Osteochondrosis/ Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

Description and cause

In a normal growing skeleton, cartilage forms at the joint surfaces at the end of long bones. In osteochondrosis there is a defect in this development and the cartilage becomes weakened. Inadequate nutrition of this cartilage may lead to cracks, which may progress to form flaps of cartilage that can even detach. Loose fragments, or “joint mice” can contribute to the development of degenerative joint disease and arthritic change.

The term osteochondritis dissecans is used when the cartilage splits and there is secondary inflammation. The formation of fragments of abnormal cartilage is painful and the animal may become lame.

Osteochondrosis can occur in a number of joints most commonly the elbow and shoulder. Certain breeds are predisposed to the condition;

  • Rotweillers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • German Shepherds
  • St Bernards
  • Great Danes
  • Newfoundland’s

Symptoms and diagnosis

The causes of osteochondrosis include hereditary factors, diet and hormones; there is a greater incidence in male dogs.

Lameness tends to show between 4-10 months of age. Weight bearing lameness is seen in walk and trot. If both limbs are affected a stiff shuffling gate is seen instead of obvious lameness. Lameness gets worse with exercise and there is stiffness after rest. Atrophy (wastage) of the shoulder muscles is often seen if the forelimb is affected.

Diagnosis is usually made by x-ray, it is often beneficial to x-ray both fore limbs. The use of a contrast medium can help identify a joint mouse or cartilage flap.


Treatment will vary in each case.Pain management is crucial. While it is often necessary, some cases can be managed without the need for surgery. Physiotherapy including passive movement of the affected joint has been shown to help cartilage healing and hydrotherapy is often of benefit, especially for active dogs where restricted exercise is necessary. It can help to maintain range of joint movement and aid muscle build up. McTimoney treatment will help to correct any misalignments which may be expected in any lameness. . Acupuncture can be used to help give pain relief.