What is Hemilaminectomy?

Hemilaminectomy is a surgical procedure used in dogs to correct slipped or herniated discs in the thoracolumbar spine. The thoracolumbar spine is located in the upper and middle region of the spine. Some cases of thoracolumbar intervertebral disc disease may be treated using conservative methods such as medications and exercise restriction. In fact, these are typically the first line of treatment for acute cases. Hemilaminectomy is usually recommended for severe and recurring cases. Dwarf dog breeds, including the Dachshund, English bulldog, and Welsh Corgi, have a predisposition for developing intervertebral disc disease.

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Hemilaminectomy Procedure in Dogs

  1. Before surgery, diagnostic imaging will be conducted to visualize the affected disc. This can be achieved through myelogram, MRI, or CT scan.
  2. Blood work will be taken to ensure it is safe for the dog to undergo anesthetization.
  3. The dog will be anesthetized.
  4. A catheter and breathing tube are placed. Analgesics and anesthesia will be administered throughout surgery.
  5. The operative area will be shaved, cleaned, and clipped.
  6. The surgeon will incise the skin and subcutaneous fat tissues.
  7. A periosteal elevator is used to remove the connective tissue surrounding the bones of the spine.
  8. The surgeon will use a high-speed burr to remove the lamina, or vertebral bone, and expose the spinal cord.
  9. A specialized pick will be used to remove the remaining thin layer of bone covering the spinal cord.
  10. The ruptured disc material will be removed.
  11. A fat graft will be placed over the exposed portion of the spinal cord prior to incision closure.
  12. The dog will be hospitalized for up to seven days.

Efficacy of Hemilaminectomy in Dogs

The efficacy of this procedure will depend on the severity and symptoms of the slipped disc, although the prognosis is generally good. It is a decompression surgery, meaning that it relieves compression on the spinal cord. This usually resolves symptoms. For less severe cases, surgery carries an average success rate of 96%. Hemilaminectomy may not be as successful for dogs that do not have any sensation in their toes, or have more than one slipped disc. In these cases, it is more likely that the dog will not respond to conservative treatment. The surgery success rate for severe cases can still be as high as 76%.

Hemilaminectomy Recovery in Dogs

During hospitalization, the dog will receive twenty-four hour care. The dog will be discharged within three to seven days. Analgesics will be prescribed to manage postoperative pain. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to prevent infection. Strict cage rest is required for up to one month after surgery, or per surgeon instructions. Owners should ensure that their dog’s crate is padded and comfortable to prevent bedsores. A sling may help support the hind limbs during the recovery process, particularly when the dog is urinating and defecating. If owners observe abnormal urination behavior or symptoms of urinary tract infection, they should consult their vet immediately.

The sutures will be removed within ten to fourteen days after surgery. If owners observe swelling, drainage, or bleeding near the surgery site, they should contact their vet immediately. After the sutures are removed, the veterinarian may recommend rehabilitation therapy to speed up the recovery process. 

Cost of Hemilaminectomy in Dogs

The cost of hemilaminectomy in dogs will vary based on standards of living and additional costs incurred. On average, the cost of hemilaminectomy ranges from $2,700 to $4,800 and includes the cost of preoperative testing and postoperative hospitalization.

Dog Hemilaminectomy Considerations

Complications associated with hemilaminectomy include, but may not be limited to:

  • Perioperative trauma to the spinal cord
  • Infection
  • Hemorrhage
  • Seizures
  • Recurrence of the condition
  • Lameness

Although spinal surgery is complex, these complications are considered rare in dogs. It is important to note that some of these complications may not be associated with the surgery. Sometimes, the dog’s condition is so severe that it does not respond to surgery.

Hemilaminectomy Prevention in Dogs

Intervertebral disc disease associated with breed or genetics is difficult to prevent. However, it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure their dogs do not engage in activities that may result in severe spinal cord trauma. These may include falling from heights and being hit by a vehicle.