Several breeds appear to be predisposed to osteochondritis dissecans, including large breeds that experience a rapid growth period. The exact cause of the condition is still being studied, but genetics and other factors are thought to contribute. Understanding the risk factors and prevention strategies may help prevent the disease from expressing in individual dogs.
Osteochondritis dissecans can occur in any joint, but the shoulder is the most common site. Other joints, such as the elbow, wrist, knee or hip can be affected. Dogs affected with osteochondritis dissecans display pain when moving, and when getting up and down. The condition occurs during growth periods when a process known as endochondral ossification -- where cartilage is replaced by bone -- occurs. If the process is disturbed, cartilage continues to grow, and thickened zones are removed from synovial fluid, which supplies nutrients and lubricates the bones.
Labrador retrievers and Rottweilers are common breeds known to develop osteochondritis dissecans, and any large dog can exhibit signs during growth periods. Old English sheepdogs, mastiffs, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands and others may be predisposed to the condition. Osteochondritis dissecans appears to have a genetic connection, but environment also can contribute. Over-nutrition, especially high-calorie diets for growing puppies may contribute. Discuss your concerns with your veterinarian and your dog's breeder. Joint trauma to any breed can cause joint deformities, cutting off blood supply to the affected areas.
Osteochondritis dissecans can appear suddenly or gradually. The condition can affect several joints or just one. Owners may notice that their active young dogs begin to slow down or limp after exercise. The dogs may avoid putting weight on the affected limb, but in cases of bilateral disease, the dog does not have a good limb to favor, and he may never limp. Owners might notice swelling or heat at specific joints, and the dogs may show pain or aggression when the joints are manipulated by the owner or veterinarian. If your veterinarian diagnoses osteochondritis dissecans, he may perform surgery or refer you to an orthopedic specialist for treatment.
Treatment may begin with rest and dietary changes. Supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, may be recommended. If symptoms continue after a few weeks of treatment, or if the cartilage flap has mineralized, as seen on an X-ray, surgery may be indicated. Recovery usually returns the dogs to normal activities, and Labradors can run through fields, Berners can pull a cart, and Great Danes can retain their magnificent posture. Selective breeding can help reduce the chances for osteochondritis dissecans from appearing in a line, so it's especially important to purchase a large dog from a reputable breeder.
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