Orthopedic Surgery for a Dog: Is It Worth It and How Much Does it Cost?
My Experience with Pet Orthopedic Surgery
Whenever he bowls over me on a morning walk to run further away from a loud or fast-moving car, I think about Connor's brush with death in August, 2008.
Connor is my totally adorable male Alaskan husky. He is the most patient, cuddly guy I've ever met. He would also make at least runner-up in a world's most expensive $100 dog contest. The following account is a (slightly) humorized account of his accident, surgery, and recovery. He evidently remembers the experience well enough to remain afraid of loud and fast vehicles to this day, which is fairly remarkable for a dog. But, then, he's a pretty remarkable guy!
One afternoon, shortly after Connor, and his best friend Luna, had moved to a new house with a fun back yard, Connor was testing the limits of his new fence. Being a husky, he became excited and started to dig vigorously. Before he knew it, where the fence had previously met the ground, suddenly there was a convenient spot to wriggle under the fence. Not one to pass up the opportunity to explore a new location, Connor made his escape. Luna, a thoughtful and emotional German Shepherd, realized that leaving the yard would be an excellent way to get in trouble with her human parents and declined to follow Connor's lead.
Dog Hit by Car
At some point in the following minutes, Connor wandered across the street behind his house. It was only a one block residential street with a posted 25 mph speed limit. As a large white dog standing on black asphalt in the daytime, he should have been easy to spot. Unfortunately, a car turned on to the street at a careless, excessive speed. Connor tried to escape, but was hit in the rear as he ran for safety. The force of the impact broke his pelvis in three places and caused him to face plant into the road, tearing up his muzzle and breaking a toe.
A neighbor noticed Connor, blood staining his white fur, whimpering on the side of the road, and hurried to tell Connor's humans. Connor was rushed to the vets and an ordeal began.
Orthopedic Surgery: The Dilemma
I can't really go into that much detail about the next few weeks without tearing up, even this far from the event. I'm sure that seems silly to some people, but you would understand if you knew this dog. His injuries were so severe the vet said she would OK putting him down. The other alternatives were allowing him to live and hope he healed on his own or getting him orthopedic surgery. The surgery seemed prohibitively expensive and input from acquaintances varied from “get him the surgery” to “he's just a dog, put him down.”
The Decision to get Orthopedic Surgery
For the first week or so, I used the 'wait and see' approach. The poor dog was on several medications to prevent infection, mitigate inflammation, and reduce his pain level. When it became clear his condition was not improving, the decision was made to take him to a vet who specialized in orthopedic surgery for pets.
Connor's surgery took place in Columbia, SC at South Carolina Veterinary Specialists. I cannot say enough good things about them. They estimated the surgery would cost $1500-2000, including an overnight stay and follow-up visit. Given my experience with other cost estimates, I fully expected to pay more than the quoted upper end. Instead, I received exemplary service, including a post-op phone call from the surgeon, for $1750. After six weeks of restricted movement for Connor, I drove the now uncomfortably energetic animal for his check-up. X-rays showed his fractures had healed seamlessly and he was cleared to resume normal activity levels.
The Cost of Orthopedic Surgery
Between the surgery, initial emergency vet visit, an additional overnight stay at the vet's prior to his referral to the specialist and his surgery, Connor the $100 dog racked up $3000 in bills. A year before adopting Connor, if someone had told me I would own two dogs and would have paid for one of them to have orthopedic surgery, I would have informed them that I didn't even like dogs. But that was before meeting Connor and Luna.
Connor Dog Chasing his Tail
Clearly Connor healed up pretty well if he can jump around like this after his own tail!
Is Orthopedic Surgery Worth it? Absolutely!
Today, Connor is happy, healthy and you could never even tell he has a metal plate in his pelvis. I know everyone thinks their pet is the best, but Connor might be the real deal. I firmly believe I could have taken that $3000, adopted 300 other dogs, and have not found an adequate replacement for Connor, or a better 'brother' for Luna.
I hope Connor's story helps someone else make a difficult decision about a pet, or lets other pet-lovers know they're not the only one who has made sacrifices for the sake of a beloved animal.