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CHS month: Button the Bernese, living with elbow dysplasia

17 Jan 2019 | Annie Wilson


Dog owner, Annie Wilson, describes what it is like to live with and care for a dog suffering with elbow dysplasia. From major surgery to managing exercise and play, elbow dysplasia can have serious effects on the life of you and your dog

Button the berneseMy name is Annie and this is Button my beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog who, at 7 months old was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia.  She is training to work with me as a therapy dog with people suffering from complex PTSD. This is our story of living with elbow dysplasia.

Elbow dysplasia is a hereditary disease, it is due to an underlying abnormality in the elbow that leads to the development of secondary osteoarthritis and can be passed on from parents to their puppies.

Diet, weight, and type/amount of exercise are contributing factors but without the hereditary gene(s) it would not manifest into elbow dysplasia.

Signs of elbow dysplasia

Button developed a slight limp at 6 months which gradually got worse, she also displayed a reluctance to walking, others may start limping earlier or later in life but some dogs will have no pain or lameness for years, if ever, but still record a level of dysplasia which could be passed onto to their pups.

Owning a dog with elbow dysplasia

There are both surgical and non-surgical options to treating elbow dysplasia.

Sadly, Button’s elbow dysplasia was so severe she had to have a major operation, which consisted of an arthroscopy in both elbows and an ulna osteotomy to shorten the ulna in her right leg. In essence, at the age of 8 months old this beautiful puppy had to have part of her leg bone cut away, a pin inserted, both elbows scraped out, stitches and bandages. In total, she has had 5 sedations/anaesthetics to enable her to have her initial x-rays, an MRI, the operation, bandage removal and further X rays to ensure healing.

After being diagnosed with elbow dysplasia Button was only allowed 3 x 10 mins walks on a lead, no playing, running or jumping; all things a puppy loves to do. She was then confined to the house and garden for 2 months and now, 4 months later at the time of writing this, a 10/15min walk is all the exercise she can manage, her recovery is compounded by the fact that she has hip dysplasia too and the extra pressure her hips have had to take because of the front end being weak has meant they are also painful. Her recovery is likely to take 6 - 12 months.

Her puppy socialisation had to stop as we have had to keep her calm and quiet, and for two months in the house or garden only, with no visitors as this caused major boinging - not advisable on a healing bone!

She is still on anti inflammatories and painkillers and now a new drug for nerve pain. It has been the saddest thing to hear (every time she came back from a sedation/anaesthetic she would cry for at least 24hours) and see such a young dog go through so much and stoically bare the pain.

I have never cried so much over an animal as I have Button. I have felt sad, defeated, frustrated, angry and helpless but above all I have loved her (and she me). I have dedicated most of the last 6 months to helping her recover with the aim of a pain free good quality of life.

She has not been off the lead since July when she was diagnosed, she is a young dog and as such has so much energy and no way to expel it as she can’t run or walk it off so I have had to be her “play mate” and “entertainer”. This also means that she can’t be left for long periods of time as she is never worn out! A kong only lasts 20 mins!

We have stairgates in every door way so she can’t run through the house, we have carpeted and rugged any space of hard flooring so she can’t slip and she has had to be kept separate from our elderly dog as the temptation to play is too great.

How did this happen

Button was bred from a bitch with an elbow dysplasia score of 3/3.  BVA and the Kennel Club (KC) recommend only breeding from dogs with a score of 0 . Unless all dogs are scored and the results recorded the true extent of the prevalence of Elbow Dysplasia cannot be seen and if breeders do not adhere to the BVA/KC recommendations the likelihood of it being passed onto future generations will continue and more puppies like Button will suffer the consequences.

Always ask to the health test results of both parents

Responsible breeders will test for elbow dysplasia and should follow the recommendations – always ask to see the results of both parents. You can check out what the scores mean on the Kennel Club and BVA websites

Button and I have started a project to build awareness of elbow dysplasia called Paws Against Elbow Dysplasia and you can find us on facebook @PawsagainstED.

Share your experience – do you own a dog that suffered from elbow dysplasia or hip dysplasia – please get in touch – by compiling case studies we are hoping to raise awareness of hereditary disease and health testing and educate puppy buyers.


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