Joint replacements in dogs and cats

Commercially available hip replacements for dogs have been available since 1974. Over the years many different types of prosthesis have been developed, different materials tried and surgical techniques refined. Hip replacements traditionally use a metal ball replacement fitting into a polyethylene (medical-grade plastic) cup. Some of the earliest metal hips were made of stainless steel, now they are titanium alloy coated with diamond-like carbon! Ultra low friction, corrosion and wear resistant.. 

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The most common indication for hip replacement is for severe arthritis as a result of hip dysplasia (poorly designed hips from birth). Traditionally hip replacements were used in larger breed dogs although now mini-hip replacements are available for dogs and cats as small as 2.5kg. 

It’s important to realise that the need for hip replacements are not based solely on radiographic evidence of severe arthritis. Surgery is not advised unless a patient’s clinical signs of hip disease cannot be adequately controlled with medication, weight loss and physical rehabilitation. 

In more recent years knee replacements have also become available. The knee is more of a hinge joint and lends itself to metal and plastic replacement parts successfully.  

However the future of joint replacements in dogs may well be the elbow joint. Elbow arthritis like hip arthritis is usually as a result of elbow dysplasia. Elbow arthritis is very common and difficult to manage once it has formed. The challenge in the elbow is that there are three bones all fitting together and not only does the joint have a hinge like motion but also rotates inwards and outwards. Many different designs have been developed but to date all have limitations and are considered a last ditch option for unmanageable, painful elbows. 

Hip and elbow screening schemes are common in certain breeds and have greatly reduced the incidence of congenital hip and elbow dysplasia, prevention and avoidance are better than cure and medical treatment is better than surgery but it’s good to know if all else fails these options are available for our pets.