Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

Health & Safety

Osteochondritis Dissecans is a disorder that typically affects giant or large dogs when they are still quite young. The condition occurs for a variety of reasons, it could be that genetics play a part in why a dog develops OCD, the rate at which a dog grows could be the cause or it could be because of some sort of trauma although nutrition can play a part in why a dog develops OCD too.

The condition affects the cartilage found in a dog's joints and it can affect any one of them or even both at the same time. It's a painful disorder because the two bones found in a joint rub together due to the fact the cartilage that should provide cushioning between them no longer provides the necessary protection. The reason being that the cartilage has either been torn, damaged or it has developed abnormally. If pieces of the cartilage break away from the bone, there are referred to as joint mice"" which if the condition is deemed very severe can be surgically removed.

Breeds Most Affected by OCD

Osteochondritis Dissecans, as previously mentioned typically affects larger or giant breeds, but it can also affect smaller dogs too. Research has also established that the condition tends to manifest itself more in male dogs than in their female counterparts and it’s thought the reason for this is that male dogs tend to be that much larger and heavier which as a result means more stress is placed on their joints.

The condition usually starts to develop when a dog is anything between 4 to 10 months old, but it can also occur in older dogs too. Some of the breeds that seem to be the most affected by OCD include the following:

  • Border Collie - shoulder joint most commonly affected
  • Great Dane - shoulder joint most commonly affected
  • Irish Wolfhound - shoulder joint most commonly affected
  • Saint Bernard
  • Siberian Husky
  • Dobermann Pinscher
  • Rottweiler

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Osteochondritis Dissecans can affect a dog's shoulder, elbow, knee or hock joint, but the most commonly affected joint is the shoulder. The signs of there being something wrong could include the following:

  • Lameness in an affected limb which can be barely noticeable to being quite severe
  • Unable to put weight on an affected limb
  • A shorter stride, more especially when the shoulder joint is affected
  • A reluctance to extend or flex a shoulder joint

A dog's lameness is typically worse after they have been exercised, but it generally improves once a dog has rested. Sometimes both limbs can be affected which sees dogs being very reluctant to walk or move due to the discomfort they are feeling.

Diagnosing OCD

A vet would need to have a dog's full medical history before carrying out a thorough physical examination to establish whether a dog is suffering from OCD or if their pain is due to some other disorder. They would typically also recommend taking some X-rays of the affected joint or joints. Dogs suffering from the condition would be in quite a bit of pain and more especially when they are asked to flex or extend a joint whereas if it is sound, they would have no trouble extending it.

If a dog's shoulder is affected, manipulating it would be extremely painful and this action could in fact, worsen a dog's lameness. X-rays would establish if the joint has been affected and helps a vet confirm a diagnosis. Dogs are generally sedated when any X-rays are taken which allows for the joint to be fully extended which means a vet can take several angles of the joint. They would then compare the X-rays of an affected joint to those of the unaffected one to see how much of a difference there is between the two. A vet may need to carry out further X-rays a few weeks later if they cannot confirm a diagnosis with the first set they take.

The Causes of OCD

There can be various reasons why a dog may develop OCD which includes the following:

  • After having suffered some sort of trauma to a joint
  • It could be a hereditary disorder passed down from parent dogs
  • When a dog grows too fast it can lead to them developing OCD
  • Hormonal imbalances could be the cause
  • Nutrition is thought to play an important role

Trauma to a Joint

When trauma to a joint is the reason why a dog develops OCD, whether it's acute or chronic, lesions can form which impact the surface of the cartilage found between the two bones found in the joint which act as cushioning and which allows a joint to move freely. This leads to a separation between the cartilage and bone which then results in the blood flow being impacted which then sees a flap forming in the cartilage.


Genetics can also play a big part in whether a dog would develop Osteochondritis Dissecans with certain breeds being more susceptible to developing the condition than others. As such, careful breeding and screening is essential to reduce the risk of stud dogs passing the condition on to their offspring.

Rapid Growth & Nutrition

Occasionally, a dog might develop OCD due to the fact they grow too quickly. As such, there is some belief that nutrition can play a big role in whether a dog develops the condition or not. In short, it’s really important to discuss things with a vet when sharing a home with a dog that is more prone to suffering from Osteochondritis Dissecans with an end goal being to feed them an appropriate diet, especially when they are still young.

Treatments for Dogs with OCD

A dog diagnosed as suffering from OCD would need to be given very little exercise or put on complete rest for a specific amount of time depending on the severity of their condition. A vet might suggest surgically removing the affected cartilage found in a joint, but only after they have determined the severity of the condition and taken into account a dog’s age. Because nutrition can play an important role, it is also crucial to discuss a young dog's diet with the vet. However, prevention is paramount to controlling how many dogs suffer from the condition which means careful and responsible breeding is essential in breeds that are known to be predisposed to suffering from the condition.

A vet might also recommend giving anti-inflammatory drugs to a dog together with something that would help them cope with the pain associated with OCD. There are some supplements that might also help dogs with the condition although more research needs to be done to establish just how effective it is. The supplement that is thought to help dogs suffering from OCD is:

  • Glucosamine/chondroitin


A vet would generally only want to perform more invasive surgery if a dog's condition is deemed to be very severe and where large lesions have developed in the joint. This would involve surgically removing any large flaps, defects or joint mice found in a joint, but they would only want to do this when a dog is older.


When a dog's shoulder is involved, the prognosis is usually good. However, if other joints are affected by OCD, they might start to suffer from osteoarthritis which is a degenerative joint disease. If a dog suffers from OCD in their elbow, it is usual for other problems to develop in an affected joint further down the line.


Breeders should always screen their stud dogs before using them in a breeding programme to reduce the risk of passing OCD on to their offspring. Large and giant breeds should never be given any strenuous exercise when they are still puppies and they should not be allowed to do the following things either:

  • Jump in and out of cars
  • Run up and down stairs
  • Jump up and down off furniture

Because diet and nutrition can play an important part on whether a dog develops OCD, it's really important to feed an appropriate diet which would reduce the risk of them growing too fast, but only after having discussed the situation with a vet.




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