Epidemiology and clinical management of elbow joint disease in dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK

Canine Med Genet. 2020 Feb 14;7:1. doi: 10.1186/s40575-020-0080-5. eCollection 2020.


Background: Conditions affecting the elbow joint are a common cause of lameness in dogs. Primary-care veterinary clinical data are now recognised as a valuable research resource. Using data from the VetCompass Programme, this study aimed to report the frequency and risk factors for elbow joint disease in dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK and describe clinical management.

Results: From 455,069 dogs under veterinary care, the one-year period prevalence for elbow joint disease diagnosis was 0.56% (95% CI: 0.53-0.60). Of 616 incident cases, the most common specific variants of elbow joint disease were osteoarthritis (n = 468, 75.97%), elbow dysplasia (190, 30.84%) and traumatic (41, 6.66%). The most common signs described by the owners were lameness (n = 466, 75.65%), difficulty exercising (123, 19.97%) and pain (86, 13.96%). The most common findings recorded on veterinary examination were pain (n = 283, 45.94%), lameness (278, 45.13%) and reduced range of movement (243, 39.45%). Common medications used included non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (n = 544, 88.31%), tramadol (121, 19.64%) and disease modifying agents (118, 19.16%). Of 109 deaths involving euthanasia with information available from the 616 incident cases, elbow joint disease contributed to the decision to euthanase in 45 (41.28%) dogs.Five breeds showed increased odds of elbow joint disease compared with crossbred dogs: Rottweiler (OR: 6.16, 95% CI 3.89-9.75), Labrador Retriever (OR: 5.94, 95% CI 4.65-7.60), German Shepherd Dog (OR: 4.13, 95% CI 2.88-5.93), Golden Retriever (OR: 3.11, 95% CI 1.93-5.00) and English Springer Spaniel (OR: 2.00, 95% CI 1.26-3.18). Additional risk factors included having an adult bodyweight that was equal or higher than their breed/sex mean, advancing age, being male, being neutered, being insured and larger bodyweight.

Conclusions: Elbow joint disease is a relatively common diagnosis in dogs and has a high welfare impact as evidenced by the high proportion of cases recorded with pain, lameness and analgesic therapy. There are strong breed predispositions, in particular for large breed dogs. These findings present a clear case for improved breeding programmes to reduce the burden of elbow joint disease.

Keywords: Arthritis; Degenerative joint disease; Elbow dysplasia; First opinion; General practice; Osteoarthritis; VetCompass.