Regular readers will know that Vets within the Donaldson’s Vets group have areas of interest that range from Dermatology to Sheep fertility, from sports-injuries to Rabbit medicine and from Lizards and Snakes to Horses. One of the benefits of being part of a group practice is the collective knowledge that a number of Vets can share.

While enjoying calving cows and seeing horses with colic, my special area of interest is orthopaedics and I am always looking for techniques and procedures that will refine the care that we can offer to our canine and feline patients.

To that end, last week, I completed a course on canine Arthroscopy.

Arthroscopy (also called arthroscopic surgery) is a minimally invasive surgical procedure on a joint in which an examination and sometimes treatment of damage is performed using an arthroscope, an endoscope that is inserted into the joint through a small incision. The arthroscope is attached to a camera allowing visualisation of the joint and assessment of the cartilage. This allows detailed assessment of the joint in a minimally invasive fashion, avoiding some of the risks and discomfort that can be associated with more traditional and extensive ‘open’ surgery.

Arthroscopy is performed with the animal under a general anaesthetic. The hair over the affected joint is clipped off and the skin cleaned, in a similar way to any other surgical procedure. Small incisions, or portals, are then made into the joint to allow introduction of fluid and the arthroscopic camera and instruments.

Because most dogs are smaller than most people, canine arthroscopy involves working inside joints that are smaller than most human surgeons typically deal with. This makes the procedure more technically demanding and requires the use of very small instruments. Because the cameras and instruments are so small, the incisions into the joint only need to be a few millimetres long. As a result, any discomfort after the operation is minimised and recovery can be rapid.

Arthroscopic procedures can be performed to evaluate or treat many orthopaedic conditions including torn cartilage (known by Vets as “meniscus”), torn surface (articular) cartilage, and to remove tiny fragments of bone that can break off within a joint.