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"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".  

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

Angus had been diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia at 10 months of age, despite generations of testing of his ancestors.  On this trip, we noticed he was limping on his front legs as well as his rear and requested a radiograph prior to his neuter surgery the following week.  The diagnosis as expected was dysplasia in both elbows.  His diagnosis of dysplasia in all limbs led to me researching everything I could find on the disorder.   The dysplasia in his elbows was likely caused not by genetics, but by the hip dysplasia that came first emphasizing the need to protect against hip dysplasia from the day the puppies are born .  

Degenerative Joint Disease, present in one elbow, does not affect the dog but must be managed. There is little evidence that this is an inherited condition other than that in rare cases, offspring of these dogs may have a grade II or III result - as this disease can be caused by repetitive trauma and inflammation, it is likely that the inherited temperament is a factor (high energy/drive). Dogs who present as Normal at 2 years of age can still develop Degenerative Joint Disease at a later age so again, the environment the offspring are raised in is during this time its of equal or greater importance as the OFA result of the parents examination. 

Like Hip Dysplasia, it is believed there is a genetic component/predispostion (the growth rate of medium and large breed dogs) 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 and presents as bilateral (both elbows). (Ubbink et al 2000) But even that, as already noted may be the genetically inherited temperament/energy/drive leading to repetitive trauma and inflammation. 

Selective breeding once again can lower the odds that puppies will develop the disorder, but cannot prevent it.  Although Breeders pay for radiographs of their breeding stock, 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) 

And once again, genetic predisposition, 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 since this disorder results from a variety of other factors, the number presented as caused by environment is likely MUCH higher than is reported. 

I take full responsibility for the damage done to our poor Angus because I relie​d 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. 

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, injury and nutrition rather than an "inherited" disorder, we can help protect every puppy from every litter.  


For further reading to prepare for the new Labrador Puppy in YOUR life; please use the links found on the bottom of our Hip Dysplasia page. 

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