Hip And Elbow Dysplasia: Are They The Same Thing?

Hip and elbow dysplasia are a common cause of lameness in dogs. They sound like they should be the same thing, right? Are they though?

The word dysplasia has a rather broad meaning. It is from Greek and it stands for malformation.

In the context of veterinary medicine, dysplasia means abnormal development or growth.

(So if you happen to have a spineless boss that might qualify too!)

Both hip and elbow dysplasia refer to an abnormal development of the respective joints. Result? Pain, lameness and progressive degenerative changes.

So much they have in common.

The hip is a relatively simple joint where the thigh bone (femur) connects to the pelvis in a ball-and-socket joint. 

image from Pet Surgery Topics

In a healthy joint, the femoral head fits tightly into a deep and well-formed socket and moves smoothly.

In a dysplastic hip, the ball and socket don't fit together properly.

Often both the socket is too shallow, and the ball is misshapen. This makes the joint unstable which leads to further degenerative changes. In severe cases, the two parts of the joint can pull apart completely!

Treatment for hip dysplasia depends on the individual situation. Non-surgical treatment consists of treating of resulting arthritis and supporting muscle strength.

There are a number of surgical treatments available, ranging from surgeries aimed at improving the fit between the ball and socket within the joint, to complete hip replacement. Check out Canine Hip Dysplasia at Veterinary Partner for more information.

In the elbow, three bones meet together to form the joint, and you can see that the structure is very different from the hip.

image from College of Veterinary Medicine WSU
The elbow is composed of three bones: the humerus (the boney support of the upper limb from the shoulder to the elbow); the ulna (which runs from the elbow to the paw along the back of the limb); and the radius (which supports the major weight-bearing along the front of the lower limb).
(source: Veterinary Partner)

All parts of the joint need to develop properly and in sync with one another so they can fit together perfectly.

The more parts, the more things that can go wrong.

Elbow dysplasia is a blanket term that can cover multiple abnormalities, each of which even comes with its own name! These can occur individually or in combination.
  • fragmented medial coronoid process (FMCP)
    (malformed or fragmented bone and/or cartilage of the ulna)
  • osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)
    (damaged or abnormally formed cartilage cracks or separates from the bone surface; can even result in a piece of the cartilage breaking lose completely)
  • ununited anconeal process (UAP)
    (a part of the ulna involved in the joint fails to fuse with the rest of the bone, resulting in fracture through the growth plate)
  • elbow incongruity 
    (misalignment of the joint surfaces of the elbow)

Unlike in hip dysplasia, where the main problem is instability of the joint, the abnormalities associated with elbow dysplasia often result in pieces of bone and/or cartilage breaking loose and irritating the joint tissues.

While mild cases can do well with medical treatment only, surgery is the treatment of choice for most dogs. Arthroscopy is minimally invasive and it is preferred for both diagnosis and treatment of elbow dysplasia. Some cases might require an open elbow surgery.

For more information check out Elbow Dysplasia at Veterinary partner.

Hip and elbow dysplasia - not really the same thing, are they?

What they do have in common is that the earlier the treatment the better the results. Understand the medical challenges your dog might be facing.

Related articles:
Trago's Elbow Dysplasia Surgery And Stem Cell Treatment
Shiloh Is Headed For A Second Hip Surgery And Hopes To Find A Forever Home


  1. Very informative, they are very different indeed.

  2. Interesting. I can see how they could be easily confused, but they are not the same thing at all.

    Thanks for another informative post.

  3. Very well said Jana! You have all the technicalities of a very complex disease(s) in a way that is understandable. Max the Cat and Ebony Dog are at the beginning stages of hip arthritis (dysplasia-related for Ebony) so my obsession with this set of maladies has been stepped up even more than it already was! Thank you (again) for another great article!

  4. Dear Shawn, your positive comment means a lot to me! My biggest worry always is, that in trying to explain things simply, I might loose accuracy of the information!

  5. Good article Jana! You nailed it!

  6. Thank you, Laci. If you ever see something that's not quite accurate, please let me know.

  7. Nice post Jana. Early treatment is always best.


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