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Osteochondritis Dissecans


Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)


Osteochondritis dissecans, commonly known as OCD, is a disease of the cartilage that affects the joints in a dog’s body. In any joint in the body two bones come together and movement is allowed between them.

Where the two bones meet, an exceptionally smooth area of cartilage covers their surfaces.

This acts as a cushion and protects the underlying bone. If anything disrupts this smooth cartilage surface, movement of the joint becomes painful.

In a dog with OCD, this cartilage is damaged or grows abnormally. Instead of being attached to the bone it covers, it separates or cracks, causing great pain.

Approximately 15% of all dogs will develop OCD.

Who gets OCD?

OCD is primarily a problem in large or giant breed dogs. It affects male dogs 2 to 5 times as frequently as females, most likely due to the males’ larger size and increased stress on the joint.

It generally occurs when the animal is between 4 and 8 months of age, though it can show up in older dogs.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The symptoms are lameness in the affected limb. Some dogs have a barely noticeable limp and others are unable to bear any weight on the leg.

The lameness tends to worsen after periods of exercise and improves after rest. Seventy four percent of the cases of OCD occur in the shoulder joint, 11% in the elbow, and 4% in the hock. When it affects the front shoulder, a shortened forelimb stride may be noted due to reluctance to flex and extend the shoulder joint.

Occasionally, the disease will affect both limbs simultaneously and the dog may be reluctant to move.

How is OCD diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on history, physical exam, and x-rays. On physical exam, we notice joint pain. For instance, most healthy dogs show no resistance when their shoulder joint is fully flexed and extended.

However, if they have an OCD lesion in their shoulder, they may resist shoulder manipulation and may even cry out in pain when it is attempted. In addition, this flexion and extension of the shoulder joint may worsen the lameness.

How is OCD treated?

There are currently two ways to treat OCD; conservative medical treatment or surgical removal of the lesion. Conservative treatment consists of strict rest for 4 to 8 weeks.

Surgery is indicated in animals that show severe symptoms, in cases where large lesions are identified on radiographs, or when conservative treatments fail. There is a very high success rate for surgery and most animals recover fully without any further problems.

How is OCD prevented?

Prevention consists of careful selective breeding that avoids the breeding of animals with a history of OCD.

Young large and giant breed dogs should not undergo strenuous activity, particularly jumping activities.

Providing a good balanced diet that promotes even sustained growth is also recommended.

There are currently many large and giant breed puppy foods on the market made specifically to help reduce the incidence of bone formation problems.



This is the most common type of primary bone cancer. Of total canine malignancies (cancers that spread), osteosarcoma accounts for about 5%. The disease usually becomes evident during middle age (about 7-10 years), although bone cancer can affect dogs <1 year of age.

The giant breeds are particularly susceptible eg Great Danes, Mastiffs, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Irish Wolfhounds.

Large breeds such as Rottweilers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Dobermanns, Weimeraners, Greyhounds and Boxers are also at increased risk.

Symptoms of Osteosarcoma

Symptoms of osteosarcoma are dependent on the bone or bones involved, but in general it leads to a hard and very painful swelling, lameness and in cases where the tumour is not growing fast, muscle wastage.

X-rays will give further information about the changes in the bones, but for a definite diagnosis it is often necessary to do a biopsy.

It is vital to have any suspicious lumps or pain checked in your old pet by us before it is too late.