Canine Arthroscopy: Tiny Technology, Big Benefits

Advances in veterinary medicine have allowed our family pets to live longer lives. With this blessing, long-term health strategies and advanced medical procedures

are becoming just as critical for our companion animals as they are for us. These include the management of arthritis, which affects up to 20% of dogs every day.

When a pet turns up limping, many times owners are discovering an underlying developmental orthopedic disease or a sub-clinical injury that has finally reared its head. If your dog is diagnosed with a form of joint pathology in which surgery is recommended, your pet may benefit from arthroscopy. Arthroscopy (looking into joints and treating surgical conditions using a small camera and tiny instruments) is the standard of care for humans and horses when treating many joint abnormalities. More recently, our canine friends are benefitting from this minimally invasive form of surgery.

The main advantages of this type of procedure, versus a traditional open arthrotomy approach, include: enhanced visualization, decreased number of complications, faster healing time and less surgical pain. This gives better overall diagnostic capabilities as well as the chance for therapeutic treatment. Because the animal is less painful and healing time is decreased, the patient is more likely to be weight-bearing on the limb much sooner. This allows greater retention of lean muscle mass and enhanced function in the affected leg.

Disadvantages do exist and include infection, introduction of trauma to the joint cartilage by the arthroscope or instruments, getting fluid into the soft tissues around the joint, and having to convert the procedure to an open arthrotomy if the lesion cannot be adequately visualized or treated.

Canine arthroscopy is mostly performed in the elbow, shoulder, knee and ankle joint. The most common conditions that can be addressed include osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) lesions, fragmented medial coronoid process (FCP), anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture and meniscal disease.

The advantages of arthroscopy are believed to outweigh the disadvantages. This is especially true for puppies that require early interventional surgery and performance animals (working, agility, police, field trial dogs, etc.) in which optimal outcome is paramount and a longer recovery period is less desirable.

By Rebekah Beam, DVM (Practice Limited to Surgery), Small-Animal Surgeon at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital

Dr. Beam’s favorite areas of surgical interest include arthroscopy, developmental orthopedic diseases and arthritis management. If your pet has a chronic lameness that you would like to have evaluated, or if you think your pet may benefit from arthroscopy, please contact the surgery department at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital: 360.568.3113.