Keeping pets mobile after elbow Arthroscopy

Elbow Arthroscopy for dogs: How to help your pet recover quickly and stay mobile

We know that one of the most important factors when evaluating surgical treatments for your pet is how quickly they will recover and can get back to “normal” again. In this blog, we’ll cover one of the most common minimally invasive techniques for treating elbow dysplasia in dogs: Elbow Arthroscopy.

What is Elbow Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used for both diagnostics and surgical procedures. It’s performed by inserting a small camera (arthroscope) into the elbow joint, which the surgeon uses to evaluate the joint and guide the placement of surgical instruments. Elbow Arthroscopy is frequently used to treat conditions that affect the elbow joint in dogs, such as elbow dysplasia.

Why is elbow arthroscopy performed on dogs?

Dog elbow jointThe canine elbow is a complex joint, and normal function requires smooth movement of the cartilage-covered surfaces within the joint. Unequal growth of any of the foreleg bones (the humerus, radius, and ulna) can cause additional stress to be placed on the elbow joint leading to a condition known as elbow dysplasia. It can cause pain, lameness, and the eventual development of arthritis. Trauma and dietary factors may also play a role in elbow dysplasia.

Affected dogs may have dysplasia in one elbow but it is commonly seen in both. Elbow dysplasia is primarily a disease of large breed dogs, especially Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherds.

An Elbow Arthroscopy allows for the evaluation of the cartilage and bone structures within the joint, so your surgeon can evaluate how extensive the cartilage wear is and perform the necessary surgical procedures.

What are the advantages of arthroscopy over traditional surgery?

For many patients with common forms of elbow dysplasia, surgical treatment can be accomplished using an arthroscope. This is a minimally invasive surgery which uses smaller skin incisions and causes less trauma to the joint capsule and surrounding tissues. This allows for faster recovery times and less post-operative pain in our patients. It also provides a better visualization of the joint and cartilage surface, giving your surgeon a better understanding of the progression of disease in the joint.

What’s the expected outcome and recovery timeline after Elbow Arthroscopy?

Completed elbow arthroscopy surgery for a dog

As with most surgeries, this varies based on the patient and their condition before surgery. Your surgeon will inform you as to best practices for post-operative care, as well as the expected outcomes.

While outcomes vary, on average up to 85% of cases will show some degree of improvement in lameness and comfort after treatment (1). In general, the earlier the disease is treated the better the long-term outcome. If extensive osteoarthritis is already present in the joint before treatment, the long-term prognosis is poorer, but treatment may help slow further degeneration of the elbow.


After arthroscopic surgery, your dog will generally stay one night in the animal hospital for observation. Afterwards, they’ll need at least two weeks of confinement and rest at home. If your pet is ever alone at home, he/she should be restricted to a small area or a crate during this recovery period.

These first two weeks of recovery are critical for the long-term success of the operation, so running, jumping, playing, and access to stairs should all be eliminated as much as possible.

After this initial recovery period, dogs will generally have an additional four-week rehabilitation period with gradually increasing exercise, but still no running, jumping or playing with other dogs.

Your dog will also likely be prescribed pain medications and anti-inflammatories for the first weeks at home, and possibly longer depending on the existing osteoarthritis in the elbow.

Depending on your pets’ condition, your veterinarian may recommend lifetime supplementation with chondroprotective agents such as glucosamine/chondroitin.

Want to learn more about post-op care? Click here for our at-home recovery guide.

If you’re ready to book your appointment to consult with one of our surgeons about options for your dog, give us a call at (206) 545-4322, or ask your veterinarian for a referral to Animal Surgical & Orthopedic Center.

We look forward to helping your pet live a happy, pain-free lifestyle!

Posted September 24, 2020 by Animal Surgical in Joint pain management, Pet Health with No Comments

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