To operate, or not to operate – THAT is the question

When humans have a musculoskeletal condition or injury they usually go to their GP to have a chat about pain medication and then they come to us physios for the rehab (called conservative management as opposed to surgery). If our conservative management doesn’t help our patients then we refer back to the GP to refer on to a surgeon. Here I’m referring to arthritis, strains and sprains and not to emergencies which may need immediate review at a hospital. 

When I here about sprains, strains and arthritis in dogs, particularly CCL tears, luxating patella and hip arthritis/hip dysplasia, being directly referred to surgery without a trial of conservative management, other than medication, it makes me sad that some pet parents aren’t given more of a choice. 

Choosing not to operate can be a totally acceptable option if you are ever faced with the decision, and my reason for writing this is to explain that you don’t have to be overwhelmed by the financial cost if you go ahead or feel guilty if you don’t.

When your dog is diagnosed with a condition or injury, the first and most important consideration is that the pain is well managed, we certainly never want to see our baby suffer in pain!

The next is to discuss with the vet about a rehab program to maximise your dog’s mobility and quality of life should you not want to proceed with surgery. Vets are GPs and surgeons, whereas with humans our doctors and surgeons are completely different professions! If your vet suggests surgery don’t jump to the assumption that it’s a money grab, it may simply be that it is all they have been trained to do and really isn’t their fault. If they have a rehab background, that’s great, get some exercises from them and see how you go. If not, there are many dog rehab specialists that are only too happy to help! 

Read on to see how these conditions can be managed before surgery is considered.

For Hip Arthritis/Dysplasia:

Arthritis/dysplasia brings with it stiffness and weakness of the hip (or other joint affected). Sometimes the joint damage, the pain and loss of function are so severe that surgery is needed but similar to humans, we always try conservative management. Joint range of motion exercises help decrease stiffness in affected joints, stretches help release tight muscles and strengthening helps rebuild weak muscles. 

Marlie’s mumma was told that Marlie would need surgery for her hip dysplasia but Furbaby Fitness (online exercise classes that I run) meant that not only has Marlie not needed surgery yet, but it has meant she is in less pain and less medication is needed!  🎉🎉🎉

marlie review

For CCL tears: 

Whether the tear is full or partial, you can certainly trial conservative management first before seeing if surgery is needed. Even if you try conservative management for 3-6 months and it doesn’t restore your dog to their pre-injury level, or close enough to it, then maybe if it’s right for you and your dog then surgery can be considered. Conservative management means more time to save money or arrange for surgery fee, or best case scenario, makes surgery unneeded! 

Going down the conservative management route can be scary but it really needn’t be and there are some wonderful resources, like the Facebook group below, where you have some other people in your position share their stories and share the journey.

Strengthening exercises can help provide stability to the joint, but most importantly, since statistics show that the other leg is likely to experience a CCL tear too, exercises can help reduce the likelihood of this happening!

For Luxating Patella:

In this condition there is a maltracking of the patella (knee cap) in its groove, meaning that the patella slips out of place, leading to pain and mobility issues. The extent of this maltracking is graded 1 to 4, 4 being the most severe. 

Rehabilitation can be attempted to help improve this maltracking but if your dog is suffering from a grade 3 or 4 luxating patella, it may be more likely that your dog will need surgery. 


You can help your dog without resorting to surgery as a first and only option! Your vet may suggest surgery simply because they have been trained to treat these conditions with surgery, however, if your vet thinks it’s safe to delay surgery and trial exercises first then definitely give it a go! You may find that the surgery isn’t even needed and can save you thousands of dollars!

If you want some guidance on exercises, please join me over in my FREE

<< Strong and Steady Canines Facebook Group>>

Here’s to helping your dog live and move well,



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