In memories of all immobile dogs that were not given a second chance

What is Elbow Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Pets?

Three bones make up the joint of a dog’s elbow: the radius, the ulna, and the humerus. These three bones are supposed to grow together and fit perfectly to form the elbow joint. Osteochondritis dessicans is a condition in which a piece of cartilage comes loose or pulls away completely from the surface of the joint, resulting in inflammation and pain. After the inflammation or “itis” is gone, the condition is called osteochrondrosis dessicans.

Most often the cause is rapid bone development, so OCD is usually found in puppies between four and eight months old. However, it can occasionally be found in older dogs, as well as smaller breeds. It affects male dogs about five times more often than females.


Professor of Orthopedic Surgery & Director of Surgical Service

Diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management, is a a founder and past-president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.

Janet B. Van Dyke, DVM
Diplomate American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, CCRT, CEO

Ludovica Dragone, DVM, CCRP
Vice President of VEPRA, Veterinary European of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Association.

Andrea L. Henderson, DVM, CCRT, CCRP
Resident, Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation

Steven M.Fox, MS, DVM, MBA, PhD
President Securos. Inc

What causes Elbow Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs and are there certain breeds at risk?

Endochondral ossification is a normal bone growth process by which cartilage is replaced by bone in the early development of the fetus. Osteochondrosis is a pathological condition in which normal endochondral ossification, the metamorphoses of cartilage to bone, is disturbed. The disturbance is often due to a disruption in the blood supply to the bone. The result is retention of excessive cartilage at the site as the process of endochondral ossification is halted, but cartilage continues to grow. The end result is abnormally thick regions of cartilage that are less resistant to mechanical stress, as opposed to the stronger and denser bone.

Large and giant breeds, including great Danes, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, rottweilers, Bernese mountain dogs, English setters, and old English sheepdogs are predisposed to this condition.


  • Unknown
  • Appears to be genetically acquired
  • Disruption in supply of blood to the bone or through the bone
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs

Most dogs with OC/OCD start to show clinical signs before they are 1 year old, although occasionally (particularly with shoulder OC) signs may present when your dog is older. The clinical signs are variable, and depend on the joint affected and the size of the cartilage defect. The most common signs include

  • Lameness (most common symptom)
  • Onset of lameness may be sudden or gradual, and may involve one or more limbs
  • Lameness becomes worse after exercise
  • Unable to bear weight on affected limb
  • Swelling at joints
  • Pain in limb, especially on manipulation of joints involved
  • Wasting of muscles with chronic lameness

Elbow Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) – The importance of a proper diagnosis process

You will need to give a thorough medical history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and any information you have about your dog’s parentage. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. The results of these tests are often within normal ranges in affected animals, but they are necessary for preliminary assumptions of your dog’s overall health condition.

Your veterinarian will examine your dog thoroughly, paying special attention to the limbs that are troubling your dog. Radiography imaging is the best tool for diagnosis of this problem; your veterinarian will take several x-rays of the affected joints and bones to best discern any abnormalities. The radiographs may show details of lesions and abnormalities related to this disease. Computed tomography (CT-scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are also valuable diagnostic tools for visualizing the extent of any internal lesions.

Your veterinarian will also take samples of fluid from the affected joints (synovial fluid) to confirm involvement of the joint and to rule out an infectious disease that may be the actual cause of the lameness. More advanced diagnostic and therapeutic tools like arthroscopy may also be used. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure which allows for examination and sometime treatment of damage inside the joint. This procedure is performed using an arthroscope, a type of endoscope inserted into the joint through a small incision.

Available Treatment

After establishing the diagnosis, your veterinarian will plan corrective surgery. Either arthroscopy or arthrotomy (surgical incision into the joint) techniques can be used to reach the area. Your veterinarian will presribe medicines to control pain and inflammation for a few days after surgery.

There are also some medicines that are available, and that are known to limit the cartilage damage and degeneration. Your doctor will explain your options to you based on the final diagnosis.

The importance of Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy for Dogs with Elbow Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

Conservative care for Elbow Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) include physical therapy, use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), rest from sport for 6-8 weeks, and bracing.

Physiotherapy and rehabilitation allows conservative care for dogs diagnosed with Shoulder Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD). Pet owners should be combining care with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or nutraceutical for inflammation management, resting from excessive activities for 6 to 8 weeks and support braces designed for supporting the shoulders and elbows.

Rehabilitation Aims

Preventing any injury to the affected elbow is crucial. Our Physiotherapist will be aming to protect the lesions with off-loading elbow brace on a daily basis. The braces will protect the elbow from excessive ROM (Range of motion) preventing your pet from injuring themselves.

The ultimate goals of therapy are pain relief, improved function and slowing the development of arthritis.

Rehabilitation Options

Rehabilitation therapy including acupuncture, cryotherapyhydrotherapy and gentle manual and therapeutic exercises can reduce traumatic forces on the joint, modulate inflammation, and ideally prevent the damaged cartilage from breaking off. Modalities such as Cold Laser, Shockwave therapy and PEMF have also been shown to assist with circulation, pain control and cartilage regeneration.

TimelinePhysiotherapy AimsRehabilitation Therapy options
Week 0 to 2Reduce swelling and pain
 Reduce muscular guarding and maintain soft tissue flexibility
 Allow limb loading as able
Week 2 to 4Progress limb loading and gait re education
 Increase muscle mass
 Maintain soft tissue length and flexibility
  • Passive movements and stretches
 Management at home
  • Exercise restriction
  • Advice regarding flooring
  • Advice regarding the importance of avoiding jumping and climbing on and off furniture
Week 4 to 6Continue as above
  • Progression of home exercise program to challenge balance and strength eg cavaletti poles, alternating gradients and surfaces
  • Low level agility equipment use
  • Advice on maintaining controlled exercise when dog feeling better
Week 6 to 12Increase exercise toleranceIncrease exercise level, considering land and water based options.
 Continue to increase core stabilityHome exercise program considering land and water based exercises
Week 12 onwardsReturn to full function or establish deficits and advise regarding long term management.Progress to off lead exercise and previous exercise level if appropriate.