Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Elbow Dysplasia: A Tale of Two Elbows

Pet Column for the week of January 29, 2007

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brookelyn Nitzkin
Information Specialist

Elbow dysplasia is the leading cause of lameness of the forelimb in large or giant breed dogs. The disease is thought to be inherited and affects both front limbs in the majority of animals. Dogs with this disease begin walking with a slight limp that eventually progresses into a significant form of arthritis.

The elbow joint in a dog is a very mobile joint and is utilized by dogs for many movements other than walking. Dr. Dominique Griffon, a veterinary orthopedic surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Urbana, Ill., explains, "The health of this joint proves to be extremely important because of its impact on the quality of life."

There are many different anatomic anomalies that can develop into elbow dysplasia, but all of these different problems have one commonality: they all lead to osteoarthrosis (arthritis), for which there is no good current treatment option.

To better diagnose and improve the treatment for this condition, Dr. Griffon is conducting a study of a specific surgical diagnostic tool. Griffon seeks to study one aspect of this disease: the incongruity of the radius and ulna, the two bones that comprise the forearm of a dog. Dogs with elbow dysplasia are predisposed to a malformation in which one bone is slightly shorter than the other, ensuring slight fractures that can cause this painful disease.

The current management for elbow dysplasia involves diagnosis of the disease by use of a CAT scan. While this method of diagnosis is effective, it is a pricey endeavor that requires a lengthy general anesthesia. Dr. Griffon seeks to study the diagnostic value of arthroscopy that offers unparalleled visualization of the joint and allows simultaneous treatment. Arthroscopy involves a small surgical camera being inserted into the joint to view the potential problem. This new method may provide a more accurate diagnosis, potentially alleviating the need for a CT scan, thereby reducing diagnostic costs by approximately $500 and shortening the required anesthesia time for the dog.

Dr. Griffon and her team of researchers are seeking dogs that have been diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in the medical compartment of the elbow for inclusion in this study. The animals enrolled in this study will not be put through any invasive tests not normally done to diagnose and treat a condition of this nature. Participants will be granted a discount on services.

If you have a pet that might qualify and are interested, contact Carrie Bubb at or 217/265-5533.