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Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs

Excess Cartilage and Deficient Bone Growth in Dogs

During the early development of the fetus, a normal bone growth process called endochondral ossification occurs, where cartilage is gradually replaced by bone. Osteochondrosis is a pathological condition that disrupts this normal process, leading to the disturbance of endochondral ossification, the conversion of cartilage to bone. This disruption is often caused by a lack of proper blood supply to the bone. As a result, there is an accumulation of excessive cartilage at the affected site, as the process of endochondral ossification ceases but cartilage growth continues. Consequently, the affected areas develop abnormally thick regions of cartilage that are less resilient to mechanical stress compared to stronger and denser bone.

Certain large and giant breeds, such as Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, English Setters, and Old English Sheepdogs, are predisposed to this condition.

Symptoms and Types

  • Lameness (most prevalent symptom)
  • Lameness onset can be sudden or gradual and may affect one or more limbs
  • Lameness intensifies after physical activity
  • Inability to support weight on the affected limb
  • Joint swelling
  • Limb pain, particularly upon joint manipulation
  • Muscle wasting with prolonged lameness


  • Unknown origin
  • Seems to be inherited genetically
  • Disruption in the blood supply to or within the bone
  • Nutritional deficiencies


A thorough medical history of your dog’s health, symptom onset, and information regarding your dog’s parentage will be necessary. Your veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive blood profile, including a chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis. While results from these tests may fall within normal ranges in affected animals, they are crucial for initial assessments of your dog’s overall health.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, with particular focus on the limbs causing concern. Radiography imaging is the primary diagnostic tool for this condition; your veterinarian will take multiple x-rays of the affected joints and bones to detect any abnormalities. These radiographs can reveal lesions and other abnormalities associated with the disease. Computed tomography (CT-scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are also valuable for assessing the extent of internal lesions.

Samples of fluid from the affected joints (synovial fluid) will be collected to confirm joint involvement and rule out infectious diseases as the underlying cause of lameness. Advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques such as arthroscopy may also be employed. Arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure, enables examination and treatment of joint damage using an arthroscope inserted through a small incision.


Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian will proceed with corrective surgery. Surgical techniques such as arthroscopy or arthrotomy (joint incision) may be utilized to access the affected area. Your veterinarian will prescribe medications to manage pain and inflammation in the days following surgery.

There are medications available that are designed to mitigate cartilage damage and degeneration. Your veterinarian will discuss the available options with you based on the final diagnosis.

Recovery and Management

During the recovery period, it’s essential to restrict activity and implement weight control measures to reduce stress on the affected joints. When walking your dog outdoors, use a leash to control activity levels and ensure a slow pace. Activity should be limited for approximately 4-6 weeks, but gentle, therapeutic movement of the affected joints is encouraged early on to promote healing.

Avoid allowing your dog to run freely on concrete or other hard surfaces. Regular yearly examinations are necessary to prevent the progression of degenerative joint disease. Balanced nutrition plays a vital role in supporting rapid growth and maintaining a healthy weight within the normal range for your dog’s breed, age, and size. Weight management also helps reduce the load and stress on the affected joints.

The overall prognosis depends largely on the location and severity of the condition. In some cases, recovery and quality of life are excellent, while in others, there may be restrictions on quality of life. Due to the genetic nature of this disease, it’s important to consider neutering or spaying your dog to prevent breeding, as the condition is likely to be hereditary.

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