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The line between the working dog and the dog performing in competitive sports is blurred and ancient. Greyhounds were so treasured in ancient times that only the aristocracy was allowed to own them. Although, Greyhounds were commonly used for hunting there is evidence at least as far back as 2500 BC that dogs looking very much like our present-day Greyhounds were used for competitive racing. Greyhound racing became a staple in Great Britain. The artificial lure, oval track in the 1920’s and legalized parimutuel betting in the 1930s set the stage for widespread Greyhound racing in the United States.

Of course, for centuries Foxhounds, Deerhounds, Beagles, Pointers and many other breeds were hunting companions. These animals were responsible for many a meal eaten in homes around the world.

Although training methods were studied in great detail, it wasn't until the fact that the same scientific approach to human diseases was applicable to our sporting companions that veterinary medicine became involved with sporting animals. This area of interest started to blossom in the 1950s and 1960s. Bateman in Veterinary Record noted in 1950 the accessory carpal bone fracture common to racing Greyhounds and described a surgical repair.

In the last two to three decades, an entire new area of canine human interaction has proliferated. Canine events are held by the thousands all over the world with very close knit-societies formalizing the rules and standardizing competitive achievements and goals. Likewise, the marriage of veterinary medicine to the improvement of dog health has given valuable hunting animals a second chance rather than the alternative of being replaced.

Veterinarians are just starting to recognize their potential role as valued partners in recommending fitness protocols as well as their medical role in treating sporting injuries.

Popular and competitive sports such as agility, flyball, lure coursing, weight pulling, dock diving, Greyhound racing, disc dog, carting, mushing and fox hunting are activities that not only need specialized training but also each has their own set of potential physical injuries determined by the stresses that the dog may encounter. Also, specific conformations may expose the competitor to specific injuries not common to different individuals competing in the same event.

The demands placed upon the animal competing in events based predominately upon confirmation also have many areas that would make the veterinarian the natural expert. Areas such as nutrition, dental and skin health, as well as overall conditioning are critical in conformation competitions and yet veterinarians have taken a minor role in bringing these beautiful animals to perfect form.

The entire field of Human Physical Therapy, which has a very long history going back to Hippocrates, has naturally been called upon to aid veterinarians in treating the canine athlete. Using techniques such as Range of Motion, Muscle Mass Measurements, Massage, Hot and Cold treatments, and assessing soft tissue injuries and boney conformations in an entirely unique way has made the partnership between Physical Therapists and Veterinarians a very fruitful one.

As common Physical Therapy techniques have been applied to canines over the past few decades, it has become clear that a true merging of the sciences to form a new science is necessary. Variations in joints and movement as well as significant variations in gait and weight bearing in the canine require rethinking the application of human physical techniques in the same way. In addition, the actual physiology and recovery of function varies greatly between these two species. It is fair to say that veterinarians need to study what Physical Therapy has to offer and then consider how those techniques might be applied to our canine athletes. Unfortunately, actual scientific study has held very little attraction even though Canine Sports Medicine is gaining in popularity.

Any Physical Therapist as well as any person involved in Veterinary Rehabilitation will tell you that the most valuable tool they have are their hands. This is a given, but as this field grows the area of modalities has grown with it. The use of swimming pools as well as underwater treadmills, ultrasonography and its associated phonophoresis, therapeutic lasers, and cavalletti exercises, as well as exercise balls, and stairs, have all become the day-to-day world of anyone performing animal rehabilitation.

Our hospital is actively involved in conditioning animals for competition and in recognizing common injuries in those animals that compete. We are becoming more aware of the forces and conditions that lead to injury. We are proud to bring our expertise to this new area of veterinary medicine and have a great facility and staff to make these athletes get to their next level of competition.

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VCA SouthPaws Surgical Center is proud to provide comprehensive surgical services, including pre- and post-operative care, intensive pain management, state-of-the-art anesthesia, and minimally invasive alternatives to open surgical procedures.

