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K9 officer back on the job, thanks to pedicle screw fixation surgery

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A 3-year-old German shepherd named Kvido had to stop working for the U.S. Border Patrol because degenerative lumbosacral stenosis left him unable to run or jump, and suffering from chronic pain.

But now Kvido is back on the job, after his spine was stabilized with pedicle screw rod fixation, a type of surgery that is well-established in human medicine, and which now may be poised for wider use in veterinary medicine.

“He’s like a brand new dog,” said Brian Carney, a supervisory Border Patrol agent and K9 instructor.

“I think we’ll see this being done more and more,” said Dr. James T. Giles III, a board-certified veterinary surgeon with BluePearl Veterinary Partners, formerly known in San Antonio as South Texas Veterinary Specialists. “This is a condition that affects many pets, and it’s one of the leading causes for early retirement of working dogs.”

The surgery on Kvido was performed by Giles, using a pedicle screw rod fixation device manufactured by ArteMedics, a Minneapolis-based company that specializes in veterinary medical devices and custom implant services.

In the operation, Giles drilled four titanium screws into the L7 vertebra and sacrum. Two titanium rods were used to connect the screws. The heads of the screws swivel, allowing for optimum placement of the rods. The rods separate the vertebrae, making sure they do not compress nerves.

Emily Meyering and Ben Arcand, two of the founders of ArteMedics, say the procedure holds promise for veterinarians treating degenerative lumbosacral disc disease. They said it holds advantages in many cases over other treatments for the condition, such as pins and polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) or plate fixation. The implant is strong enough for high-activity dogs yet minimizes local tissue damage to assist in faster healing. These products may also be used for other spinal or bone stabilization needs.

A dog with this device can often regain the ability to run and jump, which is important for quality of life. It also could be a huge advantage for military and other working dogs, because the operation holds hope that these K9s can return to duty.

“Getting these dogs back into the field is critical,” said Meyering.

That’s what is happening with Kvido.

Carney, the Border Patrol agent, said he’s impressed with Kvido’s progress after this surgery. “He’s 100-percent better than he was,” he said. “Before this, they might have been able to fix it, but he wouldn’t have been able to work again.”

Kvido has always been “a full-of-energy German shepherd, he had puppy energy all the time,” Carney said. But at one point Kvido could not jump or hop into the back of a pickup truck. “Something just wasn’t right.”

The Border Patrol began exploring options and eventually chose the pedicle screw rod fixation.  Kvido’s story has been shared in news and military public affairs reports, here and here.

Ben Arcand of ArteMedics with Kvido.

Giles said Kvido should have an excellent quality of life.  “He is otherwise a young healthy dog that you’d expect to have a long working lifespan.”

The outcome is particularly gratifying for Giles, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served as chief of surgery for the Military Working Dog Veterinary Service.

“Taking care of military working dogs was my career for quite some time, so this is a condition I have been involved with in the past,” said Giles, who has worked for BluePearl for nearly two years. “I’m very excited that we now have some new areas of treatment.”