Unfortunately, because of inbreeding and very selective breeding practices in German shepherds, especially as the breed was being formed, conditions like elbow dysplasia, which might have been bred out of the breed had breeders cared about health, rather than appearance, are relatively common, even still, with better breeding practices.
What is elbow dysplasia?
This is a condition in larger dogs, caused by growth of the tissue, bones, or other cells, which creates a malformation on the elbow joint of the dog. In some cases, the dysplasia will only cause pain. In other situations, it might cause serious lameness. The symptoms of this condition will be visible as early as four months of age.
Equally common in males and females, this is a painful condition that has its roots in both genetic issues, as well as early puppyhood development and nutrition.
What are the symptoms of elbow dysplasia in German shepherds?
Not all dogs will show signs of this condition when they are young. They might, however, eventually start to show signs of lameness suddenly, which then quickly evolves into a degenerative joint disease as the dog matures. One of the most common symptoms in dogs who did not show signs of elbow dysplasia when young is that they become lame when they exercise and then become very stiff afterwards.
Another common sign is pain when the dog flexes his elbow. They may also hold the leg away from them. A vet will be able to identify a build up of fluid in a joint, which is related to the bone and joint grating against one another. If the dog lacks a healthy range of motion, this could also indicate elbow dysplasia.
How is elbow dysplasia in German shepherds diagnosed?
It is important to keep in mind that larger dogs are also predisposed to other joint problems like arthritis. In some instances, what looks like elbow dysplasia might actually just be arthritis. A vet will want to look for signs of arthritis, as well as for signs of trauma to the elbow. A tumor might also be causing the problem. Usually, it is only with an x-ray that a vet can determine if the issue is a result of dysplasia. Both legs will need to be looked at and a sample of fluid in the joint will also need to be examined.
How is this condition treated?
How the owner wants to treat this condition will vary based on the severity of the condition and the needs of the animal. Sometimes, surgery might be appropriate. In other cases, exercises and constant activity could be enough to prevent this issue from becoming so grave that it negatively affects the German shepherd’s life. In general, however, prevention is always better than treatment.
Elbow dysplasia in German shepherds can be easily prevented by keeping your dog at a healthy weight, keeping him active, and by ensuring that he has proper nutrition, especially when he is a puppy.
Building a strong, happy, healthy dog is by far the best way to prevent this condition from taking a toll on the life of your German shepherd. It is vitally important that dogs that are found to have this condition are not bred, as it is highly likely to be passed on to that dog’s young.
Working with a vet to check on your dog on a yearly basis, assess his joints, and keep an eye out for degenerative joint disease can prevent a small problem from becoming a very painful one further down the line. Hip Dysplasia is also a common and to some extent a serious issue in German Shepherds.