What is Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Over the course of a dog's life, it is normal for the animal to incur a degree of wear and tear to its joints, including the spinal column. However, in some cases the damage to the spine can be so great that the only way to resolve the issue is via a surgical solution. 'Spinal fusion' takes several vertebrae that were once articulating separately (but are now damaged) and joins them together to form one continuous structure. Although this results in varying degrees of lost mobility for the dog, it does increase the stability of the spine overall. This can correct a multitude of issues such as pain and immobility and provide the dog with a better quality of life. It should be remembered, however, that the procedure is generally seen by vets as last resort to resolve massively debilitating conditions and is by no means a first line of defense.

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Spinal Fusion Surgery Procedure in Dogs

Before the surgery can commence, the vet will have to render the dog unconscious using a general anesthetic, which is usually delivered in the form of a gas. The dog will also have the area of the operation shaved and disinfected to both allow the surgeon a good view of the area and prevent harmful bacteria from entering the animal's body. To begin, the vet will make a lengthwise incision along the targeted the section of spine and move the skin and underlying tissues aside to reveal the spinal column. They will then be able to carefully remove the disks of cartilage that separate the vertebrae that are going to be fused. When this has been completed, the vertebrae will be aligned and fixed in place. This is done by implanting metal plates along the sides of the bones and attaching them with screws. The next step is to give the dog a bone graft (normally taken from the hip) for each space between the vertebrae, each one using a specially formed 'cage' to hold it in position. After this is complete, the surgeon will be able to clean the wound, fix the connective tissues back in place and suture the skin closed.

Efficacy of Spinal Fusion Surgery in Dogs

The procedure will immediately result in the stabilization of the damaged section of the spine. That said, it may place large restrictions on the dog's mobility depending on the number of vertebrae that have been fused together. Because of the drastic nature of the operation, some owners and vets prefer to use alternative treatment methods such as medication, supplements and physiotherapy to treat spinal problems in all but the worst cases. However, if the dog is afflicted by serious degeneration of the connective tissues in the spine, this may prove to be a losing battle.

Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery in Dogs

Following the surgery, the dog will need to rest for several weeks in order to let the surgical wound heal. Although the internal fixtures in the dog's spine will keep the bones held firmly in place, it is best for the animal if they stick light exercise only during the recovery period. In most cases, the dog will be back to normal after four to six weeks, with the vet arranging regular checkups to make sure that the wound is healing properly. The dog will also need to take painkillers and a course of antibiotics for the first few weeks as precautionary measures against discomfort and infection, respectively. Owners should note that due to the sensitive nature of spinal surgery, the dog may be held at the clinic for up to a week after the procedure so that the vet can quickly respond to any problems.

Cost of Spinal Fusion Surgery in Dogs

It goes without saying that spinal fusion surgery is a very intricate and time-consuming procedure, requiring a surgical team with a solid base of knowledge, skill, and experience. Because of this, the surgery can be quite expensive, often costing between $2,000 and $3,000, with most clinics and hospitals charging in excess of two and a half thousand dollars. Alternatives such as physiotherapy and painkillers are much cheaper in the short-term, at a few hundred dollars per month, though their effectiveness may prove to be limited.

Dog Spinal Fusion Surgery Considerations

Whilst spinal fusion can provide a great deal of relief to dogs suffering from major damage to and degradation of the spinal column, some owners are understandably reticent to put their animal through such an invasive procedure. One of the main concerns that is commonly voiced pertains to potential damage to the spinal cord during surgery. Although there is always an element of risk with any surgical procedure, it can be minimized if owners use the resources available to them to research particular hospitals and clinics in order to find one that they can trust to carry out the operation successfully. A second source of worry is to do with the possibility of infection occurring after the operation and further hurting the dog's back. If proper aftercare procedures are followed and the dog is closely monitored, the chances of this happening drop significantly.

Spinal Fusion Surgery Prevention in Dogs

Unfortunately, many bone cancers can be almost impossible to prevent or predict, even if genetic screening has already shown the dog to be susceptible. However, environmental causes such as arthritis can be warded off by keeping the dog in good physical condition. Regular exercise will help maintain the animal's musculature and the tissues that support the spine, preventing small injuries that can grow worse over time. Also, making sure to keep the animal away from roads and trained on how to behave around traffic will minimize the chances of an accident that could require surgery to resolve.