Hip and elbow dysplasia in the Russian black terrier: causes, symptoms and treatments

Like many other large and heavy breeds, the Black Russian Terrier can be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. In the following article I will discuss this subject in detail, describing the causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention methods of this disease.

At the outset, a very important point. If your black Russian terrier has been diagnosed with dysplasia and you start to panic, first of all, calm down. Dysplasia does not always mean that a black terrier will be lame or have problems walking. Of course, some dogs with dysplasia may have problems with walking or standing up, but most black terriers with dysplasia do not show any movement-related symptoms. Most will remain active until old age. Let's move on to dysplasia statistics. The largest base regarding the incidence of dysplasia in dogs, not only in black terriers, is the American non-profit organisation founded in 1966 by John M. Olin The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) which is funded by AKC Canine Health Foundation (AKC CHF). So these are very serious organisations and it will be difficult to find more comprehensive databases of canine diseases than those of the OFA.

So what do the OFA dysplasia statistics say? 

OFA research indicates that the black Russian terrier ranks 16th among all breeds in terms of the incidence of hip dysplasia and 12th in terms of elbow dysplasia. Of the more than 1,200 black terriers examined by the OFA, approximately 40% were diagnosed with hip dysplasia and almost 30% were diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. The OFA's database only includes evaluations of hip x-rays that were sent in by owners for evaluation. It is clear that with really bad hips, it is unlikely that anyone would send x-rays for assessment. So how many % of black terriers based on OFA examinations will be found to have dysplasia after x-ray? At least 40% if we assume that all black terrier owners in the US send x-rays of their black terriers for evaluation, but given that photos of really bad hips are not sent for evaluation, we can assume that dysplasia is present in about 50% of black terriers. Are 50% of black terriers with good pedigrees limping? Of course not, a small percentage of black terriers have problems with moving and standing up. Usually dysplasia in a black terrier puppy starts to become apparent at 5.5 - 6.5 months of age, when the puppy starts to limp on the front paw, starts to walk strangely or has problems standing up. Dysplasia that is found during a prophylactic x-ray not supported by the observation of lameness or mobility problems is usually not an obstacle to a black terrier leading an active life. However, some vets, seeing even the slightest signs of dysplasia on an X-ray in a dog that is not lame and does not have the slightest mobility problems, suggest that the owner undergo surgery. Given the OFA statistics that around 40% of black terriers have dysplasia diagnosed on X-rays and the fact that only a small percentage of black terriers limp, should you opt for a very expensive operation, or even a whole series of operations? This is a question you will already have to answer for yourself. An orthopaedic vet I know and whom I greatly appreciate for his knowledge and experience gained in veterinary clinics in the USA always says "WE TREAT THE SYMPTOMS, NOT THE PHOTOS". If your black terrier moves without problems, then you should think very carefully about whether to subject your dog to surgery, as orthopaedic surgery does not always have the intended effect. The joint is a very complex construction and there are cases in which, after the joint operation, the black terrier starts to have problems that were not there before, but in this case we cannot go back to the state before the operation.

After this introduction, lets continue with the causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention methods of dysplasia.

What is hip and elbow dysplasia in the black terrier?

Joint dysplasia is a degenerative joint disease that most commonly affects the dog's hip and elbow joints. It can lead to arthrosis, a chronic degenerative disease of the joints. As a result, the dog may experience chronic pain, reduced joint mobility, lameness and other mobility problems and a reduced quality of life. Hip dysplasia affects the femoral head and hip acetabulum, while ulnar dysplasia affects the elbow joint. It is a condition that can be inherited or acquired. Although dysplasia can occur in any dog, it is particularly common in larger breeds such as the black Russian terrier.

How is dysplasia diagnosed?

Diagnosis of dysplasia usually involves a physical examination and X-rays. Your vet may also suggest a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to get a more detailed picture of your dog's joints.

Causes of joint dysplasia in the Russian black terrier

The most important factors that can contribute to the development of joint dysplasia in the Russian black terrier:

1. Genetic factors

Joint dysplasia is often inherited, meaning that it can be passed on from generation to generation. If a dog's parents had problems with dysplasia, there is a greater risk that their offspring will also have the condition. Sometimes hereditary dysplasia can occur even when both parents have normal joints, but there has been dysplasia in previous generations. Sometimes also a certain combination of ancestors several generations back increases the risk of dysplasia significantly. It can happen, therefore, that puppies from a litter resulting from the mating of a certain dog with a certain bitch have healthy joints, but changing one parent to another with normal joints will give children with dysplasia. Therefore, it is very important to select the parents skilfully, not only in terms of their joint test results, but also in terms of their ancestors and to know what problems occurred in particular breeding lines many generations back.

