Dog: Osteochondrosis

General information

Other common/scientific names: OCD, osteochondritis dissecans

The normal synovial joint consists of two bones and a joint fibrous capsule holding the bones together. The ends of the bones are covered by articular cartilage which should have a smooth, slippery surface allowing the ends of the bones to glide across each other.

Osteochondrosis is an abnormality in the development of cartilage and/or bone in young, growing dogs. Osteochondritis dessicans (OCD) is a form of osteochondrosis where cartilage separates from the bone creating a loose piece or flap of cartilage. This is thought to result from inadequate blood flow to the cartilage causing thickened, brittle cartilage. This cartilage is more prone to damage and fragmentation especially during exercise. The resulting cartilage flap causes an inflammatory reaction in the joint and subchondral (beneath the cartilage) bone. Subchondral bone cysts are also seen with osteochondrosis. Over time, this inflammation leads to degenerative arthritis and further cartilage deterioration.

The most common joints affected by osteochrondrosis include the shoulder, elbow, knee, spine and hock. This syndrome can involve one or multiple joints. Osteochondrosis is known to contribute to elbow dysplasia, Wobbler’s syndrome, cauda equina syndrome and Legg-Perthes disease.

Abb. GGAMD5QV: This is an illustration of a healthy joint on the left and a joint affected with OCD on the right.


Osteochondrosis is seen in many breeds but appears to be more common in large breed, fast growing, male dogs. The tendency to develop osteochrondrosis is thought to be inherited and passed on to offspring. Overfeeding high protein and high calorie diets plus over supplementing with vitamins and minerals can worsen or accelerate this condition.

Cardinal symptom



The clinical signs will depend on the location of the osteochondrosis. Signs are first seen in pups 4 to 8 months of age. The lameness can be mild at first but then progress to severe. Joints affected may be swollen. If multiple joints are diseased, an overall stiffness and reluctance to move is seen.


Osteochondrosis is diagnosed by radiographs. Advanced imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can aid in the diagnosis. With some cases, a complete diagnosis is made only during arthroscopy.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) was originally founded to standardize radiographic findings of dogs in regards to hip dyplasia and provide information to dog owners to assist them with the selection of good breeding animals. The OFA also provides evaluation and certification for other orthopedic and genetic diseases including shoulder osteochrondrosis. Shoulder radiographs are submitted to the OFA and evaluated by a veterinary radiologist. Radiographs from dogs over 12 months of age which are normal are given a certification number from the OFA and recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Abb. GGAMSVUG: Osteochondrosis in shoulder joint.
This is a radiograph of a shoulder with OCD. The arrow is pointing the rounded end of the humerus which is flattened from the cartilage defect.

Abb. GGAMU7HC: Osteochondrosis of the stifle or knee.
This is a radiograph of a knee with OCD. The arrows point to a large cartilage defect on the end of the femur. (A) femur or thigh bone (B) patella or kneecap (superimposed) (C) tibia or shin bone (D) (fibula) (E) sesamoid.


The objective of treatment is to relieve pain, slow the progression of arthritis and maintain mobility. Treatment can be conservative management or surgery. The treatment option selected is based on the degree of lameness, age of the dog and the financial resources of the owner.

Conservative treatment is most successful in dogs in which osteochrondrosis is an incidental finding with no clinical signs of pain or lameness. This therapy includes exercise restriction, weight control and anti-inflammatory pain medication. Chondroprotective supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and diets high in omega-3 fatty acid along with massage, physical therapy and acupuncture can help reduce inflamed joints.

For most cases of osteochrondrosis, surgery is recommended to remove the cartilage flap. Surgery of is performed either through an incision into the joint or with an arthroscope. An arthroscope is a tubular instrument inserted into a joint through a small incision. It uses fiber optics to allow a veterinarian to visualize the joint without a creating large incision. The arthroscope is used to remove any bony fragments, damaged cartilage and smooth out roughened joint edges. Anti-inflammatories, analgesics and chondroprotective supplements are also used post-surgery. Exercise is limited to leash walks only for the first 6-8 weeks post surgery to allow joint healing. A gradual increase of activity is then allowed.


The long term prognosis for dogs undergoing surgery is usually good. However, the prognosis will depend on the severity and duration as well as any secondary arthritis.


Prevention is aimed at breeding only individuals that have OFA certification. Dogs with osteochondrosis should not be used for breeding.

A balanced diet should be fed to all young dogs. Protein, energy, calcium or phosphorus should not be overfed. Reducing stress to the elbow joints in young, growing dogs is important. This can be accomplished by maintaining a normal, healthy weight and avoiding excessive exercise.


For dogs undergoing surgery, it is very important that the dog does not lick or pull at the sutures. A special collar (E-collar or Elizabethan collar) is worn by the dog to prevent this. Incisions should be observed daily for swelling, discharge or redness.


If you notice your pup or dog is lame, contact your veterinarian. Early diagnosis of orthopedic problems is the key to successful treatment.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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