Incidence of osteochondrosis (dissecans) in Dutch warmblood horses presented for pre-purchase examination
© The Author(s) 2008
Published: 1 January 2008
Data are lacking in the literature regarding the incidence of osteochondrosis (dissecans) [OC(D)] in relation to lameness evaluation in Dutch Warmblood horses. The objective of this retrospective study was to assess the incidence of radiological abnormalities consistent with osteochondrosis or osteochondrosis dissecans in 1,231 sound Dutch Warmblood (DW) horses presented for pre-purchase examination. Standardised (Dutch) pre-purchase examination protocols were evaluated. The pre-purchase examination included a clinical, lameness and radiological evaluation, performed at a private equine clinic in the Netherlands. Radiographical examination included views of the distal (DIP) and proximal (PIP) interphalangeal, metacarpo- and metatarsophalangeal (MCP/MTP), tarsocrural (TC) and femoropatellar (FP) joints. Radiographical evidence of OC(D) was found in 44.3% of clinically sound DW horses. In this study, 443 horses (36%, n = 1,231) had evidence of OCD and 102 horses (8.3%, n = 1,231) had evidence of OC on pre-purchase radiographs. The results also indicated that the TC joints were significantly more likely to be affected. A considerable number of horses did not demonstrate any lameness, although radiographs revealed OC(D).
KeywordsOsteochondrosis dissecans lameness pre-purchase examination
Physical well-being determines the durability and capability of a horse. In particular, the health of the locomotor system in horses is of paramount importance [12, 33]. The orthopaedic health status of a horse, as determined radiographically, is often regarded as an indicator for its future performance [25, 13]. Osteochondrosis (dissecans) [OC(D)] or failure of normal cartilage maturation  is the most frequent cause of impaired orthopaedic potential [14, 16, 37, 38], and clinical signs may vary from none to minor, or from severe joint effusion to clinical lameness [14, 26]. Nilsson first described osteochondrosis in the horse in 1947 . It became a widely accepted clinical entity in the 1970 s. Nowadays, the problem has a high prevalence in many equine breeds. Osteochondrosis, with or without intra-articular fragmentation, is a common finding in Warmblood horses [14, 26, 33, 37, 38, 13, 30–32]. An estimated 20-25% of newborn foals will develop some form of OC(D) . In northwestern Europe alone, OC(D) affects 20,000 to 25,000 foals every year . OC(D) is therefore one of the most important of the so-called 'developmental orthopaedic diseases' .
Decreased performance, reduced sale value and potential veterinary costs result in economic losses in all sections of the equine industry . The presence of OC(D) is a serious consideration in the selection of horses for breeding future generations. Results of several studies suggested that radiographical determination of orthopaedic health traits is compatible with breeding progress for performance parameters in (Hanoverian) Warmblood horses [5, 1, 6, 30, 31].
The incidence of OC(D) with or without resultant lameness in a general population of horses is unknown. In the cases described, the pre-purchase examination ranged from a simple lameness evaluation to inclusion of more extensive diagnostic aids such as endoscopy of the upper airway, radiography, ultrasound of various tendons and ligaments and even nuclear scintigraphy [17, 18, 13].
Veterinarians are frequently asked to speculate on how abnormalities such as OC(D) will affect future performance. Data for a large series of healthy DW horses, with regards to abnormal findings on radiographs, additional lameness and their future implications on performance, are not available. Because of the assimilation of continental Warmblood breeds into the Irish sport horse population in recent years , the incidence of OC(D) in sound Warmblood horses needs to be determined. The objective of this study was to identify the radiological abnormalities consistent with osteochondrosis or osteochondrosis dissecans, found during pre purchase examination in an apparently healthy, closed population of sound Warmblood horses.
