Surgical procedures are available to address severe cases of canine arthritis. These procedures potentially can dramatically improve a dog’s quality of life. However, surgery is usually a last resort for cases of canine arthritis, as the consequences of surgery can include pain and other debilitating symptoms that are associated with the disorder.
Surgical Options for Arthritis in Dogs
When non-surgical treatment options for arthritis fail to help the dog, as if the dog’s joints have become so severely damaged that non-surgical treatment options are not helping resolve the dog’s pain, surgical options are available. These include arthroscopic surgery, joint replacement, joint repair and joint fusion, and more treatments are under development all the time.
Arthroscopy is the most minimally-invasive arthritis joint surgery currently available, and this surgery can be used to help resolve damage in shoulders, elbows, the stifle (knee) joint in the rear legs and the ankle bones. The procedure uses small cuts over the joint to insert cameras and uses small instruments to assess joint damage and plan joint repair. In some cases, arthroscopy cannot be performed due to swelling or leakage from the joint and open surgery is needed to assess and/or repair the joint.
Elbow and hip replacements are now available for dogs. These are intensive and expensive surgeries which require a long recovery time (approximately 1-2 months). However, over 90% of these surgeries are successful in resolving the clinical signs of arthritic joints.
Joint fusion is a surgical procedure which uses metal implants to fuse damaged joints. This procedure can be used on the wrists, fingers and back of people, and the comparable areas of our companion animals. Fusion repairs in dogs using bone grafts and artificial mediums are currently being studied. There are complications to this surgery, most often involving the metal implants themselves, and the recovery time is usually between 1-2 months.
Most dogs with arthritis are overweight and/or elderly. These dogs are not good surgical candidates. The risk of surgery for these dogs is high, so it is important for pet owners to have an upfront talk about these risks with their veterinarian before deciding to go through with a surgery. Arthritis surgery is not always successful, and veterinarians can usually give pet owners an idea of what they can, and cannot, expect from the surgery.