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03.10.14

Disk Surgery

Just like people, dogs are susceptible to disk injuries due to heavy reliance on their spine for various movement and activities. Although moderate injuries can sometimes be cured by rehabilitation techniques or exercises, disk surgery is often needed to ease your pooch’s pain that results from disk herniation, or displacement of disk material into the spinal canal.

“Disk surgery involves creating a window through the spine to access disk material that is compressing neural structures,” said Dr. Jonathan Levine, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “By removing the compressive disk material, we can often alleviate pain and limb weakness.”

Though any surgery carries a degree of risk due to the use of anesthesia, disk surgery in general has a very low rate of associated adverse effects, often below 2 percent.

Prior to surgery, a dog suspected of having disk herniation should have advanced 3-dimensional imaging of the spine to confirm the presence of displaced disk material. “In order to perform advanced imaging, we will anesthetize dogs to make sure they are perfectly still,” said Levine. “Prior to anesthesia, blood work is drawn and a physical examination is performed to ensure that procedures will be safe.” Dr. Levine explained that an MRI is the most frequently performed advanced imaging procedure for diagnosing disk herniation at Texas A&M, as it offers outstanding tissue detail.

Though the average cost of disk surgery is quite steep, it is well worth it for the alleviation of your dog’s pain and discomfort. At the Texas A&M Veterinary Hospital, there is a package for small dog breeds, which includes examination, advanced imaging, surgery, anesthesia, and seven days of after care for $3500. “We do have active clinical trials that investigate drugs that protect the nervous system, and often trials reduce the cost of medical treatment,” said Levine. “For example, dogs participating in our U.S. Department of Defense Study have 3 dimensional imaging, disk surgery, and rehabilitation for a $1200 cost.”

After the procedure is complete, most dogs are able to leave the hospital within seven days of surgery. They are sent home with a physical rehabilitation exercise program to help the recovery process along. “In dogs that go into surgery with intact limb sensation, more than 90% will regain the ability to walk within two weeks,” said Levine. “Dogs with severe injury will have a lower rate of recovery and ambulation, between 50 and 60%, and recovery time can be longer.”

It is important to treat disk herniation in a timely manner to avoid the condition worsening over time. If left untreated for too long, there is a chance that your dog may suffer from permanent damage or even immobility. A dog that can freely move around without pain or discomfort is a happy one, and a happy dog makes for a happy owner.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.



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