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That's our Angus and Kona swimming in the gulf waters of Carrabelle, Florida.  

Already suffering from Hip Dysplasia diagnosed at 10 months of age, Angus was the diagnosed with Elbow Dysplasia two weeks after this photo was taken.  

Already scheduled for his neutering surgery, we requested a radiograph of his elbows be done due to the swelling we had seen on this trip.

Understanding and preventing elbow dysplasia


As with Hip Dysplasia, Labradors are the most tested breed by the OFA for Elbow Dysplasia.  10.3% of 97,639 OFA tested Labradors are dysplastic while 89.7% are certified as "normal".  (Labradors rank 98th out of 184 breeds tested for Hip Dysplasia and 38th out of 134 breeds tested for Elbow Dysplasia) OFA Breed Ranking


"Canine elbow dysplasia (ED) is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow joint. The elbow joint is a complex joint made up of 3 bones (radius, ulna, and humerus) (figure 1). If the 3 bones do not fit together perfectly due to growth abnormalities, abnormal weight distribution on areas of the joint occur causing pain, lameness, and the development of arthritis. Elbow dysplasia is a disease that encompasses several conditions grouped into medial compartment disease (fragmented coronoid process (FCP), osteochondrosis (OCD), joint incongruity, and cartilage anomaly) and ununited anconeal process (UAP). The cause of ED in dogs remains unclear. There are a number of theories as to the exact cause of the disease that include genetics, defects in cartilage growth, trauma, diet, and so on. It is most commonly suspected this is a multifactorial disease in which causes the growth disturbances" American College of Veterinary Surgeons


Like Hip Dysplasia, it is believed there is a genetic component but the genes responsible for the disease have yet to be found. And like Hip Dysplasia, affected puppies can be produced from unaffected parents (Hazelwinkel and Nap 2009). Additionally, the heritability of the disease appears to be stronger in certain pedigrees than in others. (Ubbink et al 2000) Determining carriers - those which carry and may pass on the gene(s) but which do not show signs of the disease themselves - is not currently possible. Labrador Retriever Elbow Dysplasia (Fragmented Medial Coronoid Process) 


Selective breeding once again can lower the odds that puppies will develop the disorder, but cannot prevent it.


According to my pedigree research, none of the dogs in Angus's ancestry had ever been diagnosed with ED.     The OFA has  been certifying elbows since 1990, but breeders took a while to get on board with certification of elbows, so there may have been early onset arthritis in some dogs in his ancestry, but there is no way now of determining that. 


Once again, genetic factors, over-nutrition with rapid growth, trauma and hormonal factors are believed to be the cause of more than 50% of the cases of ED diagnosed.  And, once again, I take full responsibility for the damage done to our poor Angus because I relied far too heavily on the OFA certification of his Dam and Sire and their ancestors. I did not limit his access to stairs in our two story home; I over-fed him because after all, I had him on Large Breed Puppy Food with the correct balance of calcium and phosphorus and I let him play as long and as hard as he wanted with the grown-up dogs around our place.  Those beautiful brown eyes begged for more food and I gave it to him.  He loved to play and I loved to watch him.  Oh the things I'd do differently if I could bring home that gorgeous boy and start it all over. 


There is a downward trend in the certification of Labradors with elbow dysplasia, as with HD however, the dogs tested are mostly dogs owned by Breeders who will have not submitted radiographs to the OFA when their Vet and they themselves can see from that film evidence of the disease.  The actual incidence of the disease is probably higher. OFA Breed Trends


Luckily, the methods used by breeders during the first 8 weeks of life and the ongoing care needed to protect Labradors from Hip Dysplasia are the same for dysplasia of the elbow.  


How can you protect your puppy?  


1.  Choose a Breeder who doesn't stop at OFA testing of the dogs they use in their Breeding program and who doesn't base their entire breeding program on subjective OFA testing; ask about the surfaces they are raising the puppies on and what they are exposing them to during the first 8 weeks of life.  Puppies should have limited exposure to slippery surfaces and stairs especially in the first 12 weeks of life.  


At Aisling, our puppies are raised on Lambs Wool pads for the first 3 - 4 weeks of life; from then until they leave us, they are on indoor/outdoor carpeting or K-9 Kennel Grass.  They use a ramp to enter and exit our home. For socialization purposes, they are taught to climb up and down our stoop stairs but are not using them on a regular basis. They are also introduced to tile, wood flooring, concrete, and pebbles, but again, are not on these surfaces on a regular basis. 


2.  Understand that while fat puppies are cute, they are also more likely to suffer from hip and elbow damage from carrying excess weight!  An 8-week-old Labrador puppy should weigh on average between 12 and 16 lbs {2(+/-) pounds per week of life}.  If your puppy comes home over-weight, adjust the food and exercise to slowly get to the proper body condition. (Each puppy is an individual so puppies weighing less than 12 lbs are not unhealthy - larger litters will usually have lighter puppies and smaller litter heavier puppies - it should all equal out as they age).


 At Aisling, puppies are weighed several times each week once weaned to ensure a slow weight gain and are fed on an individual basis as needed. 


3. Prepare your home for the Puppy's homecoming by providing a safe environment. 

At Aisling, we provide educational material to each puppy's family before the puppy leaves us so that there is time to begin the preparations before the puppy comes home and life becomes a bit crazier...!  


Together, Breeders and Buyers can tackle this issue of dysplasia in our Labradors.  By understanding that despite the emphasis put on certifying breeding dogs for "normal" hips and elbows, the disorder is more a genetic predisposition triggered by environment and nutrition than an "inherited" disorder, we can help protect every puppy from every litter.  


Further reading to prepare for the new Labrador Puppy in YOUR life:


The #1 and #2 common injury factors for puppies - it's not just about hips and elbows

Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers Published: February 13, 2013 

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association September 1, 2006, Vol. 229, No. 5, Pages 690-693

Diet, Exercise, and Weight as Risk Factors in Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Arthrosis in Labrador Retrievers Marie H. Sallander Åke Hedhammar Mari E. H. Trogen The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 7, July 2006, Pages 2050S–2052S, 
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