Animal models of osteoarthritis (OA) are used to study the pathogenesis of cartilage degeneration and to evaluate potential anti-arthritic drugs for clinical use. In general, these models fall into 2 categories, spontaneous and induced (surgical instability or genetic manipulation). Animal models of naturally occurring OA occur in knee joints of guinea pigs, mice and Syrian hamsters. Commonly utilized surgical instability models include medial meniscal tear in guinea pigs and rats, medial or lateral partial meniscectomy in rabbits, medial partial or total meniscectomy or anterior cruciate transection in dogs. Transgenic models have been developed in mice. These models all have potential use in the study of molecular mechanisms associated with OA development via use of immunohistochemistry, biochemistry and molecular probes to identify altered matrix molecules at different stages in disease progression. Testing of specific types of inhibitors developed through evaluation of matrix changes in the disease process will ultimately help identify key processes which initiate and perpetuate the disease and will lead to discovery of new disease modifying pharmaceutical agents for OA patients. This paper will focus on the discussion of several models which are likely to be useful in the molecular dissection of processes involved in cartilage degeneration.