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Is Your Rottweiler Puppy Limping on His Front Legs?

Elbow dysplasia is the most common cause of forelimb lameness in young large and giant breed dogs.

Redwood's Krest's Basra AKC# WS41855004


The Rottweiler breed is at a very high risk for degenerative joint disease often referred to as elbow dysplasia as well as other degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia. It wasn’t until the late 80’s that the elbow issue that had been observed in Rottweilers was recognized as a degenerative joint disease and data began to be collected and studied. Prior to realizing that elbow problems were often a disease, only hip dysplasia, a disease common to several breeds, was studied in detail. Thus, older books such as Complete Rottweiler by Muriel Freeman, do not even mention elbow problems (but do mention hip dysplasia). It is not surprising that veterinarians, breeders and dog owners discuss the hip problem all the time, but often fail to notice elbow dysplasia and may even be unwilling to acknowledge that it is a disease or a bad genetic trait of the breed.

The word “dysplasia” means “abnormality of development”. Elbow Dysplasia is an inherited disease (1) (2) (3) that is triggered by a deformity (incongruity) in the elbow joint (a bad fit in the elbow joint). The incongruity is the result of a difference in the growth rate of the two bones in the leg, the radius and the ulna. The incongruity leads to a deformity of the leg and accompanying bad paw posture (see picture page 1) is observable as in unaligned bone structure resulting from the differing bone growth rates and an excessive outward twist of the leg because the dog is trying to relieve the pressure and pain by twisting it out, which farther increase the abnormality in (outward twist) growth.  As a result of the misaligned bones, severe pressure occurs in many parts of the elbow, which triggers the bone fractures (in the weakest area) that are characteristic of the disease. In some dogs, the incongruity has resolved itself by the time they are diagnosed with elbow dysplasia,  but the damage to the joint and the associated leg deformity is already done, results in often painful limping or in a very early arthritis due to the less of a perfect elbow joint

There are several different elbow problems, such as (OCD) and (UAP) that are collectively termed “elbow dysplasia” which are triggered by this abnormality of development. My own experience is with Fragmented Coronoid Process of the Ulna (FCP):  the broken tip of the Ulna.

To learn more, you should really read  Canine Elbow Dysplasia at Fitzpatrick Referrals. Elbow problems can be devastating to the dog and to the owner. It can remain undetected by owners and is, unfortunately, ignored by some breeders even if detected. Many dogs who appear very healthy show no signs of a limp at a younger age, nevertheless have a small deformity (bad fit in the elbow joint) that only an experienced observer or X-ray would detect—and the incongruity (or less of a perfect elbow joint)  that causes that deformity results in the eventual limp. The fact that lameness may come and go in the puppy, or may not appear for a long time after birth results in many cases going undetected in the first few years; meanwhile the dog can develop a very early arthritis which can result in more severe and painful limping as early as 5 years of age.

There is a link between (a) the level of visible leg deformity (deviation from the perfect posture) and associated severity of the disease and (b) relative difference in growth rate of the two bones in the leg reflected in bad fit in the elbow joint


Early diagnosis of elbow dysplasia (ED) is extremely important. The sooner treatment begins, the greater the likelihood that the dog will have a better and longer life.

Keep reading to understand what you should do after you already have a puppy that you suspect has a front leg problem. Later you can check the Warning Signs of Elbow Dysplasia (ED) at the  diagnosis page.


The discussion below presents my conclusions after firsthand experience with elbow dysplasia and limping of my Rottweiler puppy, Redwood's Krest's Basra AKC# WS41855004. Later you can click here to read My Story.

Warning! The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) open database does not necessarily provide information about a dog’s abnormalities and thus the statistics and information derived from that database are incomplete.

The Reality of Elbow Dysplasia in Rottweilers

Some say (based on incomplete data available from the OFA open database) that approximately 38% of Rottweilers develop elbow dysplasia. But some studies, such as Grondalen (4), suggest differently. In his study, Grondalen reported that in a population of 207 Rottweilers, of which 141 were not lame (and 66 lame or 32% of 207 lame), it was found that 68% of the 141 non-lame dogs had DJD of the elbow (Degenerative Joint Disease) That is 95 dogs or 45% of the total 207 dogs had hidden DJD which would likely manifest itself at a later point in the dog’s life. This brings the total dogs with DJD to 77% of 207.

Meaning:  77% of the total 207 dogs have some form of DJD and if known and reported (which they are not), these dogs would be found to be abnormal by OFA.

Below are some (OFAstatistics as of July, 2013. These statistics derived from the closed database which includes all dogs that were submitted to the OFA database (even if the breeder opted out from showing health records in the open database, where you see the individual dog record). Because most breeders opt out, there is no assurance that health information derived from the open database is complete. Furthermore, the closed database statistics still do not show the full picture, because the OFA database is a voluntary database. It contains only dogs which the breeders choose to submit to the OFA. There isn’t any incentive for breeders to document dogs that are sick or abnormal. Therefore, if the abnormality (showing in x-ray or visible to the naked eye) is obvious to the breeder, the breeder does not even bother submitting to OFA. Thus, the abnormal dogs are often not included in the statistics for the total Dysplastic dogs. Therefore, the problem is likely to be far worse than what is presented in the incomplete and skewed OFA open or closed database statistics. You will also notice that the number of dogs in the database in grade II is low and in grade III is close to zero. Furthermore, most breeders are opting out from releasing records of abnormal results to the public (see form). 

