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Treating Everything from Trauma to Everyday Wear and Tear

Specialists Bring High-Quality Medicine to Orthopaedic Patients

In today’s modern world, humans seem to be plagued with orthopaedic problems. In fact, orthopaedic surgery is one of the fastest growing segments of the health care market with demand for joint replacement and traumatic injury interventions skyrocketing. It’s not surprising that experts predict a 17-fold increase in knee replacements alone by 2030, hitting close to 1 million procedures annually. What might surprise people is that pets suffer from many of the same orthopaedic problems as their human companions.

Fortunately for our companion animals, many of the technologies and procedures available to people today are increasingly offered in veterinary medicine. That means more treatment options that improve injury recovery and reduce or eliminate pain so that our pets can enjoy full and active lives.

"We take care of everything from simple fractures to very complicated orthopaedic cases; our approaches to treatment range from simple interventions that have been around a long time, to cutting-edge therapies that are brand new to veterinary medicine," said Dr. Felix Duerr, who is on the veterinary team of the Small Animal Orthopaedics Service at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "In fact, some of the things we are doing today in veterinary orthopaedics were unthinkable even a few years ago."

New technologies at the VTH include intraoperative imaging using a C-arm X-ray imaging unit that allows the treatment of many bone fractures with minimally invasive methods, unlimited state-of-the-art implant choices, a high-speed CT scanner to produce highly detailed images of the musculoskeletal system; 3-D imaging, and magnetic resonance imaging. Dr. Duerr also recently received a grant from the College Research Council to develop a portable gait analysis system that will assist in diagnostics and evaluate treatment success.

"Surgery is not always the answer," Dr. Duerr said. "In fact, only about half of our patients require surgery. Owners often are surprised with the treatment options available to help manage orthopaedic issues in their pets."

Advances in rehabilitative medicine also help patients recover after surgery, or decrease the rate of deterioration if surgical or medical interventions are not appropriate. The team also is always looking to human medicine for new ideas on treating orthopaedic problems in pets – most recently treating muscle contracture in a German shepherd patient using Botox.

Drs. Duerr and Ross Palmer are the primary orthopaedic surgeons with the service. They are joined by Dr. Clara Goh and a comprehensive support team. The team provides a wide range of services from minimally invasive procedures to complicated surgeries that require practice on 3-D skeletal models before performing surgery on the patient. When animals need surgery, advances in post-surgical recovery, pain management, complementary therapies, and rehabilitation are improving outcomes.

Common problems seen at the orthopaedic service include:

  • Rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament

  • Leg and pelvic fractures (often from run-ins with automobiles)

  • Lameness

  • Ligament injuries

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia

  • Arthritis

While the cause of a traumatic injury is usually apparent, lifestyle choices often can lead to degenerative disease processes that cause pets to suffer unnecessarily from orthopaedic problems. Part of what the orthopaedic team does is educate pet owners on the importance of being proactive when it comes to their animal’s health – preventing orthopaedic problems from developing in the first place.

"The number one thing you can do is keep your dog at a healthy weight," Dr. Duerr said. "They will have less arthritis and live a longer, healthier life". You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs under their fur and skin, not a thick layer of fat. Regular exercise like daily walks is important; though watch out for those ‘weekend warrior’ activities that can overstress an under-conditioned dog.

"I’d also recommend at least a fish oil supplement, and I also like to add a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement to help with joint pain particularly in dogs with arthritis."

Preventive care can help avert or slow down degenerative diseases such as arthritis, while keeping your dog leashed or in a fenced yard can help prevent traumatic injuries like fractures. And, while taking care of your dog, you also can help yourself by getting in those regular walks – maybe neither you nor your dog will end up at the orthopaedic surgeon’s office anytime soon.