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Arthrodesis is a procedure that fuses the bones of a joint together in order to form one continuous structure. It is usually done in response to damage or prolonged illness causing a joint to lose much of its functionality and inflict a large amount of pain on the dog. Partial carpal arthrodesis involves fusing together some of the bones found in a dog's wrist, thereby alleviating the symptoms of the damaged joint but still allowing some degree of articulation so that the animal can easily move around. Due to the drastic nature of the procedure it is generally only used as a last resort, either after other methods of treatment have failed or after the condition has become advanced.
Prior to beginning the operation, the vet will anesthetize the dog with a general anesthetic, preventing them from moving or feeling pain during the surgery. They will then shave a portion of the dog's wrist and apply an antiseptic in order to prevent contaminants from entering the body. The vet will then make an incision along the dog's forelimb and part the supporting tissue to expose the joint. At this point, the cartilage will be extracted from the joint and the bones aligned against one another before being secured in place with metal rods and screws. After this has been completed, a bone graft (typically consisting of shavings taken from elsewhere on the wrist) will be applied into the space between the bones, facilitating their growing together. The surgeon will then be able to put the supporting tissues back in place and suture the wound shut. In total, the procedure can be expected to take roughly two hours.
The partial carpal arthrodesis is very effective at ensuring the dog retains the use of its forelimb, whilst simultaneously removing the cause of their joint pain. With no movement in the affected part of the joint, there is no way for the discomfort to return. The effect of the procedure will be permanent, not only in terms of the improvement of the dog's quality of life, but also with regards to the somewhat reduced level of agility they will experience with the joint properly fused in place. Some owners may find the concept of fusing part of the dog's wrist unpalatable and may look for alternative treatments such as rest, physiotherapy, and more minor surgeries to repair supporting structures. Whilst these methods can be effective for a dog with a relatively minor injury, most dogs with a serious wrist problem will only see results if their levels of activity are substantially reduced in order to lessen the strain on the limb.
Following the surgery, the dog will have to remain relatively immobile for a few weeks in order to allow the bones to fuse together optimally. Although the metal fixtures implanted into the wrist will take the strain of movement, most vets will advise restricting the animal's level of activity at least until the surgical incision has visibly healed. Additionally, they will require antibiotics and painkillers, in order to lessen the chances of infection and the temptation to scratch at the wound. The majority of dogs will be fully healed in a couple of months, with the ability to resume regular exercise within just three or four weeks. The vet will almost definitely want to schedule a couple of follow-up exams, both to check that there are no complications arising from the operation and to ensure the wrist is functioning as intended.
The price of a partial carpal arthrodesis can be quite high, with factors such as the age of the dog and the availability of qualified surgeons impacting on the precise amount. Most procedures of this nature can be expected to cost between $2,000 and $3,000, due to the complexity and length of the operation. Alternative treatments can cost much less, with physiotherapy usually costing several hundred dollars per month and more minor surgeries ranging in the high hundreds. It should be kept in mind, however, that these options are not guaranteed to have a lasting result.
Although the operation can be extremely effective at providing a solution for wrist joint degeneration in dogs, some owners may have concerns regarding the procedure. One of the most commonly mentioned reservations is regarding the sourcing of the material for the bone graft. Dog owners sometimes fear that by shaving material from one of the leg bones, it may result in an even more weakened limb. Although this is not usually the case in otherwise healthy dogs, the vet can often opt for an alternative source of graft material (such as the pelvis) in order to allay such fears. Infection is also commonly mentioned as a concern but with the proper precautions taken during aftercare, there should be very little risk.
Unfortunately, arthritis is simply a fact of life for many animals and is a consequence of old age. That said, by getting plenty of exercise a dog can strengthen the supporting muscles of its legs and can thus properly stabilize its forelegs and reduce the amount of stress placed on its joints. Damage to cartilage is easier to avoid, as the majority of dogs that suffer from it frequently perform high-impact actions such as jumping down from the tailgates of vehicles or from high ledges. By installing a step for the dog, the repetitive stress this action places on the wrists and knees can be dramatically reduced.
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