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Osteochondritis Dessicans of the Humeral Condyle (OCD)

Burnese Mountain Dogs are one of several breeds at greater risk of OCD of the elbow than other breeds.

Osteochondritis dessicans of the humeral condyle is one of the three main causes of elbow dysplasia in young, large breed dogs. This condition is caused by an abnormal and incomplete formation of the cartilage on the humerus bone, which then becomes very thick and brittle. This leads to a flap of cartilage protruding into the joint space. With this form of elbow dysplasia, the chances of both front legs being affected are very high.

Breeds, Gender, and Age Most Commonly Affected by OCD of the Humeral Condyle

  • German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Rottweilers are diagnosed with OCD of the humeral condyle more often than other breeds.
  • OCD of the humeral condyle is most often found in young dogs (under 6 months).

Presentation and Signs of OCD of the Humeral Condyle

  • Pain: Pain can sometimes be difficult to gauge in animals, as they don't always cry out or show otherwise overt signs.
  • Decreased range of motion: The leg is not able to flex or extend to its normal degree.
  • Swelling: The tissue surrounding the elbow joint may be enlarged.
  • Crepitus: Crackling sounds associated with movement of the elbow, caused by secondary arthritis.

Diagnosis of OCD of the Humeral Condyle

OCD is diagnosed through a veterinarian's examination and x-rays. On x-ray, a defect in the joint with a bone or cartilage flap or a flat humeral condyle are tell-tale signs of this condition. CT scans can also be used to confirm the diagnosis, if it is not clear from plain radiographs.

Treatment of OCD of the Humeral Condyle

Non-surgical options provide some pain relief for the arthritis that is likely to go along with this condition, but is really a minor treatment compared to the effective nature of surgery.

Do not give your dog any medications unless directed to do so by your veterinarian.

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like Rimadyl and Deramaxx are very helpful in fighting the pain and inflammation associated with OCD of the elbow.

Adequan is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan that can aid in the repair of cartilage and help lubricate joints. It is a good option to help reduce pain. This drug is much safer for long term use than NSAIDs, but it does cost more than oral medications and is more complicated because it is given through injection by a veterinarian. The specific way in which this drug works is not fully understood but studies have shown success in its treatment of OCD of the humeral condyle.

Surgery, in many cases, works well if OCD is caught early. But owners should be aware that any component of arthritis that is already present in the elbow joint will continue to cause the dog pain, even after surgery. The most frequently used and effective surgery for this disease is a medial approach to the elbow and removal of the extra flap that is protruding into the joint.

If you decide with your veterinarian that surgery is the best step for your dog, it is recommended that you use a board certified veterinary orthopedic surgery specialist who is able to perform arthroscopic surgery.

Prevention of OCD of the Humeral Condyle

  • Because there is a large genetic component to OCD of the elbow, the best way to decrease its incidence in the dog population is by requiring breeders to certify that their dogs do not have any form of elbow dysplasia before producing litters. This certification process can be done by some veterinarians. If you are buying a dog from a breeder, be sure to ask for proof that this certification has been performed.
  • If you adopt a dog from a shelter or the pound rather than using a breeder, you can help to decrease the chances of OCD and other joint problems by feeding a high quality diet and keeping your pet at a healthy weight.
  • Large breed dogs should be fed specially designed large breed puppy food for their first year. This will ensure that the puppy has the nutrient components needed to help with proper orthopedic development.

Prognosis of OCD of the Humeral Condyle

  • The outlook is good if surgical intervention is done early, before arthritis sets in.
  • With only medical treatment, dogs with elbow dysplasia will develop progressive arthritis in the elbow joint and may no longer be a good candidate for surgery.

Alternative Therapies for OCD of the Humeral Condyle

Giving glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplementation as directed by your veterinarian may slow the progression of the arthritis associated with elbow dysplasia. Glucosamine supplements should be in the form of glucosamine hydrochloride (HCl) not glucosamine sulfate as glucosamine HCl has better bioavailability.

Omega 3 fatty acids have also been used as a nutritional supplement and seem to be of benefit to dogs with elbow OCD. Omega 3 fatty acids should be in the form of fish or krill oils, not flaxseed. Fish and krill oils provide the correct forms of anti-inflammatory omega 3s, whereas flaxseed requires conversion to the anti-inflammatory compounds and dogs have limited amounts of the enzyme required to make this conversion.

If you decide to feed your large breed puppy a homemade diet, it is very important to ensure that it is properly balanced. For example, these dogs need a very specific amount of calcium. If you feed your dog a homemade diet, it is critical to use one developed by a veterinary nutritionist.


  • Cahn, C. L.(2010). The Merck Veterinary Manual. John Wiley and Sons.
  • Tilley LP, S. F.(2011). The Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline. Wiley and Sons.

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