Is Your Dog a Candidate for Elbow Replacement?

What You Should Know

Before surgery, your dog must be screened to make sure the wrist and shoulder of the affected leg are in good condition and that he doesn't have any other medical conditions that could make surgery risky. He may need to lose weight before undergoing surgery.

The surgery is complex. It involves performing a CT scan with 3D reconstruction of the elbow, which is then converted to a movie that spins the 3D model continuously on a computer screen so the surgeons can refer to it as they work. The surgery takes two to three hours to complete.

Not every veterinarian is trained in the technique. You will likely have to find a specialist who has performed it. This may require traveling some distance.

Your dog will need to be hospitalized for several days following surgery. Once he's home, he will probably sleep a lot for the first week, or at least not want to do much of anything.

Results aren't immediate. Lameness begins to improve about 12 weeks after surgery and continues to improve for approximately six months. It will be at least that long before your dog is back to normal. He may not be willing to use the repaired leg for the first couple of months, and off-leash activity may be prohibited for some time.

The procedure is expensive. Expect to spend $5,000 to $6,000. Pet health insurance may or may not cover the cost. Some policies do not cover genetic conditions. If the surgery is done at a veterinary school or specialty clinic where surgeons are being trained in the technique, you may get a break on the cost. It can't hurt to ask.

Once they recover, dogs display a noticeable difference in attitude and movement, but if the other elbow is also affected, they may still need rehab in the form of swimming or underwater treadmill work, acupuncture, pain medication, or a special diet designed to aid joint mobility. Some dogs have both elbows replaced, but only one can be done at a time.


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