Elbow Dysplasia Surgery

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When a dog is diagnosed with elbow dysplasia, the dog's owner may question what treatment options may be available for his canine companion.

While medical management of this condition often involves the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, moderate exercise and weight control programs, surgery may turn out to be the most appropriate treatment in severe cases, when conservative therapy has not been producing a favourable result.


Elbow dysplasia takes place when parts of the elbow joint undergo abnormal development during the growing phase of a dog's life. While the exact cause of this developmental malformation is not known, it appears that genetic predisposition, over-nutrition, rapid growth, trauma and the effects of hormones may be contributing factors. Large-breed dogs appear to be the most affected, with clinical signs usually beginning between five and 12 months of age, says Nicholas Trout, a practicing staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center based in Boston, in an article for Pet Place.


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The ideal treatment option to remove joint fragments is ultimately a surgical procedure known as ''arthroscopy," explains the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. While less invasive when compared to arthrotomy, in which an incision is made in the joint, one of the main drawbacks of arthroscopy is that it may require a referral to a private surgical hospital or a visit to a veterinary teaching college. But this surgical procedure may be well worth the hassle because it entails less disruption of soft tissues, and consequently, less pain and faster recover rates, says James Tomlinson of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in an article for the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.


Arthrotomy is a surgical procedure more commonly performed than arthroscopy. But it is much more invasive because it requires an actual incision to be made into the joint. According to a study carried out by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, after undergoing surgery where the joint was opened with an incision, only 35 to 50 per cent of dogs returned to full soundness, whereas in another report, 84 per cent of 158 surgically treated cases were doing well 12 months after surgery. The latter, much more favourable, report appears to be ultimately attributed to an early diagnosis and treatment.


In the unfortunate event that medical management was not successful or the surgeries mentioned above did not work, there is a final treatment option for dogs suffering from severe forms of elbow dysplasia. This is a surgical procedure medically known as "elbow arthrodesis." In this procedure, the joint is surgically fused to provide ultimate pain relief, according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.


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Recovery from elbow dysplasia surgery may be challenging. Veterinarians will generally require four to six weeks confinement following surgery, which may prove difficult for a young puppy who wants to play all day. Restriction to a small room without allowing the dog to jump, go up and down the stairs and on top of furniture is crucial to allowing the joint to heal. Leash walking should be limited to bathroom trips and back, adds Nicholas Trout. Afterward, the puppy can be gradually started on some light exercise per the vet's recommendations.