Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Shoulder Joint
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Article Written by Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon (DACVS)

Animal Surgical Center of Michigan

5045 Miller Road

Flint, MI 48507


Phone: 810-671-0088

Key Points

OCD of the shoulder is a disease that causes lameness in young large breed dogs

Arthroscopic removal of the OCD flap is less painful than the traditional surgery and results in a quicker recovery

Arthroscopy also allows examination of the entire joint which greatly improves the ability of the surgeon to remove all loose cartilage fragments

Prognosis following surgery is excellent for return to function of the limb

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)

OCD affects young, large-breed dogs and causes lameness of the affected fore limb. OCD is a condition in which a piece of cartilage becomes partially or fully detached from the surface of the joint. Sometimes the cartilage flap becomes detached from its bed and falls into a pocket of the joint (called the cul de sac of the shoulder). These loose fragments can cause inflammation of the lining of the joint and cause pain. Occasionally a fragment of the OCD flap will migrate down the sheath of the biceps tendon (which communicates with the shoulder joint) and causes inflammation of the tendon’s sheath called biceps tenosynovitis. For this reason, surgery should not be delayed.

About 50% of the dogs have osteochondrosis of both shoulders. Dogs usually have a lameness of only one of the limbs, even if both shoulders have a visible osteochondrosis lesion  as seen on radiographs. Sometimes the lameness will shift from one leg to the other. If we see OCD on the radiographs on both shoulders, we recommend arthroscopy on both shoulders.

Above right, is a radiograph of a dog's shoulder that has an OCD lesion of the head of the humerus.  Take note of the dent in the surface of the bone (labeled with the white arrow)


Arthroscopic Surgery

During arthroscopic surgery a small incision is made in the skin. To confirm that the needle is in the joint, a syringe is attached to the needle and aspirated. If joint fluid is retrieved, the surgeon is certain that the needle is within the confines of the joint. Next, the surgeon will inject sterile fluid (lactated Ringer's solution) into the joint which will distend the joint. This makes it easier for the surgeon get the scope into the joint. The surgeon then passes a hollow tube called a cannula into the joint

The telescope of the camera is inserted into the cannula and a rubber hose is attached to the cannula so that fluid can be infused into the joint during the procedure. The infusion of fluid will keep the field of view clear for the surgeon during the arthroscopic surgery and will flush out small fragments of loose cartilage.

Play video right. The surgeon will examine the front of the shoulder and confirm a diagnosis of OCD. Take note of the large cartilage flap that is seen in this joint.

An instrument is inserted into the shoulder joint and the OCD flap is grasped and is pulled out of the joint. In some cases the flap is taken out in pieces and other cases the flap can be removed in one piece. In this case, the OCD flap is torn into smaller fragments and removed in multiple steps.



Traditional surgery (open surgical approach)

During an open surgical approach to the shoulder joint, a 2 inch incision is made and the muscles are just separated along their natural anatomical planes. Because we do not actually cut any muscles, tendons, or ligaments during the surgery, the recovery period after surgery is relatively short. The disadvantage of the open approach is that a less thorough examination of the joint and its associated structures can be made and loose pieces may be left behind in the front part of the shoulder joint.      


Convalescent period

Arthroscopic surgery. The recovery from surgery is faster if the procedure is done arthroscopically versus with an open surgical approach. Most dogs are bearing weight on the limb at the time of release from our hospital. Within two weeks the lameness generally is very mild.

Traditional surgery. Within a couple of days after the surgery most pets will bear some weight on the operated limb. By two weeks after surgery many of the operated dogs have mild to moderate lameness. By 8 weeks after surgery, your pet should be using the limb normally. Recovery can be somewhat variable from one pet to another.



Surgery is about 90% successful. Success is defined as the return of good function of the limb (i.e. lameness resolves). Surgery will not remove the arthritis that is already present in the shoulder. As a result, some pets may have some stiffness of the limb or lameness after very heavy exercise or during weather changes (cool damp conditions). Most dogs that have surgery do not develop significant arthritis after surgery and have no lameness or stiffness. Continued lameness can be also due to biceps tendonitis.


Postop care

During the first 6 to 8 weeks after surgery, activity is restricted to short leash walks outside. Running, jumping, or rough play is forbidden. Gradually increasing the activity, following the eighth week after surgery, allows for a safe return of function of the operated limb.


Potential complications

Following arthroscopic surgery, the most common complication is swelling of the shoulder due irritation of the joint with fluid during the surgery. The swelling typically resolves within 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Uncommon complications include infection, inability to retrieve the OCD fragment thus necessitating conversion to an open surgical procedure (uncommon...I have not needed to convert to open surgery in years), and anesthetic death (very rare). Unresolved or recurrent lameness may be due to biceps tenosynovitis; this can be due to small pieces of the cartilage flap that have become lodged deep within the bursa of the biceps tendon.

