The technology is called disc replacement, and a Bay Area vet is helping to pioneer its use for dogs.
Watching her dog Buddy bounding around the park is still a thrill for Indra Barlow, especially when she thinks back to what his life was like three years ago.
"He started falling over. He would turn like he was going to chase something, then he'd fall over," said Barlow.
A deteriorating disc was pressing on buddy's spine, and several vets advised her that the nerve damage affecting his legs would soon spread to other parts of his body.
"100% we would have had to put him down," said Barlow.
But Barlow eventually found Walnut Creek veternarian Filippo Adamo, who was conducting a clinical trial of an artificial disc replacement, a technique that's still relatively new in humans.
"We thought, why don't we try it in dogs. It works so well in people. Dogs have the same disease humans has," said Adamo.
Adamo and a team of researchers designed this artificial disc system for dogs. After removing the damaged disc, the surgeon creates a slot in the surrounding vertebrae with a burr like device. The same device is then used to place the artificial disc, which keeps the vertebrae separated while allowing normal movement.
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He says the artificial discs avoid some of the side effects of spinal disc fusion -- which can transfer stress to surrounding areas causing further damage along the spine.
Dr. Adamo expects the cost of disc replacement to run about $500, compared to about $2,000 for a fusion.
Although the discs have been implanted in fewer than a dozen animals, he says early results are encouraging.
"First patients follow up with MRI two years out. MRI shows the disc is in place and no problem in adjacent space," said Adamo.
Indra Barlow says Buddy regained his range of motion, and kept it over the last three years, even as he ages.
"Buddy is about 13, he was nine when we got him, ten when he had the surgery, and that's been three years now," said Barlow.