but fortunately, there are a number of prescribed treatments available to correct and comfort your pet.”

What are the Symptoms of Elbow Dysplasia?

The good news: There is only one symptom – limping.

According to, “Patients with elbow dysplasia will usually display an obvious limp, may hold the leg out from the body while walking, or even attempt to carry the front leg completely, putting no weight on it at all. Signs may be noted as early as four months of age.”

Dogs can limp for a variety of reasons, however, regarding elbow dysplasia, the symptoms could manifest themselves into more serious problems as the puppy matures, resulting in a lifelong problem.

From, “As these dogs continue to mature, there will probably be permanent arthritic changes occurring in the joint. This will cause many obvious problems and it may become necessary to utilize oral or injectable medications to make the animal more comfortable. Elbow dysplasia is therefore a lifelong problem for the affected animals.”

How is Elbow Dysplasia Diagnosed?

Pet parents should know right off the bat, it will not be easy to diagnose elbow dysplasia. says, “Many dogs will have more than one of the conditions that may contribute to elbow dysplasia. In addition, both elbows may be involved. The symptoms of front leg lameness and pain in the elbow lead us to think about elbow dysplasia as a diagnosis. However, there are other conditions that can affect the front leg of a young dog that will mimic the signs of elbow dysplasia very closely. Therefore, it is necessary to take radiographs X-rays of the elbow(s) to verify the diagnosis.”

Because elbow dysplasia is so difficult to properly diagnose, your dog will need to be heavily sedated or even anesthetized to get the best possible X-rays. From, “High quality radiographs are a must. In addition, it may be necessary to have the radiographs sent to an expert veterinary radiologist who can discern the very minor changes that may appear in a dog with elbow dysplasia.”

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Elbow Dysplasia?

Treatment will ultimately depend on how bad the condition is. Luckily most of the treatments will be either medical or aerobic instead of surgical. lists the following treatments:

  • Specific diet to maintain a healthy weight
  • A workout routine designed with specific exercises

If your dog is still in too much pain, then your vet will most likely recommend the following:

  • Pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Surgery to remove affected bone/cartilage says, “In every case, any treatments prescribed will usually help the dog live a normal life in approximately a year or two and they will show no signs of the condition. But this does not guarantee the animal will not be afflicted by arthritis or other joint diseases later in life and any dog with this diagnosis must be monitored accordingly.”

PHOTOS: mmagallan, Uwe Gille

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

Sonya Simpkins

Sonya Simpkins is a contributing writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. In her spare time, she loves to take her dogs for long hikes and treks to the beach, out to eat and on long road trips across the county. She then turns those adventures into useful advice for other dog parents who also love to take their dogs with them wherever they go.

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