Materials and methods
Pre-purchase examination documents and associated radiographs of 2,156 horses, presented to Bears private equine practice (Bearsterdijk 14, 9025 BR Bears, the Netherlands), between 2001 and 2005, were evaluated. Horses were included in this study if a clinical examination, flexion tests (lower and upper limb) and a lameness evaluation obtained by trotting the horses in a straight line and on a lunge line on hard (paved) and soft (sand) ground surfaces, was performed. The information obtained from the records included the horse's signalment (breed, age, sex), intended use, outcome of lameness evaluation and whether ancillary procedures (radiography or endoscopy) had been performed. Only cases with a complete radiographical evaluation were included in this study and clinically lame horses, as documented on the pre-purchase documents, were not.
Radiographical views of joints obtained in the standardised pre-purchase radiological protocol of 1,231 Dutch Warmblood horses.
Radiological view obtained
Distal interphalangeal (DIP)
Proximal interphalangeal (PIP)
LM, DP, DLPMO, DMPLO
LM, DP, DLPMO, DMPLO
Radiological changes were categorised as intra-articular fragmentation/osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) or osteochondrosis (OC). The latter included cases with evidence of irregular, flattened and/or remodelling of joint surfaces and/or radiolucent zones in the underlying subchondral bone . The anatomical locations of the OC(D) viewed on the radiographs were recorded for each case. Changes in the proximal sesamoidean bones were not included as part of this study. The asking price of the horses was not included in the study.
A Chi-squared test was used to determine the joints most commonly involved with OC(D). Statistical comparisons were performed using computer software (e.g. SPSS®12.0; SPSS Inc., Chicago, USA). The Mann-Whitney U test was used to compare differences between the OC and OCD group with respect to age and gender, with significance determined as P < 0.05.
Distribution of lame and sound Dutch Warmblood horses obtained from pre-purchase records (2001-2005).
Total number of horses
Number and percentage of horses, with specific OC(D) in different joints, obtained from pre-purchase radiographs of 1,231 Dutch Warmblood horses.
Horses OC(D), (%) n = 1,231
Horses with OCD
Horses with OC
Total number of horses with OC(D)
Distal intermediate ridge tibia (DIRT) TC
Bilateral DIRT TC
Medial malleolus TC
Medial trochlear ridge TC
Lateral trochlear ridge TC
Lateral trochlear ridge of femur FP
Medial trochlear ridge FP
Trochlear groove FP
Dorsal margin P1 MCP
Palmar margin P1 MCP
Dorsal sagittal ridge MCP
Dorsal margin P1 MTP
Plantar margin P1 MTP
Dorsal sagittal ridge MTP
Proximal interphalangeal (PIP)
Distal interphalangeal (DIP)
Within every retrospective study certain limitations are encountered. Incomplete pre-purchase forms and/or radiology reports and intra-articular fragmentation due to traumatic injuries were not included within this study. Several veterinarians were involved in performing the lameness evaluation over the years. However, radiographs were viewed by one clinician only (Dr B. van Ittersum). This study did not analyse the 848 lame horses presented for pre-purchase examination and whether these lamenesses were caused by OC(D) was not determined. The surveyed group of horses came from one breeder only, had not been previously treated for OC(D) and were kept in similar conditions.
Although 44.3% of the investigated Dutch Warmblood horses in this study had radiographical abnormalities, surprisingly no lameness was evident. To use radiology as an indicator, without a proper lameness evaluation, for a Dutch Warmblood horse's future performance capability should therefore be discouraged as has been suggested in the literature . Limited data are available concerning OC(D), within breeds intended for show jumping and/or dressage, and its subsequent correlation with lameness. Stock et al.  reported an OC(D) incidence of 32% within a population of 3,749 Hanoverian Warmblood horses. No significant correlation between the incidence of OC(D) and lameness was reported within these Hanoverian or Dutch Warmblood breeds.
