While arthroscopy has many uses in veterinary medicine, it's not used for the diagnosis or treatment of canine spinal calcium deposits. Such deposits result from mineralization of the discs between the bones in the dog's spinal column, a condition known as intervertebral disc disease or IVDD. Instead of acting as a cushion, the discs calcify and harden, often causing severe pain and even paralysis.
Intervertebral disc disease falls into two basic types. The first is a herniated disc, a sudden rupture of the jellylike disc material into the spinal canal. The second type, which results in calcification, occurs because of long-term disc degeneration. In mild cases of either type, a dog might be treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication, but dogs in great pain or with limited mobility require surgery. If your regular vet suspects your dog is suffering from IVDD, she will refer you to a specialist, generally a veterinary neurologist.
While any dog can suffer from IVDD, certain breeds are more prone to the condition. These primarily consist of chondrodystrophoid -- or dwarf -- breeds, who are specifically bred for short legs. While dachshunds are most commonly affected, other susceptible chondrodystrophoid breeds include beagles, cocker spaniels, Welsh corgis, Lhasa apsos, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, and toy and miniature poodles. At-risk nondwarf breeds include the German shepherd, Doberman pinscher and Labrador retriever. Plenty of mixed breeds also come down with IVDD, especially overweight canines.
In order to diagnose IVDD, a veterinary surgeon generally relies on computed tomography scans, which clearly show calcified disc material. While computed tomography scans aren't invasive, your dog might also require a myelogram, which requires anesthesia. A dye is injected around the spinal cord so that a subsequent X-ray offers clear visualization of the spinal cord's outline and any abnormalities. After diagnosis, the surgeon might schedule a hemilaminectomy, a procedure to remove the calcified material and relieve spinal cord pressure. Recuperation from a hemilaminectomy can take months. During the recovery period, a dog undergoes a long period of rest and inactivity, although some physical therapy is also involved.
If your dog suffers from joint disease, minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery can serve both diagnosis and treatment. The vet makes a few small incisions in your dog's skin, inserting arthroscopic instruments. These include a tiny camera that magnifies photos of the joint onto a screen, allowing the surgeon to clearly see the joint and use tools to repair damage. In dogs, arthroscopy is often used for treatment of elbow dysplasia, bone chips, torn cruciate ligaments, stifle injuries, osteochondritis dessicans and other conditions.
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