Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia (HD) is defined as a deformity of the coxofemoral (hip) joint that occurs during the growth period.  Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition that creates a poorly fitting hip joint.  As the dog walks on this joint, arthritis will eventually develop, causing pain in the joint.  The degree of lameness that occurs is usually dependent upon the extent of arthritic changes in the hip joint.

What is Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia results from abnormal development of the radius or ulna, bones of the lower forelimb.  Sometimes during bone growth, a small area of bone (the anconeal process) fails to fuse (join) with the rest of the bone.  This causes an unstable elbow joint and lameness that is aggravated by exercise.  In other cases, there is an incongruity between the radius, ulna and humerus that causes abnormal stress on the joint and may fragment a different part of the ulna called the coronoid process.  Whatever the mechanism, it leads to the development of arthritis of the elbow joint.

Contributing Factors 

Most breeds of dogs can be affected with hip dysplasia although it is predominantly seen in the larger breeds of dogs, such as the German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Pointers, and Setters.  There is equal distribution of the disease between male and female dogs.  Besides genetic predisposition, there are many other contributing factors.  Two of the most important are over-nutrition and excessive exercise, especially in the young puppy.

Elbow dysplasia occurs most often in young Basset Hounds, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.  It may occur in one or both front legs.  Since the condition is hereditary, affected animals should not be bred.
Clinical Signs

The typical clinical signs of hip dysplasia are rear leg pain, incoordination, and a reluctance to rise from a lying position.  Wasting of the large muscles in the rear limbs may eventually develop.  Most owners report that the dog has had difficulty in rising for a period of weeks or months; lameness and pain subsequently develop.  The severity of signs usually correlate with the extent of arthritis in the joint.  Clinical signs can occur as early as 4-6 months of age, but most dogs manifest the disease as a lameness around one to two years of age.  Dogs with mild hip dysplasia and minimal arthritis may not become painful and lame until 6-10 years of age.

Dogs with elbow dysplasia show lameness in one or both front legs.  It can develop as early as 6-12 months of age, but can show up later in life as well.

Treatment Options

  1. Anti-inflammatory drugs
  2. Surgery
    1. Hip dysplasia- Total hip replacements can be done, or a procedure called Femoral Head Ostectomy can be done to relieve the pain
    2. Elbow dysplasia- any bone fragments should be removed. Sometimes other surgical procedures can provide relief as well.
  3. Weight Management
  4. Joint Supplements
  5. Manage Activity
  6. Acupuncture


The prognosis is variable depending upon the age of the dog, severity of the dysplasia, and response to medical and/or surgical intervention.


Research has shown that the cause of hip dysplasia is related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  The disease is known to be an inherited condition and the genetics of dysplasia are extremely complicated.  In addition, environmental factors such as overfeeding and excessive exercise can predispose a dog (especially growing puppies) to developing dysplasia.  Because the inheritance of the disease is so complicated, many questions remain regarding eradication of the disease.

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