Osteochondritis dessicans (OCD) is a hereditary joint disease that occurs early in the development of some dogs. At the end of each bone is a layer of cartilage called articular cartilage. This cartilage provides an important cushion in every joint. OCD is characterized by the development of cracks in this articular cartilage. Loose flaps or fragments of cartilage will often develop from these cracks. These loose flaps cause inflammation in the joint, resulting in pain and lameness. The body will attempt to compensate for the damaged cartilage by forming scar tissue or by adding bone around the joint. These secondary changes are referred to as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.
The condition is more prevalent in large and giant breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Newfoundlands. Some other large breeds (e.g., Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Siberian Huskies) have a low incidence of OCD. OCD is most commonly seen in the shoulder, elbow, knee (stifle), and ankle (hock) joints.
Several genes from both parents combined with other factors determine whether an animal develops OCD. Which genes are involved and exactly how OCD occurs are unknown. Nutrition is the most understood risk factor. A diet high in calcium content increases the risk for OCD. High calorie diets and rapid weight gain at any age may also contribute to the disease.
Lameness usually develops between 4 and 10 months of age but occasionally can be seen later. The severity of the lameness can vary from mild to severe.
Patients with OCD can be managed conservatively or surgically. Conservative treatment is often used for older dogs, especially those with significant secondary degenerative joint disease. It involves resting the pet for 4 to 8 weeks, along with using nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and dietary supplements. NSAIDs will reduce pain and inflammation; however, patients receiving these drugs should be monitored carefully for side effects. The dietary supplements suggested to treat OCD are termed chondroprotective agents and are made from extracts of components necessary for cartilage development.
In younger dogs, surgery is often recommended early in the course of the disease prior to significant secondary degenerative changes developing. With surgery, any loose or damaged cartilage is removed. Surgery can be performed conventionally or arthroscopically. The decision to perform open surgery versus arthroscopy is made on a case-by-case basis.
The pet should be rested for the first 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. The incision should be monitored for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, heat, or pain for 2 weeks. If a patient is overly active, a pocket of fluid (seroma) may build up at the site of the incision. Seromas will typically resolve after a few weeks.
Pain medication may be necessary immediately after surgery. In older animals, weight control is important to reduce the amount of stress to the joint.
Recovery depends on the size and location of the lesion, the amount of erosion in the cartilage bed, and the animal’s general health and diet. Within 8 to 12 weeks, most animals achieve normal function.
Prognosis for OCD in the shoulder is good to excellent with full function restored after surgery.
Prognosis for OCD in the elbow, stifle, and hock is fair to guarded depending on the size of the lesion, the severity of degenerative joint disease, and the animal’s age. Lameness, months to years after surgery, can occur if degenerative joint disease progresses.