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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.

Case study - 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 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 the elbow problem often was a disease, only hip dysplasia, a disease common to several breeds, was actually recognized and 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 and breeders, who easily recognize the hip problem are less likely to notice elbow dysplasia and may even be unwilling to acknowledge that it exists as a disease. 

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 the differences in the growth rate of the two bones in the leg, the radius and the ulna, a genetic trait of the breed.  The incongruity leads to a deformity of the leg and accompanying bad paw posture which can be seen from the outside (see picture page 1) in two ways: 1st , unaligned bone structure resulting from the differing bone growth rates growth  and 2nd , an excessive outward twist of the leg because the dog is trying to relieve the pressure and pain. As a result of the misaligned bones, severe pressure occurs in some parts of the elbow, which triggers the bone fractures that are characteristic of the disease. In some dogs, by the time they are diagnosed with elbow dysplasia, the incongruity has resolved itself, but the damage has been done.  Therefore, you will see many dogs who appear very healthy with no limping, but who have a small deformity that only an experienced observer would notice.  The owner/breeder thought he had a healthy dog, but, when they are X-rayed for OFA certification at two years old, degenerative joint disease is discovered.

There are several different elbow problems, such as (OCD) and (UAP) that are collectively termed “elbow dysplasia” which are triggered by different  abnormalities 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.  It can be devastating to the dog and to the owner if discovered, but it can remain undetected by owners and is, unfortunately, ignored by some breeders even if detected. The fact that lameness may come and go in the puppy, or even not appear for a long time after birth results in many cases going undetected in the first few years; meanwhile the dog can develop early arthritis which can result in more severe and painful limping as early as 6 years of age.

There is a link between the level of leg deformity (deviation from the perfect posture) and relative difference in growth rate of the two bones to the severity of the disease. In many cases you see a dog with an "okay" elbow certification, but a closer look at the dog's posture and movement reveals a deviation from the perfect posture (an abnormality). Therefore, better breeding practices should rely on an OFA certificate (x-ray at 2 years of age) and an expert observation of the dog's posture in the field.

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.

When a puppy jumps high or runs down steps or walks on a slippery floor or jumps off a car, it could, of course, injure itself, but it won't result in a bone disease; DNA won't be changed. But, in a puppy with bone deformity in the elbow joint--an already fragile bone due to a congenital disease--these activities will expose the problem sooner, mainly by breaking or cracking the weak bone, causing limping to occur sooner.

Keep reading, later you can check the Warning Signs of Elbow Dysplasia (ED) at the diagnosis page.

What should you do after you already have the puppy and you suspect a problem with a front leg? Keep reading.

The discussion below presents my conclusion 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.


The Reality of Elbow Dysplasia in Rottweilers

Some experts say 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, even though 141 were not lame (only about 32% lame), it was found that most of the non-lame dogs (68%) had DJD of the elbow (Degenerative Joint Disease).

Below are some relevant statistics of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) as of July, 2013. However, these statistics do not show the full picture, because the OFA database is a voluntary database. It contains only dogs (the best dogs) which the breeders choose to submit to the OFA, hoping that the OFA will never be able to detect any disease. There isn’t any incentive for breeders to document dogs that are part of a defective breeding line. And, of course, dogs that end up in private hands, like my dog, will never be documented. Therefore the problem is likely to be far worse than what is presented in the OFA statistics. It is difficult to know how many dogs are not lucky enough to have surgery, and either end up at a rescue home with bad limping or are euthanized. One veterinarian in one clinic told me he sees at least one Rottweiler a week with limping problems--and this is only one vet at one clinic.



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 a dog born from the breeding of two animals with genetic defects has an ED problem.

For those who choose to ignore studies and statistics that point to genetics, and for those who choose to believe that bad diet or activity is the answer, here are some facts that demonstrate that the genetic component is the more likely source of the problem:

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

  2. Many dogs and puppies from all kind of breeds have a high activity levels such as running, jumping, running down hills or steps, but relatively few 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 who believe that genetics is not important are trying to blame other conditions rather than accept responsibility for their failure in breeding. They are also confused by the fact that ED symptoms often don't appear 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, go undetected--especially if the dog is not particularly active or an owner is not particularly observant.  Others conclude that if ED isn't present in some dogs in some environments, it must be the environment that results in ED.  Each of these arguments results from anecdotal evidence and not scientific studies.  It is like arguing that you can prevent all people from getting diabetes by cutting sugar out of everyone's diet just because some people can control their diabetes by a change in diet.

Some people were able to make 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 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 the puppy I have come to love).

So far, I could only find 3 active breeders that will warrant the puppy for at least the first year and offer partial money back if you keep the sick puppy. You can check by clicking here for Breeder’s List. If there are more out there, please contact me with this information.  


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 on, and links from, this website. (Site Map)

Then, get a proper diagnosis as quickly as possible, because if it is elbow dysplasia in a puppy, 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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