Hip and Elbow Dysplasia in the ACD


Hello Australian Cattle Dog lovers,

I have grave concerns for the future of the breed and am writing this letter in an attempt to raise awareness on...

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia in the Australian Cattle Dog

I've learned Elbow Dysplasia is a common problem these days - just like Hip Dysplasia.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are not well recognised in ACD's - but have been documented for many other breeds overseas - mainly large, working dogs.In fact, dogs that are prone to hip or elbow dysplasia, often develop both complications.

Dysplasia and my two ACD's

My current dog "Jet" is 11 months old and underwent bone surgery two weeks ago to have bone fragments removed from both his elbows. Jet has Elbow Dysplasia and is significantly lame in both front legs with associated pain and arthritis.

My last Cattle Dog "Strop" had Hip Dysplasia. Most of the litter he came from were put down by the age of 12 months. Strop lived to 14 years - we kept him going with a lot of love, care and anti-inflammatory's.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow Dysplasia has been a very difficult and expensive problem to diagnose. ACD's are an extremely courageuos breed and sometimes it is impossible to guage the amount of pain the dog is in. Jet has seen at least six different vets over the last six months for opinions on his lameness. At one point in time, one vet (not his usual) wanted to completely shave the dog - insisting he must have a tick. We knew that Jet did not have a tick but paid the bill for the visit and tick medication -all the same.

There are at least three various forms of elbow dysplasia that you can read about on the links I've provided. In basic terms, it is a misalignment of the 3 major bones that make up the elbow joint - the bad alignment causes further degeneration of the joint very rapidly by developing arthritis and cartilage damage - that is irreparable.

Jet was x-rayed at 6 months and 10 months of age - elbows, wrists, hips, pelvis and back ! The x-rays at 6 months appeared fairly normal, however the x-rays at 10 months showed some signs of arthritis so the vet suggested taking Jet to a specialist for his opinion. The specialist looked at the x-rays and recommended CAT scans be performed at the human hospital. The vet and the specialist both manipulated Jets elbows to see the range of movement and to gauge the dogs response for pain. Jet exhibited severe pain on flexing the elbow joint - every time a vet would manipulate him..CAT scans were taken at a cost of $450 - which finally confirmed the vets suspicions. (results attached).

Surgery was the best and really only alternative to help the dog - cost $1500.

Cost of diagnosis and treatment - over $2768.00

 1st consultation with vet


2nd consultation with vet and painkillers


First set of x-rays with anesthesia


3rd consultation with vet 


4th consultation with vet


2nd set of x-rays no anesthesia


Consultation with specialist, blood test and back x-rays   


New vet for 2nd opinion


Another vet for 3rd opinion


CAT scans





Elbow Dysplasia in pups - from my experience
First signs  3 - 4 months

When Jet was a young pup he used to sometimes stand on his tippy toes looking a little awkward or uncomfortable. The puppy school teacher pointed this out as a potential joint problem to me when Jet was 3 months old - I was hoping she was wrong? Looking back - she was exactly right !

Next - continual lameness in the front legs

Symptoms of lameness started between  5 - 9 months of age -  Jet started at 5 months and has been pretty constant till now 11 months. The lameness typically affects both front legs and lasts for longer than 14 days and often seems to be worse in one leg than the other but it's difficult to determine which leg. It is difficult to tell if the problem is the paw, wrist, elbow or shoulder. Jet often splays the front paws outward - apparently this is a possible warning sign of the problem.

At about 7 months of age Jet's walks became severely restricted due to pain which was made obvious by him getting very tired after only walking a few hundred meters. He also finds it difficult to walk down stairs due to the increased weight on his front legs and tends to slide down on his belly instead. After I'd rest Jet for a week, there seemed to be improvement but after a few short walks he'd start limping again on both or either front paw. Both legs show signs of continual lameness for no apparent reason - he has never been obviously injured in a fall or accident of any kind.


Jet also developed back pain from trying to keep weight off his front legs - hence x-rays of his back too! Jet will tire easily after short walks and will drink a lot of water and pant due to pain response. The vet made us have blood tests taken earlier in the diagnosis to ensure he wasn't diabetic due to his tiredness and drinking large amounts. X-rays will usually detect the problem, but CAT scans are recommended because they are more conclusive (and expensive).

In short if your pup starts limping at say 4 - 7 months and it wont go away after 2 weeks of rest - get the dogs elbows x-rayed and check for signs of ED.


The specialists believe that surgery helps slow down the further development of Arthritis. The arthritis that is already evident cannot be corrected and the dog will never be normal. This is because there has been cartilage damage due to the loose bone fragments - so I think the sooner you can diagnose the problem and have them removed the less chance the dog has of future debilitation. The procedure the Vet wanted to perform was to remove the loose bone fragments from both elbows and cut the ulna bone in the right fore-leg to allow the joint to sit in better alignment.

Cost of the operation $1500 and 4 - 5 days in hospital.

Recovery period over 2 months.No plaster cast is applied - the cut ulna bone is allowed to float until it finds its own comfortable knitting position - which can takes ages depending on how active the dog is during the recovery period. Try stopping a young ACD?

Decisions I have had to make ... a nightmare

Get x-rays?

Get CAT scans

Put him down?

Get a second opinion?

Get a third opinion

Do nothing and see if he grows up any better?

Put him on long term medication as a pup?

Operate to remove the chips?

Operate to remove the chips and cut the ulna?

Which surgeon would be best for the operation?

How can I prevent this from happening again?

How could I be so unlucky to have two dogs in a row with dysplasia problems?

How will he recovery since he is so active?

Results of Surgery

I personally opted against having the ulna bone cut - I found it too drastic and doubted the recovery would be successful. Jet just had the loose fragments of bone removed. It is only 2 weeks now - but he is already walking more freely than he has for months, although he is still sore when he stops. He is eating better than he has for ages - so I am hoping he is in less pain than he was.

ACD Breeders and Owners responsibilities

After the severe problems I had with my first ACD I tried desperately to find a breeder that graded their dogs hips, but found very few and none had any pups during the period I was looking. There are almost no breeders that have any scores on elbows. Most breeders know little of the problem or refuse to acknowledge it even exists in the breed. 

The ACD is unique to Australia and breeders must learn to manage the few diseases that afflict them to ensure their continuance.

Breed clubs or the governing bodies should be able to stipulate testing for the known diseases that can bring the breed down to its knees - so to speak, before dogs are approved to breed with them. This would save the general public from being forced to make the tough decisions I have had to consider.

 The breeders are guardians of the breed - they do not own it. 

ACD breeders have a responsiblity to ensure that the breed lives on without rampant hereditary diseases that can be managed given the right processes.

 Please read the websites I have linked and spread this information to as many breeders and owners as possible.

America and England score elbows and hips for their breeds. Isn't the ACD the best breed of all? You are all obviously aware of their unlimited potential for work, as loyal pets and guard dogs - their courageousness can never be surpassed. Then surely we should band together and share this information and save our heritage and preserve the breed for the future generations to enjoy.

How can we start a register and how do we publicize it and maintain it - lets do it before it's too late.

For further information on "Elbow Dysplasia"  follow these links ...http://www.petsurgery.com/elbowdysplasia.htm







Rod Smith


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