2. Environmental factors

Although genetics plays an important role in the development of joint dysplasia, environmental factors can also influence the development of this disease. One might be tempted to say that parents with healthy joints are only half the battle in achieving the goal of a puppy and, in the future, an adult dog that will not have dysplasia in the future. A puppy that is born with a predisposition to healthy joints can have dysplasia in the future if the breeder and then the owner make mistakes during the period when the puppy is in its most intensive growth phase. Some of these mistakes can be corrected, but often the degenerative changes in the joints are irreversible.

The most common environmental factors that can influence the development of dysplasia in the black terrier:

1. Poor nutrition

Improper feeding of puppies during the growth period can contribute to the development of dysplasia. Not all 'giant breed puppy' foods are good for a black terrier puppy. For example, the wrong amount of calcium in the diet and especially the calcium/phosphorus ratio can have disastrous consequences for joint development. And different foods "for giant breed puppies" have different calcium/phosphorus ratios, so they affect the joints of a fast-growing black terrier differently. There are many such nuances, so simply trust the experience of your black terrier's breeder and only use the diet recommended by the breeder. If you want to change the food, consult a breeder or a dog nutritionist who will analyse the composition of the food and tell you whether such a food will be healthy specifically for a black terrier puppy of a certain age and, if not, why not.

2. Excessive effort

Too much exercise in young dogs can damage the developing joints. The black Russian terrier puppy is very heavy and grows very fast, plus it is active and eager to play and run. The very fast growing, heavy body must be supported by the growing but still weak joints. A small and skinny dog may have joint changes, but this may never be apparent because a light body is not a great strain on the joints. A black terrier is very heavy and joint malfunction will be evident in the form of walking problems.

3. Overweight

Excessive body weight increases the stress on the joints, which can accelerate the progression of the disease. Very important in the prevention of dysplasia in the black terrier is to regularly check the whether the weight of a black terrier puppy is correct.

4. Growing too fast

In the black terrier puppy, as in other giant breeds, growing too fast can lead to abnormal joint development, which in turn can contribute to dysplasia. The growth rate of the black terrier depends to some extent on diet, so it is important to follow the breeder's recommendations.

Symptoms of joint dysplasia in the Russian black terrier

Symptoms of joint dysplasia can vary, but most commonly include:

1. Stiffness and pain
A dog with joint dysplasia may show signs of stiffness and pain, especially after prolonged physical activity.


2. Difficulty walking, sitting and standing up, lameness.

A black Russian terrier with joint dysplasia may have difficulty walking, sitting or standing up from a lying down position, and may limp on one or more legs. Marked pain during movement is evident.

3. Unnatural gait

The dog may start to walk 'like a duck' or 'hop like a rabbit' when it is painful for the dog to break out of one hind leg, in which case the dog will break out of two legs at the same time (this is not always a sign of dysplasia, sometimes the dog just moves like this).

4. Limited mobility

Over time, joint dysplasia leads to limited joint mobility, which can affect the dog's ability to perform daily activities.

4. Changes in behaviour

Persistent pain can affect a dog's behaviour, which can lead to increased aggression, irritability or inhibited activity. The dog may show signs of pain such as howling, whining or avoiding touch.

Treatment of hip and elbow dysplasia in the Russian black terrier


If you suspect that your Black Russian Terrier may be suffering from joint dysplasia, consult your vet immediately. Diagnosis may require radiographic examination of the joints.

Remember that roentgen radiographs of the joints are performed under anaesthesia, so there is a risk that the dog will not awaken from the anaesthetic.

If dysplasia is confirmed, the vet will be able to recommend appropriate treatment, which may include:

1. Analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs

Your vet may prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatories to help relieve the pain associated with joint dysplasia. Please note - some painkillers designed for humans are fatal to dogs, so always consult your vet before using a painkiller.

2. Supplements - chondroprosthetics

Glucosamine and chondroitin can support joint health.

2. Physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises

Physiotherapy, including massage and rehabilitation exercises, can help to maintain joint mobility and reduce pain.

Physiotherapy has become one of the key elements of a holistic approach to treating dysplasia in dogs, helping them to recover and improve their quality of life.