Following open surgery, the most common complication following open surgery is the development of a seroma at the level of the surgical incision. A seroma is an accumulation of fluid under the skin. This usually feels like a soft, fluid-filled sac. The cause of this complication is excessive movement of the tissues at the level of the shoulder (this is just the nature of the area). Restricting activity after surgery will minimize seroma formation. Seromas usually resolve without any treatment. Other uncommon complications include infection, unresolved lameness, and anesthetic death.

Frequently Asked Questions After Surgery

When should my dog have the first bowel movement after surgery?

  • Many dogs will not have a bowel movement for the first 4 to 5 days after surgery
  • Reasons that a dog will not have regular bowel movements after surgery include:
    • The dog has been fasted prior to surgery
    • Dogs do not eat well during the hospital stay
    • They frequently do not eat well when they go home
    • They are fed highly digestible food that produces little stool
    • Pain medication that contain narcotics (such as morphine, fentanyl patches, and tramadol) can be constipating
  • If a pet does not have a bowel movement on the 5th day of being home, a stool softener such as metamucil can be fed
    • Dose of metamucil is 1 tsp per 25 Kg mixed in with each meal (canned dog food); feed immediately after mixing, as the metamucil will gel the food and may make it less palatable

My pet had surgery and will not eat.  What can be done?

  • Dogs
    • Most pets will not eat their regular dog food after surgery, especially if it is kibble.
    • Offer a cooked diet having a 1:1 ratio of a protein source and carbohydrate source.  The protein source can be any meat (example: chicken breast, turkey breast, lean hamburger) that is low in fat and should be cooked (drain off all fat after the meat has been cooked).   The carbohydrate can be pasta, potato or white rice.
    • Try canned dog food; to enhance the flavor sprinkle a very small amount of garlic powder or chicken or beef broth (Chicken-in-a- MugTM or Beef-in-a-MugTM products)
    • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey, or veal
    • Try Hill's A/D diet available at most veterinary hospitals
    • Hand feeding: place a small amount of food in the mouth so that your dog gets the flavor
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave, as the food will be more aromatic; stir the food before feeding and test the temperature on the bottom side of your wrist; it should only be luke warm.
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
  • Cats
    • Offer smelly foods that contain fish such as tuna or smelly cat foods
    • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey or veal
    • Hand feeding:  with your finger place a small amount of food on the roof of your cat's mouth; use a syringe to get soft food into the mouth
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave as the food will be more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature; it should be only luke-warm
    • Some cats will only eat dry food, try kibble if your cat normally has been fed that food
    • Petting and stroking your cat frequently will help to stimulate appetite
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
    • Appetite stimulants such as cyproheptadine may be helpful
    • If your cat refuses to eat anything for 7 days a stomach tube or nasogastric tube should be placed to provide nutrition so that a serious liver problem (hepatic lipidosis) does not develop

My pet is vomiting.  What can be done?

  • The first thing for you to discern is whether your pet is vomiting or regurgitating.  Both will result in fluid or food being brought up.  Vomiting always will have heaving or retching of the abdomen prior to expulsion of the vomitus.  Regurgitation is not associated with heaving and the pet usually just opens the mouth and fluid or food will be expelled.  Usually the regurgited material will be clear or brown colored fluid. 
  • Next is to identify the cause of the vomiting or regurgitation.
  • Causes and treatment of vomiting after surgery
    • When some pets return home after a stay in the hospital they may drink excessive amounts of water at one time and then vomit; if this appears to be the case, the water should be limited to frequent smaller amounts.
    • Medications such as antibiotics, narcotics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication commonly cause vomiting after surgery.  In order to see which medication is causing the problem, the administration of each drug should be separated 2 hours apart.  Usually the pet will vomit or appear nauseated (drooling and sick look) within 1 hour of administration of the medication that they are sensitive to.  The antibiotic in some cases may be changed to a different one, or may be discontinued. 
    • Stomach upset from anesthesia is a potential cause of vomiting and will pass within a couple of days. 
    • An uncommon cause of vomiting after surgery is internal organ failure.  Blood testing will confirm this problem. For this reason vomiting should not be ignored if it persists for more than 24 hours.
    • If your pet had surgery of the bowels or stomach, vomiting is always a concern, as it may indicate that infection of the abdominal cavity, called peritonitis, is present.  Do not ignore this sign.
    • Symptomatic treatment of vomiting involves withholding food for 12 to 24 hours, then introducing small amounts of bland food such as rice and lean cooked hamburger, if your pet does not vomit after that then gradually wean him/her back onto the regular diet after 3 days.  In order to decrease the acidity of the stomach, Pepcid AC 0.5 mg/kg can be given by mouth twice daily for 5 days.  Metoclopramide and Cerenia are good anti-vomiting medications for dogs and cats.  You should always consult a veterinary healthcare professional before administering medication.
  • Causes and treatment of regurgitation after surgery
    • The most common cause of regurgitation is reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus while your pet is under anesthesia.  Acidic fluid from the stomach can cause a chemical burn of the esophagus and result in a bad case of heart burn, called esophagitis.  This results in poor motility of the esophagus, therefore water and food will accumulate in this structure.  In most cases, esphagitis is self-eliminating and will resolve within two or three days. 
    • If the esophagitis is severe the esophagus may develop one or more strictures.  A stricture is a narrowing or stenosis of the esophagus and does not allow passage of food down the esophagus, in regurgitation that lasts longer than one week.  This problem should be brought to the attention of your pet's doctor within the first two weeks so that it can be treated by ballooning the stricture (minimally invasive procedure, as it is done with the aide of an endoscope).  If an esophageal stricture is chronic surgery is needed.
    • Symptomatic treatment of regurgitation caused by esophagitis includes feeding bland food, and administering a coating agent (sucralfate) and an acid blocker (omeprazole or other).  Consult a veterinary health care professional if the regurgitation continues for more than a couple of days.

