Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs

Key takeaways

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) is a developmental condition where a flap of cartilage breaks off from the end of the bone, and lodges in the joint, triggering inflammation and pain.

  • Osteochondrosis (OC) describes the abnormal development of cartilage which leads to OCD
  • OCD normally occurs in puppies between 4-9 months old and is most common in the shoulder, but is also seen in the knee, elbow, and ankle joints
  • The primary symptom is varying degrees of lameness on the affected leg
  • Investigation of OCD involves physical examination, diagnostic imaging, and arthroscopy
  • Treatment involves pain management and arthritis prevention along with surgery
  • Prognosis varies and depends on which joint is affected and duration of the disease before initiating treatment
  • Most dogs improve after surgery, but long term prognosis is guarded due to associated osteoarthritis
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A closer look: Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs

OCD results in dislodged cartilage entering a joint, leading to inflammation and pain in dogs. Signs of lameness associated with OCD are sometimes intermittent and subtle. Dogs that present with bilateral lesions may not appear lame and sometimes present with reduced exercise tolerance, or struggling to jump or climb. Lameness is usually mild initially but sometimes progresses to severe. It is often worse after exercise.

Shoulder OCD carries a better prognosis than other joints such as the ankle. Early treatment of the condition improves prognosis. In most cases, initial return to function is good but the long term outcomes are more variable and often result in osteoarthritis.

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Risk factors

OCD is more serious in younger dogs than it is in adults or seniors. Treatment for these cases is surgical and long term prognosis is usually poor. Young dogs presenting with stiffness or lameness require prompt veterinary assessment.

The underlying mechanism of OCD is unknown but predisposing factors include:

  • Genetics - Certain large, fast-growing breeds are predisposed
  • High levels of protein, calcium, and vitamin D in the diet may predispose to OCD
  • High levels of intense exercise may predispose to OCD
  • Injury

Possible causes

OCD is caused by a failure of cartilage to convert into bone in growing dogs: a developmental defect known as osteochondrosis. The thickened cartilage loses nutrient supply and weakens, resulting in a flap of cartilage coming loose and lodging in the joint.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostic tools to investigate OCD include

  • Physical examination
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Arthroscopy

Steps to Recovery

Treatment options include conservative management and surgery.

Conservative management strategies include:

  • Exercise restriction
  • Pain relief medication
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Weight management
  • Joint supplements

Surgical treatment involves:

  • Removal of cartilage flap
  • Application of cartilage or synthetic implants to cover the defects in the cartilage

The impact of OCD is often lifelong. Prognosis varies depending on which joint is affected and age of onset.


dogs with OCD are not bred.

Prevention in young dogs involves:

  • Feeding high quality, vet approved diets in appropriate quantities
  • Avoiding repetitive, high impact exercise in growing dogs, such as ball throwing
  • Weight control

Is Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs common?

OCD is most common in large breed, rapidly growing, male dogs. It is rare in smaller breeds.

Typical Treatment

  • Exercise restriction
  • Pain relief medication
  • Weight management
  • Joint supplements
  • Surgery