Testing For Elbow Dysplasia In Dogs

Elbow dysplasia in dogs is a condition that causes the dog’s elbows to develop abnormally, leading to both potential pain, an abnormal gait, and problems with moving around and exhibiting a full, normal range of movement. The condition is hereditary and so, passed on from the parent dogs to their offspring, which means that the only way to prevent elbow dysplasia from developing in any given dog is to ensure that their parents are clear of the condition, which means testing for the markers of abnormal elbow development in at-risk dogs prior to breeding.

While the condition can in some cases be corrected surgically to provide the dog with a more normal range of movement and a better quality of life, surgery is not always a viable solution, and can also prove costly.

In this article, we will look at testing for elbow dysplasia in dogs in more detail, including how the test is performed, how to interpret the results, and what sort of dogs are most at risk. Read on to learn more.

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is a hereditary skeletal condition that affects dogs, and is in fact the leading cause of forelimb lameness in large and giant breeds of dog.

The joints of the dog’s elbows (in the forelegs) are reasonably complex structures, comprised of both the joint itself and the supporting tendons, ligaments and muscles. Dogs that go on to develop elbow dysplasia are born with apparently normal, healthy elbows that only begin to present problems as the dog grows and develops.

If the condition does develop, it generally becomes apparent by the time the dog reaches the age of two, with the odd rare exception in the case of certain giant breeds that continue to grow and develop until they are older than two years.

Abnormalities in the elbows’ supporting bone and cartilage that become progressively worse as the juvenile dog reaches maturity indicate the onset of the condition, and these abnormalities are referred to as primary lesions.

When the condition does begin to become apparent, it leads to a noticeably odd gait in the affected dog that often causes the dog’s head to bob when walking as the most obvious symptom, as it can be harder to identify lameness in the front limbs than it is in the hind limbs.

Elbow dysplasia can affect either one elbow alone or both simultaneously, and if both forelegs are affected, this can seriously restrict the dog’s ability to move around normally and without pain.

In some dogs, they may appear to move totally normally at times, with the lameness that gives the condition away only developing after exercise.

You can read more about elbow dysplasia in detail, including the treatment options available for affected dogs in this article.

Testing for elbow dysplasia

Because elbow dysplasia is a hereditary condition, the only means of its transmission is from parent dogs to their offspring by means of ancestral heredity. Dogs that are affected with elbow dysplasia themselves, or whose elbows show borderline risk for the condition will generally pass the problem onto their offspring, and so in order to prevent this from happening, adult dogs that are intended to be used for breeding should be tested first if they are considered to be at risk for the condition.

Testing for elbow dysplasia is organised as a joint project between The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association, and involves having X rays of the elbows of the dog in question assessed by a professional, who will then return a “score” for the elbows of that dog, rated from 0-3, with zero being the best possible outcome and three the worst.

In order to have your dog tested for elbow dysplasia, you will need to ask your own vet to take the appropriate X ray films of your dog’s elbows, and then send them off for assessment to return your dog’s score.

The ideal score is of course zero, and The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association strongly advise that only dogs who return an elbow score of zero should be used for breeding.

If the two elbows return different scores, the higher (or worst) score is the one that is counted, so that only one number and not two (for the two elbows) determines the dog’s rating.

What type of dogs are prone to elbow dysplasia?

Certain breeds and types of dogs have an exponentially higher risk of developing elbow dysplasia than others, and these are the breeds that The Kennel Club advises elbow scoring for as standard. Generally, large and giant breeds of dog are more prone to having the condition in their breed lines than others, such as the Rottweiler, Great Dane, and Golden Retriever.

To find out if The Kennel Club recommends elbow dysplasia testing for your own breed of dog and to get a better idea of the risk factors across the breed as a whole, you can search by breed in their Breed Health Information Centre.

What sort of dogs should be tested for the condition?

Because elbow dysplasia in affected dogs can take up until the dog in question has reached the age of two to become apparent, the parent dogs that you intend to use for breeding are the dogs that should be tested, and not their subsequent litter. If your dog is one of the breeds that The Kennel Club deems to have elevated risk factors for elbow dysplasia or if your dog of any breed has a known history of elbow dysplasia in their breed line, they should be tested prior to breeding.

Both the dam and the sire should return a hip score of zero in order to be deemed viable candidates for breeding.

You can find out more about The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association’s elbow testing scheme for dog, including how much it costs and the level of risk for your dog’s own breed by checking out The Kennel Club’s elbow dysplasia information section.


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