The multiple reports of surgical intervention for horses affected with OC(D) describe young horses, of which the majority are Thoroughbred racehorses or Standardbred trotters [20, 8, 27, 28, 9]. The present study suggests that within the Dutch Warmblood breed, lameness does not necessarily develop in maturing horses, since there were similar number of horses that were greater than five years old and those that were less than five years old. The Warmblood horses (mean age of 4.5 years) were older than the Standardbred trotter population of two to three-year-olds reported by Torre and Motta . Genetic predisposition, environmental influences and differences in training attitude could explain this difference [25, 36, 27, 28, 7].
Dutch Warmblood horses displayed a predisposition for OC(D) within the TC joint (16%), as has been reported in many other breeds. Stock et al., [30–32] reported an incidence of 9.6% in a Hanoverian Warmblood population; McIlWraith and Foerner,  reported an incidence of 11-24% within Thoroughbred racehorse populations; Hoppe  reported an incidence of 15% within a Swedish Warmblood population; and, other studies have suggested that between 10-15% of Standardbred trotters have OC(D) in the TC joints [14, 11, 17]. The distal intermediate ridge of the tibia was the most common site for OCD in the TC joint, as previously reported [14, 27, 28, 2]. Brehm and Staecker , Storgard et al.  and Torre and Motta  all reported that no significant difference was appreciated in (racing) performance between Standardbred trotters with and withot radiographical findings of OCD in the tarsocrural joints. All authors suggested removing intra-articular fragmentation in order to prevent later development of problems.
The second most commonly affected joint was the FP joint, although this was less commonly affected than a previous Dutch Warmblood study by van Weeren  which found an incidence of 21% in a group bred with known OC(D)-positive horses. McIlwraith et al.,  reported a prevalence of FP OC(D) in Thoroughbred racehorses of 11-24%. However, this included cases identified by clinical signs, rather than by radiography. In research by Stock [30, 31], 20.7% of the Hanoverian horses investigated showed OC(D) within the MCP/MTP joints. A similar incidence level of OC(D) within the MCP/MTP joints was seen within the Dutch Warmblood horse population in this report, although higher incidences have been reported in Standardbred trotter populations [26, 27, 17]. Stock et al. [30–32] reported an increase in the percentage of horses with osseous fragments in the MTP joints during the years of the study. In the Netherlands, in the years following 2000, pathology within these joints became more apparent, therefore pre-purchase protocols were adjusted and radiographs of the MTP joints were included as well. Unfortunately, OCD in the MCP and/or MTP joints were negatively correlated to performance [35, 23, 15, 10, 39, 24, 34].
The data show that radiological abnormalities in otherwise healthy young horses are quite common. Gender and age were not significantly associated with OC(D). Significantly, OCD was more frequently detected in the TC joint in comparison with other joints and bilateral OCD was more common in the FP and TC joints. The likelihood of bilateral FP and TC joints OC(D) was significantly increased in comparison with other joints. The limited ability of equine clinicians to offer accurate advice to clients in connection with pre-purchase examinations because of inconsistency of data documenting the clinical significance of various radiological findings is still an important issue. It is encouraging to know that the most commonly affected joint with OC(D), the TC joint, is rarely the cause of lameness. The owner should be encouraged to permit radiographal examination of Dutch Warmblood horses, including radiographs of the metatarsophalangeal joints, together with a lameness evaluation prior to purchasing the horse. The majority of orthopaedic surgeons advise owners of horses with OCD that the intra-articular fragments should be removed in order to prevent future trauma to the joints. The trend towards increased numbers of Warmblood horses being imported into Ireland and the United Kingdom may result in an increase in the number of surgical interventions for OCD.
The author would like to express his gratitude to the veterinary team of Bears equine practice, the Netherlands, in particular to Dr B. van Ittersum DVM and Dr Jonathan Pink DVM, Dipl. ECVS, for editorial assistance.