How do I know that my dog is in pain following surgery?

  • Signs of pain include
    • crying
    • biting if you get near the surgical site
    • grimacing (lips are pulled back and the the dog looks anxious)
    • tragic facial expression
    • panting
    • restlessness and unable to sleep; pacing
    • if abdominal surgery was done the pet will not lie down on the incision, or will continually sit up in spite of appearing very tired
    • the worst pain will be for the first 2 to 3 days after surgery

What can I do to control my dog's pain?

  • Narcotic medications that control pain: tramadol, butorphanol, Duragesic (fentanyl patch)
  • Anti-inflammatories used to control pain: Deramaxx, Rimadyl, Previcox, or Etogesic
  • If an orthopedic surgery has been done cold packing the surgical site may be helpful
    • A cold pack may be a pack of frozen peas, crushed ice in a Ziploc bag, or a cold gel pack; place a thin barrier between the skin and the cold pack.  An alternative to a cold pack is to freeze water in a styrofoam cup; after frozen cut the bottom of the styrofoam cup out. Cool the surgical site around the incision by rubbing the exposed ice directly on the skin in a circular pattern.  Cooling the surgical site helps to numb the area.

How do I know that my cat is in pain following surgery?

  • Pain is more difficult to assess in cats versus dogs, as signs can be more subtle and they usually do not vocalize when in pain
  • Signs of pain in a cat include the following:
    • biting if you get near the surgical site
    • growling or deep cry
    • not wanting to eat
    • hiding and not wanting to be near owner (remember that this could also be caused by the cat just being upset about leaving home and coming back)

What can be done for pain at home for my cat?

  • Pain medication such as buprenorphine or a Duragesic (fentanyl) patch
  • Tylenol will kill a cat as they lack abundant glutathione enzyme in the liver
  • Anti-inflammatories can be used, but the dose is much less than dogs

Is it okay for my pet to lick the incision?

  • If a dog licks the incision, the healing process may be delayed.
  • Licking can remove stitches and cause the incision to open
  • Licking can become a severe habit that is difficult to break
  • Licking can cause infection as the mouth has many bacteria
  • Dogs will frequently lick the incision when the owner is not watching such as at night time; if the skin looks red or excoriated the most common cause is from licking.
  • To stop your pet from licking the following can be tried:
    • Elizabethan collar can be placed on the neck; this will not help stop your pet from scratching at the region
    • Cervical collar (bite not collar) is a less awkward device and can be effective at stopping a pet from licking the surgical site
    • A tee shirt can be used to cover an incision on the chest or front part of the abdomen; gather the waist of the shirt up over the dog's back and wrap an elastic band around this part of the shirt.
    • A bandage or sock can be used to cover an incision on a limb; fasten the top of the sock to the dog's limb with tape.
    • Bitter apple can be applied around the incision; many dogs will continue to lick  after application of this topical
    • Bitter Apple and Liquid HeetTM (obtain this from a drugstore...it is used for sore muscles) mixed in a 2:1 ratio can be applied around the skin incision
    • Antipsychotic medication in some cases is needed

Board-certification by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons

What does it mean?

  • Four years of advanced training in surgery beyond the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree

  • Experience in the development of new surgical treatments

  • Rigorous examination by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons to ensure competency in advanced surgical techniques

  • Assurance that a veterinarian is a surgical specialist

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