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What does “Orthopaedics” mean on a vet’s website, and it is important?

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Finding a well-rounded veterinary practice can have a multitude of perks, especially if they offer a wide range of services. This avoids being referred to different practices if a certain treatment option is required. Most practices boast an internal laboratory, operating theatre and ultrasound imaging, however, what about orthopaedic services? Let’s discover what orthopaedics means and why it might be important for a veterinary practice to offer these services.

What is orthopaedics?

Orthopaedics is a term that relates to the medical treatment of structures found within the musculoskeletal system. The most common need for orthopaedics within veterinary is usually associated with bones, such as fracture repairs. Other areas which are covered by the term orthopaedics include muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. 

Some practices may have a vet who specialises or has a specific interest in orthopaedic procedures. This may be useful if an animal requires an orthopaedic procedure, allowing continuity by staying at the original veterinary practice as opposed to being referred to a different practice.

It is important to remember that whilst some practices may have an orthopaedic vet, this does not mean that all orthopaedic treatments are available. In some cases, an animal may need to be referred to a different practice for treatment as another orthopaedic vet may have more experience with that particular procedure.

What is an example of an orthopaedic procedure?

There are many weird and wonderful orthopaedic procedures that may be carried out at a veterinary practice, whether it’s a first opinion practice or a referral centre. Let’s look at some of the common orthopaedic procedures that are often carried out.

Luxating patella surgery 

This is a condition that is fairly common in dogs and sometimes in cats. The patella is the kneecap, found within the hindlimb of an animal and it moves up and down during mobilisation. It is found within a groove that forms the knee joint. In some instances, the patella can dislocate out of this joint, causing pain and discomfort to the animal. 

Luxating patella surgery can be carried out by deepening the groove of the femur in which the patella sits. The prognosis is usually good following patella surgery with most patients gaining full use of the limb.

Symptoms of a luxating patella can include:

  • Limping on the affected leg
  • Not being able to weight bear
  • Constantly licking at the knee joint
  • Performing a ‘skipping’ motion when running or walking
  • ‘Bunny hopping’ when running
  • Depression

Cruciate ligament surgery

Cruciate ligament surgery may need to be carried out if the cruciate ligaments become damaged. They are found within an animal’s knee joint and help with stabilising the joint. The ligaments help to prevent the femur and the tibia from colliding together. The ligaments are known as the cranial and caudal ligaments and in some instances, these ligaments can tear or snap completely – usually in dogs. 

There are different types of surgeries that can be carried out in order to alleviate symptoms of a torn ligament. Often, a ‘lateral suture’ can be performed, where a suture is placed around the joint to provide stability, essentially replacing the cruciate ligament. Other procedures such as a Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) and a Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA) may be performed, and these procedures involve cutting bones and changing the angles of the joint to better stabilise the limb. 

The prognosis following cruciate ligament surgery is usually good, with most affected dogs regaining full use of the limb post-recovery.

Symptoms of cruciate ligament disease include:

  • Limping on one or both of the hind limbs
  • Excessively licking the knee joint
  • Limping that does not resolve on anti-inflammatory medication 
  • Walking in a strange way
  • Stiffness when attempting to get up and down

Fracture repairs 

Fracture repairs are required in a variety of animals, for instance if a cat has unfortunately been hit by a car, or a dog has taken a tumble whilst running. Fractures can be sustained in almost any bone found within an animal’s body. In some instances, a fracture can be repaired using specialised screws, plates and supports. 

Some practices may be able to repair a fracture in-house, depending on what type of fracture is sustained, otherwise, cases may be referred to a specialised practice. In some cases, complete amputation of the limb may be the only option, when certain types of fractures have been sustained.

What if my practice doesn’t offer orthopaedics?

If your practice does not have an orthopaedic vet or does not offer orthopaedic procedures, do not panic! If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of your animal requiring an orthopaedic procedure, your current vet will be able to find a referral practice for the treatment to be carried out. A referral centre is usually within an hour’s travel of a veterinary practice, but be prepared to travel a fair distance if a specialised procedure is required. 

Final thoughts on orthopaedics 

Whilst it may be extremely useful for a veterinary practice to offer orthopaedic surgery, it does not make or break choosing a practice – other factors may be more important to you and your pet. A veterinary practice will always have an extensive list of referral options available, no matter if it’s orthopaedics, neurology or intensive care. No veterinary practice will be able to offer every medical and surgical option available, so travel to different practices is often required for specialist treatment. 

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