Thus, the OFA total percentage for Dysplastic dogs is the absolute minimum percentage of Dysplastic dogs that can be expected and the real number is very likely much higher.

In essence the OFA total percentage of Dysplastic dogs is the absolute minimum, we guarantee for Dysplastic dogs.

If we take in to account the fact that the OFA data is skewed to report more healthy dogs and the Grondalen report which places the diseased dog population as close to 77% (see above), and actual dogs we see in the field, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the rate of Dysplastic Rottweilers dogs is nearer to 55% not 39% as it shows in the OFA open database.

Below are statistics from the closed OFA database.



Number of Evaluations

Percent Normal

Percent Dysplastic

Percent Grade I

Percent Grade II

Percent Grade III


























I now know that some breeders, even “reputable” breeders, do not understand the genetic component discussed above; they will argue that elbow dysplasia is not genetic and that it is acceptable to breed with carriers of ED. They say that they have no control over the outcome and they will not refund any money or take any effective responsibility, even if the dog is born from the breeding of two animals with genetic ED defects.

For those who choose to ignore studies and statistics that point to a genetic cause for a substantial percentage of ED, and for those who choose to believe that bad diet with too much protein or activity is the real reason, here are some facts that demonstrate that the genetic component is the more likely source of the problem:

  1. Many dogs and puppies of all breeds eat high protein food, but relatively few of other breeds develop elbow and joint problems.

  2. Many dogs and puppies of all breeds have high activity levels such as running, jumping and running down hills or steps, but relatively few of other breeds develop elbow and joint problems.

  3. Most dogs with an ancestral family history of elbow joint disease do develop elbow joint disease, regardless of the food they eat or their level of activity.

I think some breeders who believe that genetics is not important blame other conditions to avoid accepting responsibility for their failure in breeding. They are also confused by the fact that ED symptoms are often not apparent when the dog is young. The puppy can’t actually explain when and where he feels pain and so many cases of mild, early ED, goes undetected--especially if the dog is not particularly active or an owner is not particularly observant. Other breeders, veterinarians and “experts” conclude that if ED isn't present in some dogs in some environments, it must be the environment that results in ED. The argument is of course, not logical. Each of these arguments results from anecdotal evidence and not scientific studies. It is like arguing that, just because some people can control diabetes by a change in diet, you can prevent all people from getting diabetes by cutting sugar out of everyone's diet.

Some commentators have made the connection to genetics in regards to bad foot posture or an incongruity that resulted in bad foot posture, but they did not make the link to the disease of elbow dysplasia yet. For example - Steve Wolfson wrote "Dogs or bitches with this anomaly should be avoided in a breeding program since this condition is passed on to the progeny."

If within the first 18 months, your puppy develops a severe problem (disability), such as in my puppy’s history (My Story), most breeders, like my puppy's breeder, offer a replacement puppy. But, in reality, puppies are hardly ever returned for a replacement (unless the puppy dies) and if you have any sense, you will not take a second dog from a breeder who gave you a sick dog the first time--and breeders know that.

Some breeders offer to take the puppy back (they will arrange an adoption or put the dog down--not a choice I want to make with my puppy).  


Therefore, if you are thinking of owning a Rottweiler, you should understand as much as possible about elbow dysplasia and become familiar with just how good front leg posture looks. That knowledge may enable you to avoid having a puppy with ED, like my puppy, or, if you already have a puppy that might have ED, to detect the problem as early as possible, allowing you to provide your dog the best treatment to fight the disability.  

Hopefully you and your dog will be lucky, and your dog will not develop elbow problems. My puppy and I weren’t so lucky and I wanted to tell My Story so that others will understand the problem and the risks.  


Short Key Summary for Limping Puppy:

If you have any concerns with front leg limping, and if the dog is dear to you, read all pages and links from this website. (Site Map). Then, get a proper diagnosis as quickly as possible, because if a puppy has elbow dysplasia, it will not go away--it needs to be treated quickly. Irreversible damage is being done with every step the dog takes.




(1) http://www.fitzpatrickreferrals.co.uk/our-services/surgery/conditions/fore-limb/canine-elbow-dysplasia

(2) See last page under conclusions; Keller GG, Dziuk E, Bell, JS. How the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is tackling inherited disordersin the USA: Using hip and elbow dysplasia as examples. The Veterinary Journal 189 (2011) 197–202.

(3) In this old article (written around 2004) by Steve Wolfson, see the highlighted lines on page 3 - At the Foot of the Rottweiler By Steve Wolfson. 

(4) Nordish Veterinarmedicin 1982; 34:65-75. Arthrosis in the Elbow Joint of Young, Rapidly Growing Dogs: Interrelation between Clinical Radiological, and Pathoanatomical Findings. 
Grondalen J

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2777296/


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