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Diagnosis and Treatment of Osteochondritis Dessicans (OCD)

Osteochondrosis dessicans (OCD) is a condition of abnormal cartilage growth seen in rapidly growing dogs. Its exact cause is not fully understood but genetics and over nutrition appears to contribute.

Labrador retrievers, Rottweilers, German shepherds, and other large /giant breed dogs are most commonly affected. Most are dogs are between 5-7 months of age when signs of lameness occur.

Basic Review of OCD in Dogs

Every joint in the body is lined by spongy cartilage of a consistent thickness. Normally, as dogs mature the cartilage grows outward with the inner layer turning in to supportive bone. With OCD however, a focal area of cartilage does not turn into bone and remains abnormally thick. Cartilage cells cannot survive well at this thickness and they die, leaving a space between the cartilage and underlying bone. This space prevents the cartilage from “cementing” to the bone and provides no underlying support. As body weight is applied to the joint during normal activities cracks occur in the cartilage. Ultimately, a cartilage flap develops causing pain and lameness in affected dogs. The lameness is generally progressive and can be severe.

Diagnosis and Treatment of OCD in Dogs

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and X-rays. Examination of the affected jointreveals pain on joint manipulation and palpation. The most commonly affected joint is the shoulder followed by the elbow, ankle (hock), and knee (stifle). X-rays of the affected joint reveal a flattened area of the bone, which corresponds to the defect left by the dead cartilage . Treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs alone is usually not successful and surgery is generally required.

The goals of surgery are to remove any loose cartilage and encourage filling of the defect with new healthier tissue. The joint is entered surgically and the chip of loose cartilage identified and removed. The remaining defect is scraped and cleaned to remove nonviable cartilage and create an environment amenable for tissue to grow and fill in the void. Postoperative recovery is generally speedy and requires restriction of activity to ensure proper healing. Patients are expected to show steady improvement during the weeks following surgery, while full recovery may take several months.

Prognosis of Dogs with OCD

Dogs with shoulder OCD are expected to return to full function with minimal future problems. While some arthritis may develop over time, it is generally of little consequence. Elbow, hock, and knee OCD however, are not as straightforward. These joints tend to develop more severe arthritis and may respond less dramatically to surgery. Regardless, proper veterinary treatment can help to maximize joint comfort and limb function.



NB-Even when you naturally rear your pup, and “do everything right”, OCD can still be seen.  Nature wins over nurture. Arthroscopic surgery is now being used succesfully.  I personally treat these patients homeopathically.  Physical therapy is a great adjunct during homeopathic treatment.  I expect these patients to return to normal activity.–Dr. Jeff 



Please note: The information provided here is intended to supplement the recommendations of your veterinarian. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment based on information on this site. Nothing can replace a complete history and physical examination performed by your veterinarian. -Dr. Jeff