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The cervical spine makes up the entirety of the support structure of a dog's neck, providing flexibility for the head to move around and protection for the spinal cord. However, in certain circumstances the cervical spine can become destabilized, putting inordinate amounts of pressure on connective tissues and the spinal cord itself. This can lead to the dog experiencing great amounts of pain as well as possible loss of coordination in certain body parts, and even paralysis. In order to avoid this, the vet can attempt to permanently stabilize the neck by using metal fixtures implanted along the ventral (frontal) face of the spinal column.
Before the operation can start, the surgeon will have to disinfect and shave a patch of the dog's skin on the frontal or side portion of its neck after anesthetizing the animal. Next, an incision will be made in the skin and the tissues below will be moved aside, with extra care being taken to not damage the trachea, esophagus, or major blood vessels. The vertebrae that are to be fused together will have already been selected prior to the operation, so the surgeon will remove the cartilage separating these bones right away. This will allow the bones to merge properly over time. Next, a metal plate will be laid against the bones and the screws will be used to affix them to it. At this stage, a bone graft taken from elsewhere on the dog's body may also be applied to the spaces between the vertebrae. Finally, the wound will be sutured shut and disinfected and the dog will be allowed to wake up.
Following the procedure, there will be an almost immediate improvement of the dog's condition, with much of the pain being alleviated. However, due to the need for the dog to rest and recuperate, the full extent of their recovery may not become evident for some time. Due to the radical nature of the ventral cervical stabilization surgery, some owners may be reticent to allow their dog to be operated on. Instead, they may prefer to opt for alternative treatments such as physiotherapy to address problems with spinal mobility. Although these treatments can be effective in the short term, it should be kept in mind that in some cases, the dog's condition will continue to deteriorate over time.
After the operation has been completed, the dog may need to be kept in the vet's clinic for several days for observation before they can be allowed to go home. This is because complications after the surgery may need a fast response to ensure that there is no damage to the spinal cord. In total, most animals can expect to be healed within the space of a month, though older or infirm dogs may need a few weeks longer in order to recover. Owners will also have to provide the dog with regular doses of painkillers until their surgical wounds have healed, as well as antibiotics to prevent an infection. It should be kept in mind that the vet will want to arrange appointments after the procedure in order to check that the dog is recovering properly. Additionally, they may want to book physiotherapy sessions for the animal, which may prove invaluable in aiding their recovery.
Ventral cervical stabilization is (as is most spinal surgery) a fairly complex undertaking, which requires a large amount of knowledge and technical skill to properly carry out. Because of this, the price of such an operation can be quite high, with many veterinary hospitals charging in excess of $2,500. On top of this, factors such as the age of the dog and accompanying medical issues can raise the price even further. For this reason, some owners may opt for alternative treatments such as physiotherapy, which can cost just a few hundred dollars per month. However, it should be remembered that this method of treatment will not necessarily resolve the issue by itself.
There are some attendant risks associated with spinal surgery that may give some owners second thoughts. The most prevalent risk factor is the threat posed to the dog's life by potential infections. Due to the proximity of the surgical wound to the central nervous system, a bacterial infection of the surgical site could have devastating consequences for the health of the dog. However, by making sure that the animal receives the proper antibiotics and aftercare instructions are properly followed, the likelihood of this problem occurring can be substantially reduced. Likewise, some owners are also nervous about the prospect of damage to the spinal cord happening during the procedure itself. However this risk can be mostly averted by having a qualified surgeon carry out the operation.
The majority of serious injuries to the cervical spine occur as a result of road traffic accidents. To prevent this from happening, owners can invest in training for their dog which can help them behave appropriately around roads. Whilst training can be very effective for younger animals, older dogs may require additional measures to be taken to ensure their safety; enclosing the property with a fence to prevent them from straying and keeping them on a lead in urban areas can help a lot with keeping them out of the path of vehicles.
Cancers can be much harder to predict, due to fact that they are mostly inherited. However, by keeping a close watch for sudden changes in the dog's health, owners may be able to catch the disease in its early stages, thereby making it much easier to treat.
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