What is Facetectomy?

Facet joints exist in the spine between the vertebrae. These synovial joints control movement of the spine and help bear an animal’s weight. When issues exist that affect these joints, a dog may begin to exhibit severe signs of pain. It may also experience both urinary and fecal incontinence. The muscles of the back and limbs may also begin to atrophy.

Attempts will be made to control this issue using medications. Often times, physiotherapy is also used to alleviate back pain in dogs. If this treatment fails, surgery will be needed. A facetectomy can decrease pressure on the spine. Either a portion of the joint or the entire joint will be removed. This can be done on one or both sides of the spine. An ACVS board-certified veterinary surgeon who specializes in spinal surgeries should be used for this procedure.

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Facetectomy Procedure in Dogs

To diagnose problems of the spine, advanced imaging such as an MRI or CT scan will be needed. This can also assist the surgeon in planning the surgery. Blood work will need to be completed to determine the dog's overall health condition. Dogs who are advanced in age or who suffer from severe health issues may not be good candidates for general anesthesia use. 

Before the surgery is done, the dog will need to fast for several hours. The back will be shaved and cleaned prior to incision. A sedative will be given to the animal and an endotracheal tube will be inserted. General anesthesia will be administered in a gaseous form through this tube. The dog's breathing and heart rate will need to be monitored throughout the operation. 

The dog will be placed with its spine as straight as possible. An incision will be made down the spine to expose the affected facet joint. Various surgical tools and drills will be used to remove part or all of the joint. A bone graft will then be placed in the area where the joint was located. Screws may be used to stabilize the joint. The cavity will be washed out with an antibiotic saline solution. Any open blood vessels will need to be cauterized shut. The layers of tissue can then be closed with sutures. 

Efficacy of Facetectomy in Dogs

When performed correctly, a facetectomy can successfully alleviate the negative symptoms associated with spinal injuries and disorders. Partial facetectomies are more often successful than complete facetectomies due to the increased stability that the dog is left with. This surgery can be paired with discectomies and lumbar laminotomies or fusions.

Facetectomy Recovery in Dogs

A dressing will need to be placed over the incision site as soon as the operation has been completed. This dressing will need to be replaced every day. The dog will be closely monitored as it wakes up from the general anesthesia, and all monitors will stay on until the animal is stable. Pain medication can be given as soon as the dog is conscious. 

The dog will not be allowed to move four several hours after the surgery has been performed. All activity will need to be decreased for up to three weeks after the procedure. A leash will be needed for all outdoor time. The dog will need a harness instead of a collar for the remainder of its life after this surgery. A prescription of antibiotics will be given for 5-10 days following the operation. If the dog begins to exhibit any strange neurological symptoms, it should be brought back to the surgeon. A follow-up appointment will be needed two weeks after the procedure to remove all sutures.

Cost of Facetectomy in Dogs

This surgery can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000. There are many different variables that can affect this price. Advanced imaging can cost up to $1,000 on its own. Many neurological examinations and other tests are needed before the surgery can actually be performed. If a specialist is used, the procedure will likely be more expensive than if it is completed by a general veterinary surgeon. Medications and harnesses to be used after the procedure will also add to the overall price. 

Dog Facetectomy Considerations

As with all surgeries,the use of general anesthesia comes with rare but serious health risks. Some dogs experience cardiac arrest or severe breathing difficulties. Incisions of the spine can become infected, which can lead to other complications. 

If the nerve root is damaged during the surgery, the dog may experience chronic pain or instability. If the dog is severely unstable, a second surgery may be needed to fuse the spine. The area that has been operated on can be prone to disc herniation following a facetectomy. In some instances, cerebrospinal fluid can leak from the surgical site. 

Facetectomy Prevention in Dogs

Preventing the need for spinal surgery begins with the breeding process. Dogs who present with spinal issues should not be bred, so as not to pass these conditions on. When obtaining an animal, always ask for the family health history to identify potential health problems early on. Trauma that leads to spinal injuries may be prevented by the use of a leash during walks. Vigorous play should also be discouraged for the same reason. 

Cancer of the spinal area may be hereditary, but can also be acquired due to environmental factors. Exposure to toxins such as car exhaust and cigarette smoke has been proven to increase the development of cancer in dogs. Avoiding known carcinogens often is healthier for the owners as well.