The Bionic Dog

Technological advances let veterinarians rebuild dogs from the paws up.

By | Posted: Tue May 30 00:00:00 PDT 2000

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A speedy surgery minimizes complications, and it takes experience and excellent tools to do a fast, precise job. "Our surgical team has been working together since 1993, and we do six or seven dogs each day," Dr. Fallon said. "That adds up to over 215 total hips at our facility." Besides the three surgeons, the team includes one scrub technician, one technician monitoring anesthesia and three technicians performing non-sterile duties. "The entire team works together, giving our total attention to one dog at a time," Dr. Fallon added.

Owners expect recovery to be difficult, so the reality is usually a pleasant surprise. "These dogs are up and walking on the leg the day of the surgery, usually supporting 50 percent to 90 percent of their weight on the freshly operated leg," Dr. Olmstead said. That's as good as most could do before the surgery. For full recovery, the dog is restricted to leash walking on flat surfaces for eight to 12 weeks and must be kept off stairs and slippery surfaces during this time. After the joint is well healed, the dog can take as much exercise as it wants - and some dogs want a lot. "I've had dogs win international field trials with a total hip in place," Dr. Olmstead said.

Although both Maxwell's hips were painful before surgery, replacing one hip seems to have improved both. This doesn't surprise the surgeons, who say 85 percent of patients with severe bilateral dysplasia end up needing only one hip removed. "You always do one first and see how he does," Dr. Dyce said.

As with any surgery, total hip replacement isn't risk-free. "Most complications are rather minor," Dr. Dyce said. "We can fix fractures, tighten implants and replace dislocated joints in dogs that have these problems after surgery." Catastrophic complications - death on the surgery table because of anesthetic accident or embolization, the sudden obstruction of a blood vessel by fat dislodged during placement of the implant - are very rare. The worst, and most common, enemy is infection. "Bacteria love to live on implants, and they usually won't go away unless we remove the entire implant," Dr. Dyce said. To avoid infected implants, the dog will need antibiotics whenever it's likely bacteria may shed into its bloodstream, such as during dental work or when the dog cuts itself.

"When we looked at the X-rays with Dr. Nisson, he tried to explain that Maxwell could be better than new after the surgery," Natalie Seftas said. "We told him we couldn't care less if he was better than new - we loved him just the way he was. We just wanted him free of his pain. I can honestly tell you that he's like a puppy now. It just amazes me."

Maxwell has his new hip - and new life - almost three years now, without any complications. And yes, that Golden can jump.

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