Osteochondrosis/Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) can occur in a number of joints most commonly the elbow and shoulder. Cartilage due to an abnormal thickening, is unable to receive a normal supply of nutrients from the joint fluid, causing it to become weaker and more susceptible to damage, 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. It occurs in young, large to giant breeds. The most commonly affected breeds include the German Shepherd, Golden and Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Great Dane, Bernese Mountain dog, Newfoundland's and St Bernards.

The cause of osteochondrosis is unknown, but because the disease is usually seen in large and giant breed dogs, hereditary factors, and diets that promote rapid growth, are also thought to be significant.


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-rays.


Non-surgical management of osteochondrosis consists of weight loss or maintaining and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin, carprofen, or etodolac. Physiotherapy of the affected joint has been shown to help cartilage healing and Hydrotherapy is 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.

The treatment of osteochondrosis is surgical. A chondroplasty procedure, in which the cartilage is reshaped, involves opening up the affected joint to expose the lesion, removing the abnormal cartilage, and exposing the deeper blood vessels. Scar cartilage will fill in the defect, decreasing or eliminating the pain caused by the lesion.