Our Surgery Department's services include:

  • Soft tissue surgery including abdominal, thoracic, head and neck, and limb surgeries
  • Orthopedic including Total Hip Replacement, TPLO, TTA, fracture repair, angular limb deformity repair, joint stabilization procedures, lameness evaluations, medical management of lameness, rehabilitative therapy
  • Laparoscopic including laparoscopic prophylactic gastropexy, thoracoscopy, partial pericardiectomy, and liver/abdominal organ biopsies, and arthroscopy
  • Reconstructive surgery including skin flaps and grafts
  • Oncologicsurgery including maxillectomy, mandibulectomy, amputation, large soft tissue tumor removal, wide margin en bloc surgery, thoracic wall reconstruction, abdominal wall reconstruction

What Is A Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon?

A board certified veterinary surgeon is a licensed veterinarian who has obtained intensive, additional surgical training. A veterinary surgeon can offer special assistance in the following kinds of cases:

  • Traumatic injury and emergencies (such as fractures, skin wounds and lacerations, correction of gastric dilatation-volvulus, and exploratory (abdominal/thoracic) surgery
  • Orthopedic surgeries (such as total hip replacements (THRs), cruciate ligament surgeries (TPLOs), and arthroscopy for joint exploration)
  • Soft tissue surgeries (such as tumor/cancer removal and correction of congenital defects)
  • Minimally invasive surgeries using laparoscopes/arthroscopes

While your general practitioner veterinarian can diagnose and treat many health problems, certain diseases and conditions require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive surgical training in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet. Your veterinary surgeon will work closely with your general practitioner, as well as other board certified specialists in internal medicine, veterinary oncology, veterinary neurology, and veterinary radiology if needed to ensure the best outcome possible for your pet.

Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Surgeon?

Just as your own primary care physician may feel the need to refer you to the care of a specialist from time to time, your general practitioner veterinarian may feel your pet needs the additional expertise of a board certified surgeon for certain surgeries. In fact, many general practitioner veterinarians refer all but the most routine of surgeries to surgical specialists.

Board certified veterinary surgeons often choose to work at 24/7/365 specialty/emergency hospitals where they may have access to specialized diagnostic or surgical equipment, the latest and safest anesthesia monitoring equipment, physical therapy or rehabilitation capabilities, and other critical care services. All of these specialized services may be necessary for the optimal care and recovery of your pet.

You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when to refer you and your pet to a veterinary surgeon is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of care for his or her problem.

What Kinds of Problems Require the Expertise of a Veterinary Surgeon?

Board certified veterinary surgeons can repair complex fractures, perform total hip replacements, and use advanced techniques to repair torn ligaments (ruptured cruciate ligaments) within the knee. They can also remove cancerous growths, manage extensive or non-healing wounds, and perform reconstructive surgery, such as grafting skin over large injuries. Veterinary surgeons can perform intricate surgeries in the chest or abdomen. They can maximize your pet's chances to be cured from certain cancers by performing the best surgery, the right way, the first time.. For pets whose conditions could be treated with minimally invasive procedures such as laparoscopy, thoracoscopy or arthroscopy, your veterinary surgeon has the expertise and experience to operate these delicate instruments correctly. For some diseases, the only way to know how to treat is to get biopsies, and your veterinary surgeon may have the best opportunity to obtain the necessary samples. Veterinary surgeons can also provide advice on best non-surgical management for dogs or cats with degenerative joint disease (arthritis).

Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

VCA SouthPaws Veterinary Surgical Center prefers a team approach to your pet's care. While we may be the ones doing the surgery and initial follow up, or rehabilitative therapy, we will make sure that your veterinarian get s copies of all medical records, biopsy reports and plans so that your veterinarian can resume your pet's care as quickly as optimal care allows.

Did You Know?

Just as in humans, a pet's recovery from veterinary surgery can go more smoothly or even result in a better outcome with the addition of rehabilitation options. Many veterinary specialty hospitals like VCA SouthPaws offer rehabilitation services, such as physical therapy, and massage therapy, as an adjunct to surgical care.

If you think that your pet may be a candidate for veterinary surgery, talk to your general practitioner veterinarian, or find a board certified veterinary surgeon near you today.


Our Surgery Department offers helpful resources that provide further information to help pet owners become informed about many aspects of surgical treatment for pets. Please feel free to browse and download any of the documents from our resource library below:

Hip Dysplasia Revisited


Our Surgery Services

Advanced Anesthetic Monitoring
Bone and Joint Surgery
Bone Biopsy
Brain and Spinal Surgery

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