Osteochondritis Dissecans in Dogs

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Osteochondritis Dissecans, abbreviated as OCD, is an orthopedic condition in dogs. It usually affects the shoulder joints of young, large dogs but can also affect the hips, knees, and hocks.

What Is Osteochondritis Dissecans?

OCD in dogs occurs when the bone of a joint does not develop properly. In growing puppies, bones are formed when calcium is deposited into cartilage. This process is called ossification.

Dogs develop osteochondrosis when some of the joint cartilage fails to develop into bone. The cartilage may become abnormally thickened and some of the cells may die, leaving a malformed joint. Movement of the affected joints can lead to cracks or splits in the cartilage that can turn into a flap of cartilage at the joint. This flap impacts joint function and causes pain upon movement. The condition is known as Osteochondritis Dissecans once a cartilage flap is present in a joint. The flap may even separate from the bone and become stuck in a part of the joint. Free flaps are called "joint mice."

Although OCD can technically affect any joint, it most commonly occurs in the shoulder joint. The condition is also sometimes seen in the elbows, knees, hips, and hocks (ankles). OCD tends to affect large and giant dogs breeds and usually begins when the dog is not yet fully grown.

Signs of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Dogs

Signs of OCD in dogs typically begin between the ages of four and eight months, but this can vary depending on the growth rate of the affected dog. The main sign of OCD in dogs is lameness or limping. This lameness typically gets worse after exercise and sometimes appears worse after long periods of rest. Signs tend to start gradually and get worse over time. Signs may temporarily improve after exercise restriction. More than one joint may be affected at the same time.

Causes of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Dogs

Osteochondrosis and OCD in dogs are considered inherited disorders. Large and giant breed dogs are most commonly affected. Not all dogs with the genetic predisposition will develop OCD. Although any dog can be affected by OCD, certain breeds are known to be predisposed.

Other factors may contribute to the development of OCD. Both diet and exercise play important roles.

A diet that is too high in calories and nutrients like calcium and phosphorous may contribute to the development of OCD in young dogs. Excess nutrition or supplements can lead to nutrient imbalances and make puppies grow too quickly, potentially leading to OCD.

Too much exercise can worsen osteochondrosis and make it develop into OCD. Overuse of affected joints can greatly worsen symptoms. The joint can become unstable and osteoarthritis may even begin to develop.

Osteochondritis Dissecans Treatment for Dogs

Treatment for OCD in dogs can be divided into two categories: conservative and surgical.

Conservative Treatment

Conservative treatment consists of pain management, exercise restriction, and possible dietary adjustments. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, are most commonly used for pain relief. Additional pain medications may be added depending on the situation.

Exercise should be limited to short, leashed walks for urination and defecation. The majority of the dog's time will need to be spent at rest, either in a crate or a small room.

Your vet may recommend diet changes depending on what you are currently feeding your dog. Nutritional supplements may be useful in some cases, but you should rely on your vet's expertise before trying this.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is the treatment of choice when conservative methods are unsuccessful. Surgery might even be the first recommendation in cases where the dog is having severe signs.

During surgery for OCD in dogs, the veterinarian will remove the cartilage flap and any other affected cartilage around the bone. This can be done with traditional open surgery or with arthroscopy, a less invasive type of surgery done with a special scope and camera that enters through tiny incisions in the skin.

How to Prevent Osteochondritis Dissecans in Dogs

Because OCD is often hereditary, dogs with the disease should never be bred. Dogs related to the affected dog (siblings, parents, and offspring) should also not be bred. Responsible dog breeders have orthopedic screening tests done on at-risk breeds before breeding them. This lowers the risk of passing on the genes for osteochondrosis and OCD.

Exercise is important for puppies, but make sure not to overdo it with your growing puppy. Try to keep your puppy from strenuous activities like running or hiking long distances.

Avoid overfeeding puppies, especially large and giant breeds. If you have a large or giant dog breed, ask your veterinarian to recommend some dog food formulas. Many companies make diets specially formulated for large breed puppies.