What is Arthroscopic Surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery, also known as arthroscopy, is a surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat certain joint conditions in pets. This procedure can be an exploratory surgery which allows the vet to better visualize joint problems. This is done using an arthroscope, a specialized tool which is similar to an endoscope in that it has a small camera attached to the end. Arthroscopy can be used for virtually any joint in the cat’s body. Arthroscopy is not a very invasive procedure, although pets will be required to be anesthetized.

Arthroscopic Surgery Procedure in Cats

The exact procedure may vary based on whether arthroscopy is being used to diagnose and/or treat a certain condition. The general procedure steps are outlined below.

  1. Preoperative testing, primarily blood work, may be conducted prior to surgery to ensure anesthetization is safe for the cat.
  2. The cat will then be anesthetized, and the area where the incision will be made is shaved, cleaned, and draped.
  3. The surgeon will then make one to two small incisions into the skin over the joint, and will administer a sterile solution in the area to maximize visualization of the joint.
  4. The surgeon will insert the camera and will take as many images as needed for examination.
  5. If any therapeutic measures are being performed, the surgeon will perform them during this time. This may necessitate the use of forceps to remove bone or cartilage fragments, or an arthroscopic shaver to scale down abnormal tissues.
  6. The surgeon will ensure all fragments have been removed before suturing the incision. 

Efficacy of Arthroscopic Surgery in Cats

Arthroscopy is typically very effective in diagnosing joint conditions in cats. It is less invasive than open-joint surgery, and cats will recover from arthroscopy quickly. Cats do not generally require postoperative hospitalization, and are allowed to go home the same day. Animals that have undergone arthroscopy generally experience little to no postoperative pain. Arthroscopy carries less risk of postoperative swelling and tissue damage as well.

Arthroscopic Surgery Recovery in Cats

The recovery process and duration will depend on why the procedure was performed. Owners should follow their veterinarian’s recovery instructions carefully. Medications to treat the condition, including analgesics, antibiotics, corticosteroids, or nutritional supplements, may be prescribed. Cats may be required to wear an Elizabethan collar or bandage until the sutures are removed or absorbed to avoid irritating the surgery site. In some cases, activity may be restricted while the site heals. Follow-up appointments may be scheduled as needed to remove sutures if required, monitor healing, or administer additional therapies, treatments, or surgeries.

Cost of Arthroscopic Surgery in Cats

The average cost of arthroscopy will vary based on standards of living and additional costs incurred, including medications and other treatment methods. The cost of arthroscopy, including preoperative testing, generally ranges from $2,500 to $3,200.

Cat Arthroscopic Surgery Considerations

Arthroscopy is safer and less invasive than other types of joint surgery. Although complications associated with arthroscopy are considered very rare, they are possible. Complications may include:

  • Swelling of the joint or surgical site
  • Infection
  • Partial removal of bone or cartilage fragments
  • Anesthesia-related death

Swelling of the joint or surgical site rarely occurs, except as a complication of a therapeutic measure. Swelling typically resolves within forty-eight hours. Infection is also very uncommon with orthopedic surgeries. If the surgeon has not removed the full bone or cartilage fragment, this can cause additional problems and pain for the cat. Correcting this may also require a second, more invasive surgery. Anesthetic death is extremely rare in cats undergoing arthroscopy, particularly if preoperative testing has been conducted.

Arthroscopic Surgery Prevention in Cats

It may be difficult to prevent some joint conditions since they occur as a byproduct of the aging process. Some joint conditions, like hip dysplasia, may be congenital or attributed to genetics. It is important that owners prevent their cats from engaging in activities which could result in significant trauma to the joints. Cats that have been diagnosed with joint conditions that are linked to genetic defects should not be bred. Dietary changes may help prevent some joint conditions in cats.