What are Osteochondritis Dissecans?
Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is a disease that can develop in horses of any age and affects the joints and bone cartilage. OCD can occur in any breed of horse, and those affected have abnormal cartilage formation. Osteochondritis dissecans is quite common, as it results in the bone and cartilage underneath the joint cartilage to become weaker and have an uneven thickness. When the subchondral bone fails to properly form from the cartilage template of the skeleton, the developing cartilage and bone tend to break off from the bone and float around within the joint area. This causes inflammation and irritation within the affected joint, which can eventually lead to painful arthritis.
Typically osteochondritis dissecans only affects one joint; however, more than one joint can be affected as well, but this is not as common. Any joints that have bilateral involvement may also be affected. With osteochondritis dissecans, when the horse or foal puts weight on the compromised joints, weakness occurs. This is due to the formation of cracks in the cartilage which covers the ends of bones, known as articular cartilage. This can be quite painful to the horse or foal when bearing weight on his joints, and any joint within the skeletal system of the horse can become impaired by OCD. Mild cases of osteochondritis dissecans often go unnoticed, and some horses tend to heal on their own in these very mild situations.
Osteochondritis dissecans, or OCD, is a joint disease that develops in horses. It has a negative effect on the bone cartilage at the joint area as well as the joint itself.
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Symptoms of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Horses
Symptoms of this disorder are generally typical and may range from mild to severe. Symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans include:
- Pain when exercising
- Pain when standing
- Swollen joint areas
- Inflamed joints
- Fluid in joints due to inflammation
- Distended hock joint
- Unusual stance
- Lack of impulses to move
- Reluctance to activity
There are other types of joint disorders which can cause your horse to have inflammation and pain. These joint disorders can affect the quality of life of your companion. Other joint issues include:
- Degenerative joint disease
- Hock abnormalities
Causes of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Horses
Osteochondritis dissecans, commonly known as OCD, is caused by a variety of factors. Common causes of this condition include:
- Large body size of the horse
- Rapid body growth
- Imbalanced diet
- Diets low in copper
- Imbalances within the hormones
- Overexertion in exercising
Diagnosis of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Horses
If your horse is suffering from lameness or swelling of the joint, make an immediate appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will need to rule out other causes of his symptoms in order to diagnose OCD.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and ask questions relating to his health history and symptoms. He will want to know how long he has been experiencing the symptoms, or the timeframe in which you have noticed the symptoms. The physical exam may also include, in addition to investigating his joints, bloodwork and any other laboratory testing he feels are necessary to begin eliminating any other illnesses.
Your medical professional may also conduct a lameness exam, which entails observing the horse up close and from a distance, paying close attention to the condition of the horse’s body type, the conformation, and whether he shifts his weight abnormally or has any abnormal stance. He will then look closely at the hooves; he will be looking for cracks, any lacerations, and the joint health of the lower legs.
Your veterinarian will also observe your horse walking, trotting, cantering, while exercising or doing physical activity, and also while resting. He will also pay close attention to how your horse rises from a resting position. He will look at other characteristics of your horse, such as gait, head nodding, stride, and other symptoms which may contribute to his lameness, if any. Palpation and manipulation of the joints will also be conducted and noted in his exam findings.
There are several imaging techniques your veterinarian may perform. Radiography will be performed to take a close look at the joints in question. Other imaging methods should accompany this method since fragments are often made of cartilage; this type of imaging may not see the fragment. Other imaging and diagnostic methods may be used as well, such as nuclear bone scan and arthroscopy. Initial testing by the veterinarian by way of physical examination, performed in conjunction with imaging techniques, can greatly help the veterinarian come to a conclusive diagnosis.
Treatment of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Horses
If your horse has been diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, your veterinarian will explain the treatment options to help your horse recover. Treatment methods may include:
Removal of the cartilage and damaged bone may be recommended. An arthroscopic procedure may be performed to remove the fragments. A very small incision would be made into your horse’s joint and with the help of an arthroscope, a tiny camera, your veterinarian will remove the pieces. Once the pieces of bone and cartilage are taken from the joint he will then flush the inflammation from the joint as well. During the procedure, your horse will be put under a general anesthesia.
Rather than surgery, your veterinarian may recommend a period of time in which your horse can receive injections into the joint or into the muscles close to the joint. Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans injected into your horse can reduce inflammation. Hyaluronic acid may also be used for this.
Rest and Monitoring
Your horse will need plenty of rest during the time he is receiving the injections or post-surgery. In addition to rest, it will be important to monitor your horse’s diet, and possibly make some adjustments. Your veterinarian may recommend that you add glucosamine to his diet and he will explain to you how much he will need to take.
Recovery of Osteochondritis Dissecans in Horses
Depending on your the severity of the condition and how well he does after surgery or during the injection time will play a big role in his recovery. Resting in his stall is essential. It may take months before your horse is able to return to his normal physical activity or training.
Any bandaging that must be done after surgery will be explained to you by your medical professional. Medications that are given, namely anti-inflammatory medications, will be explained to you by your veterinarian as well. Your veterinarian will want to see your horse to remove any sutures, and then several times after that to be sure he is recovering nicely. Depending on your horse’s therapy or surgical procedure, your veterinarian will explain to you anything else you need to know to help your horse recover.
Prognosis is generally good when horses are treated in a surgical manner; however, every horse is different and it will depend on how well your horse heals after surgery.