What is physiotherapy for dogs?

As with humans, physiotherapy for animals (often referred to as veterinary rehabilitation) is the use of special techniques and exercises to improve the function of joints, muscles, ligaments and other body structures. In the case of dogs with dysplasia, this can help to reduce pain, increase the range of movement in joints and strengthen muscles.

Why is physiotherapy important for dogs with dysplasia?

1. Reduction of pain

Regular physiotherapy exercises can help reduce inflammation in the joints, which translates into less pain for the dog.

2. Improving range of motion

Stretching and mobilisation exercises can help to increase joint and muscle flexibility.

3. Muscle strengthening

Dysplasia often leads to muscle weakness around the joint. Strengthening exercises can help to restore muscle strength.

4. Improving coordination and balance

Physiotherapy helps dogs to control their bodies better, which is particularly important for those who have difficulty walking or standing up.

Physiotherapy techniques and methods for dogs with dysplasia:

1. Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy, also known as aquatic therapy, involves the use of specially designed pools or water treadmills to treat a variety of conditions. The water provides resistance, allowing muscles to be strengthened while reducing stress on the joints, making it an ideal environment for dogs with dysplasia.

Simple water exercises can also be performed in a home swimming pool or lake, under the supervision of the owner.

Hydrotherapy is a promising tool in the fight against dysplasia in dogs, offering many benefits without invasive treatments through an approach focused on improving the dog's strength, mobility and overall wellbeing.

Benefits of hydrotherapy for dogs with dysplasia

1. Reduction of pain

The water supports most of the dog's weight, which reduces the load on aching joints, helping to relieve pain.

2. Muscle strengthening

The resistance of the water means that the muscles have to work harder during the movement, leading to their strengthening.

3. improving range of motion

Movement in the water can help to stretch joints and muscles, increasing their flexibility.

4. increasing confidence

For many dogs who may feel insecure due to pain or limited mobility, hydrotherapy can help to increase confidence in movement.

What does a hydrotherapy session look like?

Before starting hydrotherapy, the dog should be thoroughly examined by a specialist. After an initial assessment and agreement on a treatment plan, the dog is introduced into the water. Special life jackets are often used for safety.

1. Water treadmills

These are special treadmills enclosed in aquariums filled with water. The water level and speed of the treadmill can be adjusted according to the needs of the dog.

2. Swimming pools

Some hydrotherapy centres have pools designed specifically for dogs. These can be equipped with various features such as massage jets to further stimulate the dog's muscles.

The session usually lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the dog's condition and the therapist's recommendations.

When to start hydrotherapy?

It is best to start hydrotherapy as soon as possible after the diagnosis of dysplasia, although this therapy can benefit dogs of any age. Starting therapy early can help to halt the progression of the condition and improve the dog's quality of life.


2. Electrotherapy

Electrotherapy is a treatment method that uses electrical currents to stimulate muscles, relieve pain, increase blood flow and promote healing processes in tissues.

Benefits of electrotherapy for dogs with dysplasia

1. Pain relief

Electrical currents can block the conduction of pain impulses to the brain.

2. Muscle stimulation

Currents can help activate weakened muscles, which is crucial for dogs with dysplasia, whose muscles often atrophy due to lack of movement.

Types of electrotherapy used in dogs

1. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

This is the most commonly used form of electrotherapy for pain relief. Small electrodes are placed on the dog's skin around the painful area and then low-frequency currents are sent through the skin, blocking the conduction of pain impulses.

2. NMES (Neuromuscular electrical stimulation)

It uses higher-frequency currents to stimulate muscles for contraction and relaxation, helping to strengthen them.

What does an electrotherapy session look like?

Before a dog starts electrotherapy, it should be thoroughly examined by a specialist. During the session, small electrodes are applied to the dog's skin, which are connected to an electrotherapy device. The therapist then adjusts the intensity of the current according to the dog's needs. Sessions usually last between 15 and 30 minutes.

When used in combination with other treatments, electrotherapy can significantly improve the quality of life of a black terrier diagnosed with dysplasia.


Key aspects for the owner of a black terrier undergoing physiotherapy

1. Regularity is key

To achieve the best results, exercise must be done regularly.

2. Get involved in the process

The physiotherapist can teach the owner how to do some exercises at home, which allows for daily therapy.

3. Watch your dog

If your dog seems more anxious or experiences more pain after therapy, consult a physiotherapist.

4. Remember the rest

Remember to give your dog time to rest and recover after intensive treatment.

