Ostechondritis Dessicans (OCD) in Dogs

What Is It?

OCD in dogs is an orthopedic condition in which the cartilage in a growing joint fails to develop normally. It can occur in any joint and is especially common in the shoulder. As a dog grows, cartilage is gradually replaced by bone; a process called endochondral ossification. In dogs with OCD, this process is disturbed – cartilage continues to be created, but isn’t replaced by bone. This leads to an overgrowth of abnormally thick cartilage, which isn’t as strong and resistant to force as a bone. The excess cartilage can detach from the bone, forming a flap. If one of these flaps breaks off, the loose cartilage fragment can irritate the joint, leading to inflammation and pain.

Who Gets It?

This most commonly affects large or giant breed dogs, such as:

  • Great Danes
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Newfoundlands
  • Rottweilers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs

It occurs more frequently in males than in females. Most animals begin to show clinical signs around 4-8 months of age, although some will present later, between 2-3 years of age.

What Are The Signe?

The most common clinical sign is lameness, often first noted after intense exercise, and maybe most evident after rest preceded by heavy exercise. Lameness may vary from barely noticeable to the dog’s inability to bear weight on the affected limb. It might also affect more than one limb. There may be pain and swelling of the affected joint(s). The dog may also have a shortened gait due to reluctance to fully extend and flex the joint, eventually leading to muscle wasting (atrophy).

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian can diagnose the presence of this with a complete history, physical exam, and radiographs. In radiographs of a dog with this condition, the head of the humerus will appear flattened. The presence of bone spurs, called osteophytes, indicates significant cartilage damage and the formation of a cartilage flap that is characteristic of OCD.

Why Did This Happen To My Dog?

It can be attributed to several causes. Trauma, either acute or chronic, can cause injury to the surface cartilage, leading to separation of the cartilage or damage to the blood supply, which triggers the cartilage flap formation. There is also a genetic component to the disease. Certain breeds and breeding lines are predisposed to this. Additionally, because it usually occurs during periods of rapid growth in the animal’s lifetime, it is believed that nutrition plays a role in developing the disease. Diets that promote rapid growth, such as those especially high in calories and/or calcium, can increase the incidence of this.

How Is It Treated?

If detected early, OCD lesions can heal with rest and restricted diets. The dog should be fed a diet lower in calories and calcium. Please note that it is important to talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet. Decreasing activity will reduce traumatic forces on the joint and prevent the damaged cartilage from breaking off. Your veterinarian may also decide to put the patient on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Healing should occur by 6 months of age, as long as the cartilage has not separated from the bone.

Surgery may be indicated in more severe cases, such as those detected later or where the thickened cartilage flap has detached. Active puppies that do not respond to conservative treatment may also be candidates for surgery. Surgical options include arthroscopic removal of the cartilage flap through a small incision in the skin or traditional (open) surgery. An incision is made in the skin, and the joint is accessed by separating the surrounding muscles. The cartilage flap is then removed. Your veterinarian will help you decide which option is best for your pet based on his/her particular case.

How Is It Prevented?

It can be prevented by careful, selective breeding, taking precautions not to breed those animals with a medical or genetic history of OCD. Large and giant breed dogs should be fed balanced diets that promote slow and steady growth. Strenuous activity should also be avoided in young, growing large and giant breed dogs.

What Is The Prognosis For My Dog?

In patients where rest and restricted diet is indicated, healing should occur by 6 months of age, as long as the cartilage flap does not break off. Surgery is about 90% successful, meaning that most dogs regain normal function of the limb(s). Depending on what type of surgery your dog has, recovery takes between 2-8 weeks.

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