Osteochondritis Dissecans In Retrievers

| December 6, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Photo by Toni Leitao

How much do you know about Osteochondritis Dissecans?

Some months ago I was flipping through my Facebook feed and I saw that one of my FB friends had to put her recently adopted puppy down after several months of unresolved lameness and thousands of dollars of vet bills. I was so shocked and taken aback that such a tragedy could come about just from apparent lameness that I had to investigate further. Her puppy had been diagnosed with Osteochondritis Dissecans, also known as OCD. It was so severe that they determined it was in the puppy’s best interest to put him down instead of pursuing surgery or any other treatment. It really caught me off guard and in the back of my mind I had been worrying about my own dog’s lameness.

My Labrador Retriever, Indy, began to experience lameness in his back legs at about eight months old. It was inconsistent and our vet initially diagnosed him with panosteitis or torn ligaments, both of which were dead ends. Indy’s lameness dissipated and he was sound all summer and happily chasing his AKC Junior Hunter title. But on our third leg of his title pursuit he quit on me. Instead of thundering across the grassy terrain for his duck, Indy did not leave the line. I had no inclination that he was not feeling well but he just sat there and looked up at me and I knew that something was really wrong now. With a “thank you” to my judges we walked back to the car and I had calls into breeders for references before I reached home. After that Indy’s soundness was no longer consistent. I got Indy into a specialist, Dr. Mark H. Engen, DVM Diplomate, American College Veterinary Surgeons of Puget Sound Veterinary Hospital to finally uncover the root of the problem.

To my dismay, Indy was diagnosed with OCD. My heart was broken and I was so worried about what that diagnosis meant for my Indy’s future.

Osteochondritis Dissecans, or OCD, is a genetic cartilage disease that can be found in a variety of joints, very commonly though it can be found in the shoulders or hocks in large or giant breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, and the Labrador Retrievers, among others. It surfaces between the ages of 4-10 months but has been known to elicit symptoms in older dogs. OCD can be found in both male and female dogs but it is more consistently found in male dogs.

Typically, in normal healthy joints when two bones meet they are cushioned by smooth cartilage, where the cartilage acts as a barrier for protection and cushioning as the bones move together. When the smooth cartilage is disrupted it causes discomfort and pain. It is comparative to constantly walking around with a sharp rock in your shoe. When dogs have OCD their cartilage is either missing or growing abnormally. The development of bone spurs is also a common side affect. As the joint is used, cartilage can also separate from the bone, becoming brittle, and crack into fragments as opposed to covering the bone and cushioning it. In some cases entire pieces of cartilage can break off and remain within the joint, which is known as “joint mice”.

Indy-Abbenhouse0002-195x400 LEFT Indy-Abbenhouse0002-195x400 RIGHT

Here are Indy’s x-rays where it is apparent that his hock joints were malformed, in that the joint ball is flat as opposed to round. Additionally, bone spurs had begun to erupt due to the usage of his joint, especially visible on the right leg. Due to the deformity, a degree of swelling on the inside of the leg can also be seen, which when the dog is sound may go unnoticed, especially in the show ring. Taking a closer look, one may see a cloudy nature on the interior of the ankle joints and that was cartilage that had bunched up and broken off within the joint. I was shocked when the Dr. Engen unveiled the degree of damage he saw in the x-rays.

Indy under went bilateral tarsal surgery to clean out his ankle of malformed cartilage and bone spurs and will be recovering for the next four weeks in the comforts of a small padded pen. Strict confinement for the next two weeks will ensure that he will heal up quickly and small amounts of exercise will be introduced over time. The vet was kind enough to send Indy’s “trinkets” home with him and I was so shocked to see the actual size of the bone spurs and cartilage that had been within his joint.


Photo by Toni Leitao

Symptoms of OCD are lameness in the affected limbs that worsen after exercise and are relieved after rest. However, lameness never truly resolves. OCD is diagnosed via x-rays, radiographs, and physical exams. It is thought to be caused by a combination of things like genetics, nutrition, rapid growth, trauma to the joint, and hormone imbalance. Even with genetic screening the genes that can cause OCD can remain dormant for several generations before surfacing.

At this time there are two common ways of treating OCD. The more conservative of the two is to confine and rest the dog for 4-8 weeks, or any number of weeks prescribed by your vet, with anti-inflammatories and painkillers. With strict rest the joints may have a chance to heal and the cartilage to work itself out. But this is not a guaranteed fix and even with rest, surgery may still be needed if symptoms do not improve. The more invasive option is surgery and it is generally the more common and permanent solution. The surgery itself is very simple in that it comprises of opening the joint and removing the broken or abnormally growing pieces of cartilage and bone spurs. Platelet rich plasma and hyaluronic acid injections are also utilized to increase joint lubrication and comfort in the joint. If you are familiar with equine injections, it’s a lot like injecting a horses hocks or any other joint to improve comfort and movement. Injections like these generally need to be repeated every six months to a year to maintain the dog’s joint comfort and the regularity of the injections may depend on the dogs activity and personal health. Generally when only the shoulder is affected the prognosis is good but in other joints osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, can develop as well as other abnormalities may surface even after the surgery.

Unfortunately after your dog is diagnosed with OCD there is no real cure. Other than surgery and anti-inflammatories this is something that your dog will live with for the rest of their life. But this does not mean that they suffer or cannot have a perfectly happy and healthy life, rather it just means that there is upkeep involved. The only way to prevent OCD is to very carefully select dogs whose genetic compositions do not allow for OCD to occur. Even if one does very selectively breed there is always potential for hereditary anomalies and OCD can randomly pop up when it has not surfaced for three or four generations.

If your dog experiences consistent lameness, OCD should be on your list of things to check for.


Category : Health

Misha Abbenhouse

About the Author ()

Being surrounded by the Great Northwest for the entirety of my life I have come to really enjoy the outdoors, loving the rain almost as much as the fleeting sunshine and all the activities that come along with it. I've always loved animals especially those of the equine and canine variety. My intense interest in dogs led me to start writing about the adventures that Indy, my black lab, and I shared. Aside from animals, I love to read and write and college really fostered this love and I now find myself being able to couple my two great loves of writing and dogs.

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