Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): Uncovering the Joint Disorder


Dr Andrew

1 Oct 2023

📖 Key Takeaways

  • OCD is a developmental issue where cartilage at the end of the bones does not form correctly, leading to defects

  • It’s common in larger breeds, like Labradors, Rottweilers and Saint Bernards

  • OCD can range from minor irregularities in the cartilage to a flap of cartilage breaking off, the joint can be sore and inflamed, leading to pain and limping

  • Very mild cases can be managed conservatively but surgery may be needed to slow ongoing damage to the joint and the development of arthritis

  • Fetch covers OCD as long as it is not a pre-existing condition

What is Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD)?

Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) is a condition sometimes seen in fast growing dogs, mainly affecting the larger breeds. It happens when the cartilage at the end of the bone develops irregularly, leading to a defect or flap in the joint, which should normally be smooth. This can lead to joint complications and issues for your pet, such as inflammation leading to pain and limping. It commonly affects the shoulder and elbow joints but can be found in the hocks, too.

Which Breeds are at risk of OCD?

Certain breeds are more prone to developing Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) due to their rapid growth and size. Here are some of the breeds that could be considered high risk:

  1. Labrador Retriever

  2. Golden Retriever

  3. German Shepherd

  4. Rottweiler

  5. Great Dane

  6. Saint Bernard

  7. Newfoundland

  8. Bernese Mountain Dog

  9. English Setter

Technically, OCD can occur in any breed as rapid growth is one of the key risk factors.

What are the risk factors for OCD? Is there anything I can do to avoid OCD?

Genetic predisposition: some breeds show an increased risk of OCD - its worth researching before you buy a puppy so you know what to expect and how to best support them as they grow up

Rapid growth and weight: Whilst some of the risk is directly linked to the breed, being overweight, especially as a puppy, can make OCD worse

High impact activities: these put a lot of stress on the joints especially if they are still growing

Nutritional factors: certain diets can contribute to very fast growth (for example high calorie/high calcium diets) so feed an appropriate mix for your puppy!

In terms of avoiding OCD, as you can see there are a number of factors which contribute that can be tricky to avoid altogether. However there are things you can do to help, such as keeping a healthy weight and being mindful of high intensity high impact exercise, especially when they are developing. Finally, if you think your dog is limping, or even just intermittently sore on a limb, especially when getting up or after a walk, go and see your vet.

Saint Bernard dog Pet Insurance Covers IVDD
Saint Bernard dog Pet Insurance Covers IVDD
Saint Bernard dog Pet Insurance Covers IVDD

Fetch Covers OCD

Fetch covers Osteochondrosis Dissecans as long as it is not a pre-existing condition. When you sign up for Fetch, you can set up FastClaims and we will check your pet’s health history and let you know if there are any conditions we can’t cover.

What are the signs of OCD?

  1. Limping or Lameness: This is often the first noticeable sign. The dog may try to keep weight off a particular leg, or can shift between them, especially after physical activity.

  2. Stiffness: The dog might show signs of stiffness, particularly after waking up from sleep or lying down.

  3. Pain and Discomfort: Dogs with OCD often experience pain in the affected joints. They might exhibit signs of discomfort such as whimpering, especially when the joint is touched or moved.

  4. Swelling: The affected joints may become swollen, warm to touch, and may have a reduced range of motion.

  5. Reluctance to Move: Due to the pain and discomfort, dogs may be reluctant to move around as much usual, avoiding activities such as running, jumping, or even walking.

  6. Posture Changes: You might see changes in posture, especially when moving. They might also have difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position.

  7. Behavioural Changes: Apart from physical signs, OCD can also induce changes in behaviour due to chronic pain and discomfort. Dogs might become more irritable, anxious, or show less interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

How is OCD diagnosed?

  1. Examination: The vet examines your dog and checks for signs of lameness, pain, and swelling in the joints.

  2. Medical History: The vet will take a detailed medical history of your pet, including its age, breed, and any symptoms you have observed, including when they started and how they are progressing

  3. Radiographs (X-rays): X-rays are the most common tool used to identify OCD. They can show changes in the joint such as irregular joint spaces, cartilage fragments, arthritic changes or other signs of joint abnormalities.

  4. Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): In more complex cases or those that are more difficult to diagnose, advanced imaging techniques like CT and MRI may be used to get detailed images of the joint structures.

  5. Arthroscopy: In some cases, a vet might use arthroscopy, which is a surgical procedure where a small camera is inserted into the joint to inspect it directly and assess the visible damage.

  6. Blood Tests: While blood tests can’t diagnose OCD directly, they might be used to assess the overall health of the dog and to rule out other potential health issues that could be impacting your dog’s joints.

Early and accurate diagnosis is important to manage OCD effectively and prevent further deterioration of the join, so it’s best to speak to your vet if you have any concerns

X-ray of Osteochondrosis Dissecans in dog
X-ray of Osteochondrosis Dissecans in dog
X-ray of Osteochondrosis Dissecans in dog

How is OCD treated?

In mild cases, treatment usually involves a non-surgical approach, with the aim of allowing the damaged cartilage to heal:

  1. Rest and Restricted Activity: Limiting the dog's activity to prevent further joint damage is often the first step. This might involve restricting playtime and avoiding high-impact activities like jumping and running.

  2. Pain Management: Your vet might prescribe pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications to manage symptoms and improve your dog's comfort.

  3. Physical Therapy: In some cases, physical therapy might be recommended to maintain joint mobility and muscle strength.

  4. Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the stress on the affected joints.

In moderate to severe cases, more intensive treatments may be required, such as:

  1. Surgical Interventions:

    • Arthroscopy: To remove any loose fragments of bone and cartilage from the joint. It may also be possible to add a graft to facilitate healing

    • Implants and joint replacement: In severe cases, it may be necessary to provide an alternative joint surface if the original joint surface is badly damaged

    • Arthrodesis (fusion): In extreme cases, if joint damage is catastrophic, the joint can be fused - a fused joint means the damaged surfaces are no longer moving over one another which means pain can be controlled

  2. Joint Supplements: Supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin may be recommended to support joint health.

  3. Hydrotherapy: In more advanced cases, hydrotherapy might be beneficial to allow your dog to exercise without putting too much pressure on the joints.

  4. Stem Cell Therapy and PRP: In some instances, advanced treatments like stem cell therapy and Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy might be considered to help manage the symptoms and possibly aid in joint healing.

Regardless of the severity, post-treatment care is crucial and may include:

  1. Gradual Reintroduction to Exercise: After a period of restricted exercise, your pet should be slowly reintroduced to regular exercise, closely monitoring their tolerance and comfort levels.

  2. Regular Check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups are necessary to monitor the progress and make any necessary changes to the treatment plan.

  3. Diet and Supplements: Ensuring a balanced diet and continuing with joint supplements can be a long-term strategy to support joint health.

Your vet will guide you on the best rehab post treatment, and how to help make sure your pet stays as comfortable and healthy as possible