Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs

Dogs can develop a wide range of illnesses and ailments, and can often leave their owners feeling rather helpless – especially since it is often difficult to figure out what’s wrong with your dog. Sometimes the symptoms may be obvious, but others… not so much.

When it comes to osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), the symptoms are easy to identify. However, you won’t know right away that is it OCD that’s causing the problem.

What is osteochondritis dissecans?

No, it isn’t when your dog obsessively grooms or keep things organized. Osteochondritis dissecans, or OCD is actually a serious condition that affects a dog’s joints. OCD is a result of osteochondrosis, which is when an abnormal development of cartilage appears on the end of a bone in a dog’s joint. Osteochondrosis is often a result of a disruption in the blood supply to the affected bone.

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the diseased cartilage separates from the underlying bone. The excess cartilage is retained in the joint and continues to grow. This causes abnormally thick areas of cartilage to form.

But how does it affect the dog’s body? Think of your joints. A joint is the site where two bones come together and allows movement between them. In a healthy joint, the surfaces will be covered by very smooth cartilage that acts as a cushion and protects the bones. If the cartilage is abnormal or damaged, the movements in the joint will be disrupted and can cause a great deal of pain.

Joints serve the same purpose for dogs. And in dogs with OCD, the cartilage will grow abnormally and separate or crack. Loose flaps can form or entire pieces can even break loose and be floating in the dog’s body.

OCD most often affects a dog’s shoulder joint, but can also occur in the elbow, hip, or knee joint and generally affects younger dogs, whose cartilage is still growing and more prone to the condition.

Which dogs are likely to be affected by osteochondritis dissecans?

Osteochondritis dissecans is thought of as a developmental disease because it generally affects puppies of large or giant breed dogs. This is because these dogs grow at a rapid rate.

The breeds that are thought to be predisposed to the condition include Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, English Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, and Saint Bernards. All large breed dogs are not especially vulnerable, as breeds like Doberman Pinschers, Collies and Siberian Huskies are less likely to develop the disease. OCD has been found in small breed dogs as well and even cats, but it is far less common.

As a developmental disease, OCD most often occurs in dogs between four and ten months of age. It can be found in older dogs as well, but is much less likely. OCD also affects males more than females, because male dogs are generally larger in size and have increased stress on their joints.

The disease can be exacerbated in dogs that have too much calcium in their diet. Limiting a dog’s intake of calcium while they are growing can help reduce the incidence of OCD as well as other developmental orthopedic conditions.

What causes osteochondritis dissecans to form in dogs?

While no one is sure what causes OCD in dogs, it is thought that there are a variety of factors that contribute to the formation of an OCD lesion. These include genetics, trauma to the joint, rapid growth, hormone imbalances, and nutrition.

OCD is considered hereditary if it is known that the dog’s mother or father had the condition as well, and there does appear to be a genetic link between parents and offspring and the formation of the disease. Certain genetic lines, typically belonging to the breeds mentioned above, can be much more likely to develop the disease. When selecting a puppy, make sure to ask if the parents have had OCD.

Dogs joints can also be damaged by trauma, which can lead to the formation of OCD. An injury to a dog’s surface cartilage can contribute to the separation of the cartilage from the bone or cause a decrease in blood supply to the joint. This may lead to the formation of a cartilage flap.

And since OCD usually occurs during periods of rapid growth, it has been suggested that nutrition that adds to rapid growth, such as calcium, may lead to the increase in incidence of the disease. Too much stress on a puppy’s bones because of weight problems or other issues may also be a cause.

What are the symptoms of dog OCD?

There are several symptoms associated with OCD, as it can affect the shoulder, elbow, knee or hock (ankle), although the shoulder joint is most commonly affected.

In general, the main symptom is lameness in the affected limb, meaning the dog will walk with a noticeable limp. Some dogs will have a barely noticeable limp while others will be unable to bear any weight on the leg. This lameness tends to get worse after periods of exercise and will seem to improve after rest.

When OCD is affecting the shoulder, you might notice your dog displaying a shortened forelimb stride because of a reluctance to flex and extend the shoulder joint. In more severe cases, the disease will affect both limbs at the same time, and the dog may be reluctant to move.

A dog with OCD might cry out in pain during an orthopedic examination when pressure is applied to the affected joint, or when the joint is manipulated. You might find the affected joint to be swollen and warm to the touch.

Common symptoms associated with OCD in dogs include:

  • Lameness/walking with a limp (the most common symptom). The onset of the lameness may be sudden or occur gradually, and may involve one or more limbs. The lameness may also become worse after exercise.
  • Favoring a paw or leg while walking or even when lying down.
  • An inability to bear weight on the affected limb.
  • Swelling in the joints, and sometimes warm to the touch. This typically occurs in the shoulder but can also happen in the elbows and knees.
  • Noticeable pain in the limb, especially when a manipulation of the joints is involved, such as trying to extend the leg.
  • If muscles surrounding the joint seem to deteriorate.

Lameness should always be a concern, but especially when the dog is still a puppy. If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog, make sure you bring your dog to the vet right away.

Are certain breeds more susceptible to particular types of osteochondritis dissecans?

Specific breeds are more prone to develop osteochondritis dissecans. These include:

OCD of the ankle (hock):

Ocd of the knee: