New Cartilage Replacement Surgery for Dogs Introduced at Missouri University

In an attempt to improve treatment for dogs with osteochondrosis (OCD), a common, cross species cause of focal defects, James Cook, DVM, PhD, borrowed a procedure that has been used in the human medical field for the last seven years. Cook, director of the comparative orthopedic laboratory at Missouri University (MU)., presented his research on the cartilage replacement surgery to the Veterinary Orthopaedic Society in Aspen, Colo., on March 7, 2005. A similar presentation was given by a veterinary surgeon from Ireland. 

Alan Cross, DVM, DACVS, heard the presentation and may begin using the procedure within the next year at Georgia Veterinary Specialists. "Specialists will definitely be interested in this," Cross said. "Our current ways of treating cartilage defects are pretty crude, and this has a lot of promise. I think it will prove to be as beneficial for veterinary patients as it has been for human patients."

Cook, who completed his first surgery 18 weeks ago, estimates that about 20 percent of the dog population suffers from arthritis, a condition that leads to the euthanasia of hundreds of thousands of dogs. “This is one of those things that surgeons moan about when we get together,” he said. “I’ve been dissatisfied with what I was able to offer clients, and wanted to get something that had the potential to do some good.”

The new technique, which Cook describes as “robbing Peter to feed Paul,” entails harvesting a small area of healthy cartilage from an animal’s knee and implanting it into defective cartilage. “There are areas in the knee that don’t need cartilage, because they don’t contact other bone and do not bear weight, but have articular cartilage,” Cook said. He compared the equipment that was used for the surgery, and donated by Arthrex Systems, to an apple corer and drill system.

To learn the procedure, Cook trained on human cadavers in Florida and practiced on canine cadavers in Missouri. “Once you get the feel for it it’s very precise and efficient,” Cook said, but added a cautionary note about the small area where cartilage is harvested. “You could fracture the bone if you weren’t careful,” he added.

The process takes about 30 minutes to complete and when it becomes readily available at MU it will cost about $2,000, Cook estimated. In private clinics the procedure could retail for $3,000, he said. Clients whose dogs participated in the study paid $800.

Recovery time is about six to eight weeks, during which time patients are restricted to leash walking, Cook said. Unlike the traditional treatment of debriding, this technique provides pain relief. “It’s much better than what we used to do,” Cook added. In addition to greater range of motion and the creation of muscle mass, the new procedure seems to be slowing down the arthritis, he added.

Cook discovered the procedure through his work on the Cartilage Restoration Foundation. “It’s one of the few times I’ve been able to take something from the human side and bring it back to my own patients,” Cook said. “It’s been very gratifying.”

NEWStat Advancements & research News