The Four Best Alternatives to Dog Surgery

What do you do when your vet has suggested surgery for your dog, but for one reason or another, surgery is not an option?
Sometimes the reason for not opting for surgery are clearly understood – they could be an elderly dog and the stress from surgery would be too much, a dog could be suffering from an illness or another injury which make complications more likely or too risky, or maybe the financial cost is simply too much for the owners.
Other times the reasons may fall a little more into the grey area – an owner may have a preference for natural therapies, an owner may want to try other alternatives before opting for surgery, or perhaps the diagnosis isn’t 100% clear.
Whatever the reason, your next question will likely be – ‘if not surgery, what other treatments can we try for our dog?’
We’re going to take you through four of the newest and most effective alternatives to orthopaedic surgery for dogs (surgery that fixes structural problems like joints, bones, ligaments etc).
Disclaimer: Just to make it crystal clear, we’re not suggesting that any of these options are as or more effective than surgery, in fact, we’d say that some times surgery is the best option (ie an emergency!). This is a guide of alternatives when orthopaedic surgery has been considered but IS NOT an option.
When considering any of these options as an alternative to surgery for your dog, please be sure to involve your vet in the conversation 🙂

1. Laser

What Is Laser Therapy?

Laser Therapy is the application of specific wavelengths of light which promote healing in damaged cells within the body. Laser is effective in reducing pain, improving circulation, decreasing swelling and speeding up the healing time.
Laser is backed by a lot of research which you can find here, here and here.

How Does Laser Work?

During your pets laser treatment, red and infrared laser light interacts with cells within the body’s and increases the cellular metabolic activity. This increased activity improves the transport of nutrients across the cell membrane, and the production of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), which is the cells energy source is stimulated. This results in benefits such as increased cellular function and tissue repair, rapidly cutting down healing time.
Laser works best when treatments are repeated in short succession, as the effects from two treatments accumulate. If the time between treatments is too long, this doesn’t happen. This varies between species and the condition treated, but some research suggests that for cats that treatments should be as often as daily for the initial treatments.
There are also different classes of Laser to consider. Class 4 is the most powerful, and what we use at the Animal Rehab Klinik. Class 3a and 3b are also used for therapeutic intervention but aren’t as strong. A stronger laser (class 4) typically means you’ll get faster results, but also carries an increased risk of damaging the skin or eyes if used incorrectly. To avoid this we constantly move the laser to avoid burning the skin, and wear goggles and doggles to protect our and our dogs eyes. Class 3a and 3b also get effective results, but they take longer to do so. However there is no risk of damaging eyes or burning skin, so protective glasses aren’t needed.

What Surgical Conditions Could Laser Be Used As An Alternative For?

Laser can help a lot of conditions, but the ones we see most benefit for include:

  • Partial cruciate tears
  • Inoperable full cruciate tears
  • Minor disc protrusions
  • Non displaced fractures
  • Moderate hip dysplasia

What Other Conditions Can Laser Be Beneficial For?

Laser is also great for conditions such as arthritis, acute & chronic pain.

How Soon Do You Expect Results?

3-4 treatments is a typical timeframe to notice obvious improvement, however, the full benefits may take more treatments.

2. Dog Underwater Treadmill

What Is An Underwater Treadmill?

It is exactly what it sounds like – a dog treadmill that is under the water. Usually enclosed inside a glass enclosure.

How Does The Underwater Treadmill Work?

Warm water is pumped into the enclosure up to a designated height which is determined by the size of the dog, their condition and the aim of the session. Higher water takes the impact off joints, bones & other structures while still allowing the dog to exercise. Lower water means more effort is needed, as does higher speeds. Inclining the treadmill can put more emphasis on certain muscle groups.

What Surgical Conditions Could The Underwater Treadmill Be Used As An Alternative For?

  • Partial cruciate tears
  • Inoperable full cruciate tears
  • Minor disc protrusions
  • Mild to moderate hip dysplasia
  • Inability to weight-bear
  • Paralysis
  • Ataxia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Stress fractures

What Other Conditions Can The Underwater Treadmill Be Beneficial For?

The underwater treadmill works great for rehabilitation following surgery, losing weight for obese dogs and maintaining fitness for agility/sporting dogs.

How Soon Do You Expect Results?

This depends on the problem, but you’ll be impressed from the first session!

3. ABM (Animal Biomechanical Medicine)

What Is ABM

Have you ever hurt yourself and needed to see a chiro, osteo or even physio to help alleviate your pain? Well, that option also exists for dogs. ABM encompasses osteopathic & chiropractic techniques tailored for animals. Osteopathy & chiropractic have different but overlapping concepts of how they work. As a whole, they work on muscles, nerves, bones & joints to decrease pain, and improve the movement & function in the body.

How Does ABM Work?

The concept is the same as for people – performing range of motion exercises, palpation (feeling) and other tests are done first to figure out what’s going on. Then techniques such as massage, stretching, joint mobilisations and other hands-on approaches, your pooch can feel a million bucks after a treatment. Some things do need to be adapted, however – dogs usually don’t understand what you’re doing so a gentler approach is always advisable so they don’t get the urge to bite!

What Surgical Conditions Could ABM Be Used As An Alternative For?

  • Partial cruciate tears
  • Minor disc protrusions
  • Inoperable large disc protrusions
  • Mild to moderate hip dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Non-specific back or joint pain

What Other Conditions Can ABM Be Beneficial For?

Painful conditions where the diagnosis is not clear but is agreed to be of musculoskeletal origin, post surgery, acute & chronic pain, lameness, maintenance for agility/sporting dogs.

How Soon Do You Expect Results?

Depending on the problem, some can get instant results, others take a few sessions. It’s not unusual to have a short term (<48 hrs) slight increase in pain while your dog settles down post-treatment.

4. Rehabilitation

What Is Rehabilitation?

Similar to ABM, rehabilitation is the other component where we use specific exercises to muscles, improving coordination & function in animals, similar to how a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist works in the human world.

How Does Rehabilitation Work?

Depending on the problem, exercises will vary to target the specific tissue and get the desired result.
  • When there is weakness we’ll use exercises that build strength and endurance
  • When there is restricted motion we use stretches
  • When balance & coordination is an issue, we’ll prescribe exercises that challenge this

What Surgical Conditions Could Rehabilitation Be Used As An Alternative For?

  • Inoperable neurological conditions
  • Patients who have relapsed after surgery
  • Partial cruciate tears
  • Inoperable full cruciate tears
  • Minor disc protrusions
  • Mild to moderate hip dysplasia
  • Ataxia

What Other Conditions Can Rehabilitation Be Beneficial For?

Maintaining results from previous treatment, maintaining surgical results, prostheses training.

How Soon Do You Expect Results?

Typically longer than other forms of treatment, as instead of reducing pain as the main focus, we’re aiming to create long-lasting changes.

How To Book An Appointment For Your Dog

If your dog is in the situation where surgery is not a viable option, then have a chat to your vet about how the Animal Rehab Klinik may be able to help them. For your vet to refer to us, all they need to do is forward on their case history to and let us know that they’re happy for us to treat your dog. Alternatively, they can fill out our online vet referral form which is emailed to us.
To make a booking, call us on 02 9188 0863 or book online here.