Physiotherapy for a black terrier with joint dysplasia can be a key part of a holistic treatment plan, helping not only to reduce pain but also to improve the dog's overall quality of life. By working with an experienced veterinary physiotherapist and engaging in the treatment process, owners can play a key role in improving their dog's health and wellbeing.

3. Diet and weight control

A proper diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce the stress on the dog's joints and improve quality of life.

4. Surgery

In some cases, especially when the joint dysplasia is very advanced, surgery may be required. This may include joint resection, arthroscopy or other procedures to help improve joint function.
Surgical treatments for dysplasia in dogs

The treatment of hip or elbow dysplasia in the black terrier may involve different surgical methods, depending on the severity of the condition, the age of the dog and other factors. The most common surgical methods used to treat dysplasia in dogs are listed below:

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO):

TPO involves making three cuts in the pelvic bone, which allows the acetabulum to be rotated to better fit the femoral head.
Indications: Usually used in younger dogs that have not yet started the degenerative process.
Benefits: It can prevent further development of dysplasia and joint degeneration.

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis (JPS):

This is a procedure involving early fusion of the pubic bone in young dogs, leading to better alignment of the acetabulum with the femoral head.
Wskazania: Used in puppies aged 16 to 20 weeks.
Benefits: Can prevent the development of hip dysplasia.

Total Hip Replacement (THR):

This is an operation in which the damaged hip joint is replaced with an artificial joint.

Indications: Recommended for dogs with advanced hip dysplasia or severe pain that does not respond to conservative treatment.
Benefits: After the operation, the dog can lead a normal life without pain.

Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO):

It involves removing the head of the femur, allowing the muscles to form a false joint.
Indications: Often used in smaller dogs or those for whom joint replacement is not an option.
Benefits: Reduces pain and improves joint mobility.

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) Surgery:

OCD is a condition in which a fragment of cartilage in a joint detaches from the bone beneath it. Surgery involves removing the loose cartilage fragments.

Indications: Dog with symptoms of elbow dysplasia due to OCD.
Benefits: Reduction of pain and improvement of joint function.

Sliding Humeral Osteotomy (SHO):

A procedure involving cutting and repositioning the humerus to improve its alignment with the elbow joint.
Indications: Dog with elbow dysplasia.
Benefits: Improve joint function and reduce pain.

The choice of the appropriate surgical method depends on a number of factors, such as the age of the dog, the severity of the dysplasia and the general state of health. In all cases, it is important to consult an experienced veterinary orthopaedic surgeon to assess the best course of treatment for your particular dog. Surgical treatment of hip and elbow dysplasia can significantly improve a dog's quality of life by reducing pain and improving joint function.


Prevention of dysplasia in the black terrier

Although part of the risk of dysplasia is genetic, it is possible to reduce the risk of joint dysplasia in the Russian black terrier. The following preventive rules should be followed:

1. Adequate diet

ZEnsure a balanced diet, with the right amount of calcium, which provides the necessary nutrients in the right proportions and supports healthy joint development but does not lead to overweight.

2. Adequate and controlled physical activity

Avoid excessive stress on joints through controlled physical activity that is appropriate to the dog's age and condition. Pay particular attention to avoiding excessive exercise in young dogs.

3. Regular checks at the vet

1. Regular veterinary examinations can help detect dysplasia at an early stage.

4. Responsible breeding

Beware, joint roentgen testing is not compulsory in the Russian black terrier breed in most countries, so black terriers can be used for breeding without any testing, even with very severe dysplasia. Therefore, choose breeders who test for joint dysplasia in their parent dogs to reduce the risk of inheriting this disease. If you are planning to breed, genetic testing is recommended to avoid pairing dogs with a history of dysplasia.

5. Supplementation

Use chondroprosthetics to strengthen joints, especially in your puppy and junior. Choose age-appropriate chondroprosthetics for your black Russian terrier.


Hip and elbow dysplasia can be a serious problem for the Russian black terrier, but with awareness and proper care, we can manage this disease and ensure our dogs live long and healthy lives into old age. Remember that regular vet checks are key to early detection and treatment of dysplasia.


1. "Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments," PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_dg_hip_dysplasia 1.

2. "Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Prevention, Treatment, and Cost," American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/

3. https://ofa.org/diseases/elbow-dysplasia/

4. https://ofa.org/diseases/hip-dysplasia/

5. OFA dysplasia database https://ofa.org/diseases/