- Barneveld A, van Weeren PR: Conclusions regarding the influence of exercise on the development of the equine musculoskeletal system with special reference to osteochondrosis. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1999, 31: 112-119. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1999.tb05323.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Beard WL, Bramlage LR: Postoperative racing performance in Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds with osteochondrosis of the tarsocrural joint: 109 cases. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1994, 20 (10): 1655-1659.Google Scholar
- Brehm W, Staecker W: Osteochondrosis (OCD) in the tarsocrural joint of Standardbred trotters - Correlation between radiographic findings and racing performance. American Association of Equine Practitioners Proceedings. 1999, 45: 164-166.Google Scholar
- DAFF: Coughlan outlines the importance of the sport horse industry in Ireland. 2005, [http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/index.jsp?file=pressrel/2005/149-2005.xml]Google Scholar
- Dabareiner RM, Sullins D: Progression of femoropatellar osteochondrosis in nine young horses. Veterinary Surgery. 1993, 22 (6): 515-523. 10.1111/j.1532-950X.1993.tb00430.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Dik KJ, Enzerink E: Radiographic development of osteochondral abnormalities, in the hock and stifle of Dutch Warmblood foals, from age 1 to 11 months. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1999, 31: 9-15. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1999.tb05308.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Fubini SL, Hollis NE: Prognostic factors affecting survival of 507 horses with joint disease (1983 to 1990). Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research. 1999, 63: 253-260.PubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Foland JW, McIlWraith W: Arthroscopic surgery for osteochondrosis dissecans of the femoropatellar joint of the horse. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1992, 24 (6): 419-423. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1992.tb02870.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Fortier LA, Foerner JJ: Arthroscopic removal of axial osteochondral fragments of the plantar/palmar proximal aspect of the proximal phalanx in horses: 119 cases. Journal of the American Veterinary Medial Association. 1995, 206 (1): 71-74.Google Scholar
- Grondahl AM: The incidence of bony fragments and osteochondrosis in the metacarpo-and metatarsophalangeal joints of Standardbred trotters. Equine Veterinary Science. 1992, 12 (2): 81-85. 10.1016/S0737-0806(06)81285-2.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Grondahl AM, Dolvik NI: Heritability estimations of osteochondrosis in the tibiotarsal joint and of bony fragments in the palmar/plantar portion of the metacarpo-and metatarsophalangeal joints of horses. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1993, 20 (1): 101-104.Google Scholar
- Grondahl AM, Engeland A: Influence of radiographically detectable orthopaedic changes on racing performance in Standardbred trotters. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1995, 206 (7): 1013-1017.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Van Hoogmoed LM, Snyder JR, Thomas HL: Retrospective evaluation of equine pre-purchase examinations performed 1991-2000. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2003, 35: 375-381. 10.2746/042516403776014325.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hoppe F: Radiological investigations of osteochondrosis dissecans in Standardbred trotters and Swedish Warmblood horses. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1984, 16 (5): 425-429. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1984.tb01964.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Houttu J: Arthroscopic removal of osteochondral fragments of the palmar/plantar aspect of the metacarpo/metatarsophalangeal joints. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1991, 23 (3): 163-165. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1991.tb02747.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Jefcott LB: Osteochondrosis in the horse - searching for the key to the pathogenesis. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1991, 23 (5): 331-338. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1991.tb03733.x.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Jorgensen HS, Proschowsky H: The significance of routine radiographic findings with respect to subsequent racing performance and longevity in Standardbred trotters. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1997, 29 (1): 55-59. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1997.tb01637.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kane AJ: Radiographic changes in Thoroughbred yearlings. Prevalence at the time of the yearling sales. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2003, 35 (4): 354-365.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Laws EG, Richardson DW: Racing performance of Standardbreds after conservative and surgical treatment for tarsocrural Osteochondrosis. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1993, 25 (3): 199-202. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1993.tb02943.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- McIlwraith CW, Foerner JJ: Osteochondrosis dissecans of the tarsocrural joint: results of treatment with arthroscopic surgery. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1991, 23 (3): 155-162. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1991.tb02746.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- McIlwraith CW: Inferences from referred clinical cases of osteochondritis dissecans. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1993, 16: 27-30.Google Scholar
