What are Arthrocentesis?
Arthrocentesis, which is also known as a joint tap, is a procedure that involves analyzing the synovial fluid in a dog’s joints in order to diagnose joint conditions. This minimally invasive procedure involves using a needle to draw the synovial fluid into an empty syringe. This fluid is then examined under a microscope. This can provide a definitive diagnosis quickly. For some cases, the synovial fluid will need to be examined by a pathologist. Dogs undergoing arthrocentesis will not be anesthetized. However, sedation will be necessary because the procedure is painful.
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Arthrocentesis Procedure in Dogs
- The veterinarian will first conduct a thorough physical examination and take x-rays to assess the condition.
- A short-acting sedative is administered.
- The skin around the joint to be examined will be clipped and cleaned.
- The joint is then palpated prior to needle insertion.
- Joint fluid is obtained by pulling back the plunger of the needle.
- The vet will then withdraw the needle from the joint.
- One drop of joint fluid is added to a slide, which the vet will examine using a microscope. If bacterial infection is suspected, another slide will be prepared for cytologic examination.
The color and viscosity of the fluid, as well as any abnormal bacterial present, will indicate underlying disease. Normal synovial fluid is clear and viscous.
Efficacy of Arthrocentesis in Dogs
Arthrocentesis is a safe, effective method for diagnosing joint conditions quickly. It provides the veterinarian and the owner with a definitive diagnosis the same day, which means treatment can begin right away. Because it does not require anesthesia or elaborate equipment, it is also cost-effective for the owner. Additionally, there are few complications associated with arthrocentesis, none of which are severe or life-threatening.
Arthrocentesis Recovery in Dogs
Because it is minimally invasive, dogs will not need to recover from the procedure. You should monitor your dog carefully for the first few hours afterward while the sedative wears off. If you notice any complications or allergic reactions following the procedure, consult your veterinarian immediately. Always administer any prescribed medications exactly as directed. Follow-up appointments will be scheduled as necessary to administer treatment for the underlying condition.
Cost of Arthrocentesis in Dogs
The cost of arthrocentesis will vary based on standards of living and the cost of additional diagnostic testing. The average price of arthrocentesis in dogs, not including pre-procedural x-rays and physical examination, ranges from $300 to $500. This figure does not include the cost of treatment for the underlying condition.
Dog Arthrocentesis Considerations
Arthrocentesis is safe, and complications are rare. The primary complication associated with arthrocentesis is infection, which is treated with a standard antibiotic regimen. However, infection occurs much less often in joints compared to other areas of the body. In extremely rare cases, dogs may suffer from an allergic reaction to the sedative.
For cases of septic arthritis – with or without accompanying bacterial infection – arthrocentesis may return a false negative test result. This occurs in 30% to 50% of cases. If the veterinarian suspects the dog has septic arthritis despite a negative result, they will prescribe an antibiotic regimen as an extra precaution. They may also choose to take samples of synovial tissue to confirm the diagnosis.
Arthrocentesis Prevention in Dogs
Joint conditions may be difficult to prevent, particularly in older dogs. Some joint conditions are congenital or associated with aging. You should make sure your dog does not participate in activities that may cause significant trauma to the joints. Dogs treated for joint conditions, particularly those associated with genetics, should not be bred.
Arthrocentesis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 9 year old female retriever mix has been limping on her left rear leg for over a month now. She has trouble getting up, is hesitant to put weight on it and "tiptoes". Even drinking water, her left foot is in a tiptoe postition. Xrays of her hock and knee are normal. She as been on Zenaquin and Rimadyl for 2 weeks without any improvement and the hock joint is swollen slightly. We live in a small town and she will be seen by a visiting orthopedic vet next week. Do you think a joint tap is necessary? We are also worried about a sarcoma in the joint, although all her labs are normal. Should she also have a chest xray to see if there is metastasis from a possible cancer? The vet is stumped and we are just trying to figure out our next step if the ortho vet is stumped too.
Most common causes of hock swelling and lameness would be ruled out by x-ray and if the hock and stifle (knee) joints are clear (like osteochondrosis dissecans), then other causes for joint swelling would need to be explored; synovial sarcomas are usually visible on x-rays and if the hock is clear this is less likely. At this point it would be best to wait for the Orthopaedic Specialist to take a look as it seems it isn’t a usual case and may require a more comprehensive workup and neurological examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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