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German Shepherd Elbow Dysplasia & Problems | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

A developmental degenerative disease, elbow dysplasia – like its cousin hip dysplasia – is particularly common in larger and more active breeds of dog, including the German Shepherd dog, in part because of the pressure a larger frame places on the leg joints. While both male and female German Shepherd dogs are susceptible to this illness, male dogs are more likely to develop this condition than their female counterparts. If an animal's afflicted with elbow dysplasia in at least one joint, the likelihood of the condition developing in an additional joint is high – between 25 and 30%. Elbow dysplasia is something of an umbrella term: problems with the elbow can be caused by a number of individual factors, including osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle located in the elbow joint (a condition referred to as OCD, which arises when there is a fracture in the articular cartilage of the humerus bone leading in turn to a loosening of tissue within the joint susceptible to inflammation), pathologies involving the medial coronoid of the ulna bone (known as FCP) or a condition known as UAP – ununited anconeal process.. Both of these latter conditions cause excessive growth in the bones, damaging the balance of size and shape necessary to maintain a strong elbow joint.  Elbow dysplasia can be brought on by any one – or more – of these existing conditions, and veterinaries are divided as to the relative importance of each in the overall development of elbow dysplasia. Some veterinarians believe that elbow trauma in puppyhood contributes to the development of elbow dysplasia; for this reason, exercise in young German Shepherd dogs should be monitored and trauma avoided if at all possible.

Is your German Shepherd dog able to walk normally – or does he exhibit signs of lameness? Any indication of lameness – particularly in the forelegs – that persists for more than a few days merits a trip to the veterinarian, particularly given the German Shepherd dog’s relatively high risk for the condition. If your dog exhibits pain when any pressure is put on the elbow, particularly if you attempt to extend the foreleg, this is an additional warning sign. Your veterinarian will be able to make a final diagnosis by using radiographic examinations, which should be done not only on the afflicted leg but  also on any other leg, given the high frequency of repeat affliction in dogs with at least one afflicted joint. While UAP and OCD are easily visible on radiographic scans, an additional CT scan may be necessary to confirm any diagnosis of FCP.

According to the Merc Veterinary Manual, early surgical intervention is highly recommended for this condition, given the progressive nature of the disease: if left untreated, German Shepherd elbow dysplasia will become increasingly acute (and your dog will suffer increasing amounts of pain). The precise nature of surgical treatment will vary based on whether the elbow dysplasia is caused by FCP, UAP, or OCD; each kind of case, however, is treatable, and in general the prognosis for dogs who have undergone surgery is good. While dogs with this condition should ideally not be bred, it often manifests late enough in life that breeding may have already occurred – often signs of hip dysplasia are not visible in puppyhood or young adulthood.

Though not life threatening, German Shepherd elbow dysplasia can be a constant source of pain for your dog if not treated correctly.

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