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Overview of Orthopedic Surgery and Recovery



There are three main indications for orthopedic surgery in our pets: 

  1. Emergency situations: A fractured limb is the most common emergency indication for orthopedic surgery in our pets. In situations where there was unknown or high energy trauma, such as being hit by a vehicle, surgery should be delayed until your primary veterinarian is confident that there is no internal (chest or abdominal) trauma that could be life threatening to your pet.  

  2. Prevention of long-term joint damage: A torn cranial cruciate ligament (same as the human ACL), is a common situation where surgery will be advised for your pet because of the irreversible arthritis that will develop without surgery.  

  3. Restoration of function: Patellar luxation (dislocating kneecap) is a common condition that, prior to scheduling surgery, Dr. Lynch will advise you to keep a daily diary to monitor your pet’s comfort, activity, and medication dependency at home over a couple month period. This is to ensure that you, as the pet owner, feel that your pet’s condition is creating a problem that needs to be addressed, which you are committed to improving through surgery.  





There are two broad categories of complications following orthopedic surgery that must be avoided: 


  1. Catastrophic complications: These are devastating to your pet’s outcome but will not occur unless you let them happen. 

    • Incision infection or dehiscence (opening): If you let your pet lick/chew their incision, it will get infected. If you let them keep licking/chewing, then the incision will open completely.  

    • Implant failure (breaking): Your pet is allowed to walk, at a walking pace, on a flat and non-slip surface. No other activity is permitted, as it will invite the risk of implant failure.  

  2. Muscle stiffness/spasms: This is the most underestimated and underrecognized complication with our pet’s orthopedic surgery.  

    • Common sources of muscle spasms, which will lead to longer term muscle stiffness, include slipping on hardwood/tile (most common cause), getting on furniture and incisional inflammation from licking/chewing.  

    • See the later sections about how to prepare yourself, your home and your pet in the weeks leading up to surgery to prevent muscle stiffness 

    • If your pet is exhibiting toe tapping, off-loading, or favoring of their limb in the later weeks of their recovery, then your pet has muscle stiffness. 



Your pet’s pain control during and following their orthopedic surgery with Dr. Lynch comes in three forms. By utilizing pre-emptive local anesthesia (numbing) techniques, your pet is not reliant on post-operative opioid infusions (“drips”) that would keep them in the hospital, cause dysphoria and nausea. 


  1. Peripheral nerve block: Using a very special type of needle, Dr. Lynch can precisely locate the nerves that give sensation to your pet’s limb so that local anesthetic (numbing medication) can be infused around these nerves. This is an extremely effective way to “block” the sensation from that limb during your pet’s surgery. This nerve block begins to wear off about 12 hours after surgery, but it is common that you will notice its effects for up to a few days after (see later). 

  2. Local anesthesia (numbing medication) at the surgery site itself: This type of local anesthetic (numbing medication) is formulated to last for 72 hours and will help keep your pet’s surgical site comfortable. Bruising is common with this medication (see later). 

  3. Oral medications: Anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) are the most important oral pain medication during the first week post-surgery to help resolve the surgical inflammation. Other pain medications your pet may be sent home with include gabapentin or tramadol, which have no anti-inflammatory function.  


If you have concerns about your pet’s comfort, then please contact your hospital.  

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