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Understanding TPLO Surgery Complications: What Every Dog Owner Should Know

Posted by Ben Blecha on

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery is a common orthopedic procedure performed on dogs to address cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries, similar to ACL tears in humans. While TPLO surgery is generally safe and effective, it's essential for dog owners to understand that complications can occur in some cases. In this blog post, we'll explore how often dogs experience complications from TPLO surgeries and identify situations that may pose a higher risk of complications.

How Often Do Dogs Have Complications from TPLO Surgeries? TPLO surgery is considered a safe and successful procedure, with many dogs experiencing significant improvement in mobility and quality of life following surgery. However, like any surgical procedure, TPLO surgery carries a risk of complications. The frequency of complications can vary depending on factors such as the skill and experience of the veterinary surgeon, the overall health of the dog, and adherence to post-operative care protocols.

While the exact rate of complications associated with TPLO surgery can vary among different studies and veterinary practices, it's generally estimated to be between 5% to 20%. This means that the majority of dogs undergoing TPLO surgery will have a successful outcome with minimal or no complications. However, it's crucial for dog owners to be aware of potential risks and to work closely with their veterinarian to minimize these risks and ensure the best possible outcome for their pet.

Situations That Pose Higher Risk of Complications: While TPLO surgery can be highly successful in many cases, there are certain situations that may increase the risk of complications. Dog owners should be aware of these risk factors and discuss them with their veterinarian when considering TPLO surgery for their pet.

Here are some situations that may pose a higher risk of complications:

  1. Obesity: Dogs that are overweight or obese may be at a higher risk of complications from TPLO surgery due to increased stress on the surgical site and slower healing times. It's essential for overweight dogs to achieve a healthy weight before undergoing surgery to reduce the risk of complications.
  2. Advanced Age: Older dogs may have underlying health conditions that can increase the risk of complications from surgery, such as reduced immune function or slower healing times. However, age alone should not necessarily preclude a dog from undergoing TPLO surgery, as many older dogs can still benefit from the procedure with proper pre-operative evaluation and management.
  3. Pre-existing Health Conditions: Dogs with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease may be at a higher risk of complications from TPLO surgery due to their underlying medical issues. It's essential for dogs with pre-existing health conditions to undergo thorough pre-operative evaluation and optimization to minimize the risk of complications.
  4. Poor Surgical Technique: The skill and experience of the veterinary surgeon performing the TPLO surgery are crucial factors that can impact the risk of complications. Dog owners should choose a board-certified veterinary surgeon with experience in orthopedic surgery to perform the procedure and ensure the best possible outcome for their pet.
  5. Inadequate Post-operative Care: Proper post-operative care is essential for the success of TPLO surgery and to minimize the risk of complications. Dog owners should follow their veterinarian's instructions regarding post-operative care, including activity restriction, medication administration, and follow-up appointments.

Common complications may include:

  1. Implant-related complications: This can include issues such as implant loosening, breakage, or migration. These complications may require revision surgery or implant removal.
  2. Infection: Surgical site infections can occur following TPLO surgery, although they are relatively uncommon. Infections may require antibiotic treatment or, in severe cases, surgical debridement.
  3. Delayed or non-union: Delayed or incomplete bone healing at the osteotomy site can occur in some cases. This may necessitate additional monitoring, management, or surgical intervention.
  4. Implant-associated pain: Some dogs may experience discomfort or pain related to the implants used in the TPLO procedure. This can sometimes require removal of the implants if the pain persists.
  5. Patellar tendonitis: Inflammation or irritation of the patellar tendon can occur in some cases, leading to discomfort or lameness.
  6. Degenerative joint disease progression: While TPLO surgery aims to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis in the affected knee, some degree of arthritis may still develop over time, especially in cases with pre-existing joint damage.

It's important to note that many complications associated with TPLO surgery can be effectively managed with appropriate veterinary care, including prompt diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care. Additionally, the overall success rate of TPLO surgery in terms of improving mobility and quality of life for dogs with cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries remains high despite the possibility of complications.

Conclusion: While TPLO surgery is generally safe and effective, complications can occur in some cases. By understanding how often dogs experience complications from TPLO surgeries and identifying situations that may pose a higher risk of complications, dog owners can make informed decisions about their pet's treatment options and work closely with their veterinarian to ensure the best possible outcome. If you have any concerns about TPLO surgery or your dog's suitability for the procedure, don't hesitate to discuss them with your veterinarian.

If you are considering conservative alternatives, we have found  bracing to be helpful to dogs that cannot have surgery.

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