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Strong bones, joints, ligaments, and
muscles are vital to healthy movement and a healthy lifestyle in
animals. Now, when these functions go awry in a pet due to
unhealthy habits or unfortunate circumstances, a pet's quality of
life can still be sustained due to the modern day procedures of
orthopedics in veterinary medicine.
Dr. Sharon Kerwin, professor at the
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences (CVM) and a specialist in orthopedics and neurosurgery,
says that orthopedics is the treatment or prevention of conditions
affecting the bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles. Kerwin notes
that orthopedic procedures in animals are much more advanced than
most people are aware of.
"We perform many of the same types of
procedures that are available for treatment of similar problems in
humans, with the goal of getting the injured animal back to normal
activities as quickly and comfortably as possible," Kerwin
explains. "Advances in anesthesia, implant technology, pain
control, and physical rehabilitation have made this a great time to
access top quality care for animals with injury or disease of the
bones and joints."
Kerwin says that two of the most common
problems she sees in dogs and cats are cranial cruciate ligament
disease (similar to an ACL tear in humans) and hip dysplasia.
Twenty years ago, affected patients of these problems would have
resulted in cases of crippling osteoarthritis. Fortunately, with
today's modern conveniences and knowledgeable specialists, these
patients may enjoy full recoveries.
The Veterinary Medical Teaching
Hospital (VMTH) at the CVM is trained and equipped to cover
orthopedic problems in many different species.
"On the large animal side, there is an
active sports medicine, lameness, and trauma service that provides
arthroscopy [minimally invasive surgery using an arthroscope to
treat damage in the interior of the joint] and fracture repair for
horses and other large animal species," Kerwin explains. "Our
exotic and zoo animal service often sees birds, pocket pets, and
exotic animals with bone and joint problems, many of which can be
treated successfully. While dogs traditionally have been more
common patients than cats, we are beginning to discover that
orthopedic disease, particularly osteoarthritis, is emerging as a
major health problem for cats over 10 years of age."
Orthopedic diseases have not yet been
confirmed to be related to just hereditary or environmental
conditions. A lot of research has been targeted toward the
inherited basis of the more common orthopedic diseases. Kerwin
suggests that orthopedic problems can spur from both
"There is definitely a hereditary basis
for hip dysplasia, with multiple genes involved." Kerwin says.
"Environment plays a big role as well, with diet and exercise as
key factors involved in the development of signs of problems in
affected animals. Certain types of problems are more likely to
occur in certain breeds of dogs and cats. For example, the Scottish
Fold breed of cat is predisposed to the development of
Preventative measures are always
important for owners to keep in mind, and there are many
preventative measures that may help alleviate future orthopedic
Kerwin suggests that the best thing you
can do to prevent many diseases is to keep your pet healthy and
in-shape. This will not only help to ease orthopedic diseases, but
it will help in all aspects of your pet's
Kerwin explains that, "research in dogs
indicates that dogs kept in an appropriate body condition will live
two years longer than their overweight counterparts, which is a
very long time in dog years. In addition, their risk for
osteoarthritis is much lower."
Kerwin also points out the necessary
environmental precautions that an owner can take on a day-to-day
basis. Such as, allowing your "trained" dog to ride in the back of
the truck may result in a tragic accident or even death. Always
keep your pet on a leash in an unfamiliar environment to keep them
out of harm's way. If you have a house cat, ensure that all of the
furniture is secured to the wall and will not fall in case your cat
likes to explore.
Kerwin is enthusiastic about where
veterinary orthopedics has come. But, she also understands what is
possible in the future and that there are a couple of challenges to
"Although this is a great time for
veterinary orthopedics, we have a lot of work left to do," Kerwin
says. "Educating pet owners regarding prevention of orthopedic
disease is very important and an ongoing challenge. In addition,
orthopedic treatments can be very expensive, and we would like to
explore ways to provide the best care possible in the most
cost-effective way to reach the largest number of pets. Further
work is needed, particularly in cats, regarding causes of
orthopedic diseases and preventive strategies. For dogs, better
outcome assessments are needed to help decide which treatments are
best, just as in people."
The VMTH at the CVM is always eager to
help educate pet owners and work with pets affected by orthopedic
diseases. For more information on veterinary orthopedics, please
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