What is osteochondrosis, and how can it affect your beloved pet? Osteochondrosis is a condition in which young dogs fail to develop normal cartilage. It most commonly affects dogs in their elbow joints, although other joints may also be affected. Osteochondrosis occurs when a small part of the elbow joint somehow breaks away from the main joint surface. Obviously, this is a serious arthritic condition. When the joint piece breaks away, this causes a defect in the development of the joint. The remaining joint becomes uneven and fits poorly into the rest of the affected area. This in turn eventually causes osteoarthritis to develop in the affected joints. Although veterinarians do not yet fully understand the cause of osteochondrosis in young dogs, there are several risk factors that have been positively identified. These risk factors include rapid growth and weight gain at a young age. Over nutrition may also be a contributing factor. This means that the dog is being overfed a nutrient rich diet. Apparently, a diet rich in proteins, vitamins, calcium and calories may put some dogs at risk for developing osteochondrosis. There also appears to be a strong hereditary factor to osteochondrosis. Osteochondrosis may be at least partly inherited, although any dog can be at risk.
If you know your dog is at an increased risk for developing osteochondrosis, it is important to get your pet regularly screened. Even very young pets can be screened for osteochondrosis, especially if you know the mother or father had the condition. Remember that this condition is developed at an early age, so rigorous attention and prevention is key. What should you look for if you think your dog may be at risk for osteochondrosis? Symptoms may be noticeable very early, usually around four to eight months of age. Your dog may demonstrate lameness in the affected joint. They may seem stiff and have trouble getting up after long periods of rest. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your vet immediately.
Diagnosis is made through a physical examination of the affected areas. Sometimes this is done under sedation in order to avoid causing the animal unnecessary pain or discomfort. X-rays should also be done to reach a positive diagnosis. X-rays of the elbow and shoulder joints should be taken, along with any other areas that are affected. During the very early stages of this condition, even the trained eye can have difficulty detecting its presence on an X-ray. Sometimes you vet will refer you to a specialist to make a positive diagnosis. If your pet is positively diagnosed with osteochondrosis, treatment will vary according to the severity of the condition. If symptoms are still relatively mild, your pet will be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, a well balanced diet, and regular exercise. More advanced cases may need surgical intervention to remove part of the damaged cartilage. Most pets with osteochondrosis do eventually develop osteoarthritis. However, your pet can achieve a happy and active life with special care, especially if the condition is detected early.