- Nilsson F: Hastens genitor. Svensk Vetidn. 1947, 52: 1-Google Scholar
- Nixon AJ: Osteochondrosis and OCD of the equine fetlock. The Compendium. 1990, 12 (10): 1463-1475.Google Scholar
- Roneus B, Arnason T: Arthroscopic removal of palmar/plantar osteochondral fragments (POF) in the fetlock joints of Standardbred trotters - outcome and possible genetic background to POF. Acta Veterinary Scandinavia. 1998, 39 (1): 15-24.Google Scholar
- Rossdale PD, Hopes R, Digby NJ: Epidemiological study of wastage among racehorses 1982 and 1983. Veterinary Record. 1985, 116: 66-69. 10.1136/vr.116.3.66.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Sandgren B: Bony fragments in the tarsocrural and metacarpo- or metatarsophalangeal joints in the Standardbred horse - a radiographic survey. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1988, 6: 66-70.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Sandgren B, Dalin G: Development of osteochondrosis in the tarsocrural joint and osteochondral fragments in the fetlock joints of Standardbred trotters. Body measurements and clinical findings. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1993, 16: 48-53.Google Scholar
- Sandgren Band, Dalin G: Development of Osteochondrosis in the tarsocrural joint and osteochondral fragments in the fetlock joints of Standardbred trotters. Epidemiology. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1993, 16: 31-37.Google Scholar
- Schneider RK, Ragle CA: Arthroscopic removal of osteochondral fragments from the proximal interphalangeal joint of the pelvic limb. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1994, 205 (1): 79-82.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Stock KF, Hamann H, Distl O: Prevalence of osseous fragments in distal and proximal interphalangeal, metacarpo- and metatarsophalangeal and tarsocrural joint of Hanoverian Warmblood horses. Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association of Physiology Pathology and Clinical Medicine. 2005, 52 (8): 388-394.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Stock KF, Distl O: Evaluation of expected response to selection for orthopedic health and performance traits in Hanoverian Warmblood horses. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 2005, 66 (8): 1371-1379. 10.2460/ajvr.2005.66.1371.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Stock KF, Hamann H, Distl O: Factors associated with the prevalence of osseous fragments in the limb joints of Hanoverian Warmblood horses. Veterinary Journal. 2006, 171 (1): 147-156. 10.1016/j.tvjl.2004.09.007.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Storgaard JH, Proschowsky H, Falk-Ronne J: The significance of routine radiographic findings with respect to subsequent racing performance and longevity in Standardbred trotters. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1997, 29: 55-59. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1997.tb01637.x.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Torre F, Motta M: Osteochondrosis of the tarsocrural joint and osteochondral fragments in the fetlock joints: Incidence and influence on racing performance in a selected group of Standardbred trotters. American Association of Equine Practitioners Proceedings. 2000, 46: 267-294.Google Scholar
- Trotter GW, McIlwraith CW: Degenerative joint disease with osteochondrosis of the proximal interphalangeal joint in young horses. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1982, 180 (11): 1312-1318.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Watkins JP: Osteochondrosis. Equine Surgery. Edited by: Auer, Stick. 1992, WB Saunders PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
- Van Weeren PR: The effect of exercise on the distribution and manifestation of OCD lesions in the Warmblood foal. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement. 1999, 31: 4-8. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1999.tb05307.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Van Weeren PR: Osteochondrosis in the horse: State-of-the-art and future developments. Proceedings Zwolle International Stallion Show. 2002, 4-7. pp13-17Google Scholar
- Whitton RC, Kannegieter NJ: Osteochondral fragmentation of the plantar/palmar proximal aspect of the proximal phalanx in racing horses. Australian Veterinary Journal. 1994, 71 (10): 318-321. 10.1111/j.1751-0813.1994.tb00906.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar