13 Risks and Complications with TPLO Surgery in Dogs.

13 Risks and Complications with TPLO Surgery in Dogs.

Hey there! If you’re getting ready for your furry friend’s TPLO surgery, you may be wondering about some of the risks and complications involved.

We’re here to help make sure you and your dog are fully prepared and well-informed. Let’s dive in and discover the common risks and complications of TPLO surgery in dogs.

1. Anesthesia

Anesthesia is a crucial component of TPLO surgery and other surgical procedures for pets. However, like in human surgeries and medical interventions, administering anesthesia to animals comes with a high risk of complications.

The use of anesthesia can pose significant risks, leading your dog to sustain a range of potential complications:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiovascular problems

In addition, certain factors can increase the risk of anesthesia-related complications, such as:

For example, breeds like bulldogs and pugs are often at a higher risk of complications due to their unique respiratory anatomy.

To help minimize the risk of anesthesia complications, your veterinarian will carefully evaluate your dog’s overall health and take steps to mitigate any potential risks. This may include pre-anesthetic bloodwork to check for underlying medical conditions, adjustments to the anesthesia protocol based on your dog’s age and size, or the use of monitoring equipment to track vital signs during the procedure.

It’s important to remember that while anesthesia risks do exist, they are relatively rare and can often be successfully managed with proper preparation and monitoring by a qualified veterinarian.

2. Vomiting

Vomiting is another common side effect that your dog may experience after TPLO surgery, and is likely to one or a combination of the following:

  • Anesthesia: The anesthesia used during the surgery can cause nausea and vomiting in some dogs as they recover. This is a common side effect and usually resolves within a few hours.
  • Pain medication: The pain medication used after surgery can also cause vomiting and diarrhea. This is because some pain medications can irritate the stomach lining and cause inflammation.
  • Change in diet: After surgery, your dog’s appetite and digestion may be affected, and your veterinarian may recommend a specific diet or feeding schedule to aid in recovery. Changes to your dog’s diet can cause vomiting until their system adjusts to the new routine.

To help your dog minimize the risk and complication of vomiting after TPLO surgery, consider the following information for your dog along with any guidance provided by your veterinarian:

  • Give your dog medication to prevent nausea and vomiting during and after surgery.
  • Provide a light, easily digestible meal before and after surgery.
  • Slowly transition your dog to a new diet as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Monitor your dog for any signs of gastrointestinal distress.

It’s important to note that while some degree of vomiting is common after surgery, excessive vomiting or diarrhea can be a sign of a more serious complication and should be evaluated by your dog’s veterinarian ASAP.

3. Infection

One potential complication that you may be concerned about is infection. Like any surgical procedure, TPLO surgery carries a risk of infection. During the surgery, your vet will make an incision in your dog’s skin to access the knee joint, which can create a pathway for bacteria to enter the body.

Infection can also occur if bacteria from other parts of the body get into the surgical site, or if the surgical instruments or materials are contaminated. Signs of infection in dogs may include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Discharge
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

4. Wound dehiscence

Another complication that you may have heard of is wound dehiscence. This occurs when the surgical incision opens up or splits open, exposing the underlying tissues and increasing the risk of infection. Wound dehiscence can happen if the sutures or staples used to close the incision aren’t strong enough, or if your dog is or isn’t coned and chews or scratches at the incision site.

Other factors that can increase the risk of wound dehiscence include excessive movement or exercise during the recovery period, underlying medical conditions, or poor nutrition.

5. Implant failure

While TPLO surgery in dogs has a high success rate and can help improve your dog’s quality of life, there is the occasional risk and complication of implant failure that happens. Implant failure occurs when the hardware (like screws, plates, and pins) used to stabilize the bone after surgery doesn’t work as intended. This can cause the bone to shift, which can lead to pain, lameness, and other issues.

One of the most common reasons for implant failure is improper placement of the implant. If the screws or other hardware are not placed correctly, it can affect the stability of the bone. In addition, if the hardware used is not strong enough or of poor quality, it can also increase the risk of implant failure.

In some cases, implant failure may occur despite your best efforts. If this happens, your veterinarian may recommend additional surgery to replace the failed hardware or may suggest alternative treatment options like stem cell therapy or platelet-rich plasma therapy.

It’s important to work closely with your veterinarian and follow their instructions and recommendations carefully to help ensure proper healing during the recovery period and reduce the risk of implant failure. Your vet will likely recommend a specific type of implant based on your dog’s size, weight, and other factors.

6. Non-union of the bone

Another potential risk and complication of great concern for pet owners is a TPLO surgery that results in non-union of the bone. Non-union occurs when the bone doesn’t heal properly after surgery and remains unstable, which can cause lameness and other problems.

One of the most common reasons that contribute to this complication is poor blood supply to the bone. During the surgery, the bone is cut and then repositioned to change the angle of the joint. If the blood supply to the bone is compromised during the procedure, it can affect the bone’s ability to heal properly. Other factors that can increase the risk of non-union include:

  • Infection
  • Implant failure
  • Excessive movement or exercise during the recovery period

The most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of non-union of the bone occurring is the following:

  • Limit your dog’s activity level.
  • Administer any medications as prescribed.
  • Attending all follow-up appointments with your vet.

Your vet will likely monitor your dog’s progress through x-rays and other tests to ensure that the bone is healing properly. If there are any signs of non-union, your vet may recommend further alternative surgery or treatment options.

7. Imbalance

Another concern for your dog’s TPLO surgery is the potential risk and complication of imbalance. Imbalance occurs when the surgery causes one leg to become longer or shorter than the other, which can result in difficulty walking and may even cause additional injuries to your dog.

One of the most common reasons imbalance occurs is improper alignment of the bones during surgery. If the angles of the bone are not set correctly, it can cause one leg to be longer or shorter than the other. In addition, if the surgeon is not experienced in performing TPLO surgery or if they are not using proper techniques, it can also increase the risk of imbalance.

I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing a credentialed and experienced veterinarian who is experienced in performing TPLO surgery and who has a good track record of success. But even when choosing a qualified veterinarian, in some cases, imbalance may occur despite your best efforts.

Remember, while imbalance is a potential complication of TPLO surgery, the procedure has a high success rate and can help improve your dog’s quality of life.

8. Nerve damage

One of the greatest concerns at the top of the mind for most dog owners when considering TPLO surgery is whether or not their furry four-legged friend will experience nerve damage. While nerve damage is a relatively rare occurrence, it’s important to be aware of this potential risk and complication of TPLO surgery in dogs.

A dog experiencing nerve damage after TPLO surgery could occur due to manipulating or aggravating the surrounding tissues and bones in order to access the knee joint.  Additionally, the implants used in TPLO surgery can also increase the risk of nerve damage. The screws and plates used to stabilize the bone can potentially put pressure on nearby nerves, causing damage or irritation.

Symptoms of nerve damage can vary depending on the severity and location of the injury. In some cases, dogs may experience the following signs in the affected limb:

  • Pain, weakness, or loss of sensation.
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • A drastic change in gait.

To help prevent nerve damage during TPLO surgery, it’s important to choose a veterinarian who is experienced in performing the procedure and who uses proper techniques that avoid damaging nearby nerves.

After the surgery, it’s important to monitor your dog closely for any signs of nerve damage. If you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior or mobility, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away for advice on how to proceed. This will help you greatly minimize your dog’s risk of nerve damage and other complications.

9. Blood clotting

Right alongside nerve damage occurring is the potential risk and complication of blood clotting that can occur after TPLO surgery in dogs. The formation of blood clots can be a serious concern, as they can interfere with normal blood flow and increase the risk of complications such as:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Pulmonary embolism

During a TPLO procedure, the dog is placed under anesthesia and is not moving around, which can increase the risk of blood clots forming in the legs. Additionally, the surgical incision can cause damage to blood vessels, which can also increase the risk of clotting. Additional factors that can increase the risk of blood clotting after TPLO surgery include but are not limited to:

  • Obesity
  • Immobility during the recovery period
  • Underlying medical conditions (e.g., heart disease or cancer)

Symptoms of blood clots can vary depending on the location and severity of the clot. In some cases, dogs may not show any obvious symptoms. However, some possible signs to watch out for include:

  • Swelling or redness in the affected area
  • Overall pain or tenderness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden weakness or collapse

To help prevent blood clotting after TPLO surgery, your veterinarian may recommend measures such as:

  • Early ambulation (getting the dog up and moving as soon as possible after surgery)
  • Compression wraps and sleeves
  • Medication to thin the blood and prevent clotting

If you suspect that your furry four-legged friend may be experiencing blood clotting or other complications after TPLO surgery, it’s important to contact your veterinarian right away for advice on how to proceed. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, blood clotting can be effectively managed and resolved, allowing your dog to make a full and speedy recovery.

10. Delayed healing

Delayed healing is another potential complication that can occur after TPLO surgery in dogs, and here’s why and how it may occur:

TPLO surgery involves extensive cutting and repositioning of the bones in the dog’s knee joint, which requires quite a bit of time and a properly clean environment for the bone to heal. Delayed healing may manifest as slow or incomplete bone growth, or as difficulty with weight-bearing on the affected leg.

Delayed healing often occurs when the dog’s body is not able to effectively repair the bone tissue following surgery. This can be due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Excessive activity during the recovery period.

To help promote healing and minimize the risk of delayed healing after TPLO surgery, it’s important to adhere to the following:

  • Limit your dog’s activity level.
  • Administer medications as prescribed and directed by a veterinarian.
  • Ensure that your dog receives a balanced and nutritious diet.

In addition, regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian can help identify any potential issues early on and allow for prompt intervention to prevent delayed healing. In some cases, delayed healing may require additional surgical intervention or prolonged confinement to allow the bone to properly heal.

11. Muscle atrophy

Another risk and complication that can limit and reduce a dog’s quality of life after a TPLO surgery is muscle atrophy. TPLO surgery can cause temporary disuse of the muscles in the affected leg due to how invasive the procedure.

Additionally, your dog may experience decreased activity and exercise during the recovery period, which tends to lead to muscle wasting and atrophy. In some cases, the dog may also experience nerve damage during surgery, which can further contribute to muscle weakness and atrophy.

Muscle atrophy may manifest as a noticeable decrease in muscle mass and tone in the affected leg. The dog may have difficulty using the leg and may limp or favor the other leg to compensate. In severe cases, the dog may lose significant muscle mass and may require physical therapy or rehabilitation to regain strength and function in the affected leg.

To help prevent muscle atrophy and promote a successful recovery after TPLO surgery, it’s important to implement the following under the close guidance of a qualified veterinarian:

  • Gradually increasing your dog’s activity level as directed.
  • Providing a supportive environment for healing.
  • Incorporating physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises to help strengthen and rebuild muscle.

In some cases, your veterinarian may also recommend supplements or other interventions to support muscle growth and recovery.

12. Persistent lameness

Another possible risk and complication that is life-altering and debilitating for a dog after TPLO surgery is persistent lameness.

One of the primary goals of TPLO surgery is to stabilize the knee joint by changing the angle of the tibia bone and allowing it to heal in a new position. However, because the TPLO healing process can often take more time than expected, some dogs may experience persistent lameness during their recovery period.

Persistent lameness after TPLO surgery can be caused by a variety of factors, including but not limited too:

Muscle weakness:

After surgery, your dog may experience muscle weakness or atrophy due to restricted activity. This can lead to a limp or gait abnormality that persists even after the bone has healed.

Limited range of motion:

Your dog may also experience a limited range of motion in the affected leg due to scar tissue formation or discomfort. This can result in a stiff gait or persistent limp.


Pain is a common cause of persistent lameness after TPLO surgery. While the surgery itself can cause pain, other factors such as inflammation, infection, or implant failure can also contribute to ongoing discomfort.

With proper care and management, most dogs are able to recover fully and regain normal function after TPLO surgery.

However, it’s important to closely monitor your dog’s recovery after TPLO surgery and report any persistent lameness to your veterinarian ASAP. Additional imaging or diagnostic tests may need to be administered to identify the cause of the lameness and develop a treatment plan that may include:

  • Pain management
  • Physical therapy
  • Additional surgery

13. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is yet another common complication that can occur after TPLO surgery in dogs. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the protective cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within a joint begins to break down. This can lead to inflammation, pain, and stiffness within the joint, as well as the formation of bony growths (osteophytes) and the accumulation of joint fluid.

TPLO surgery modifies the biomechanics of the affected knee joint to relieve the symptoms of a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). During the surgery, the tibial plateau is cut and repositioned, altering the knee joint angle. While this can help redistribute weight-bearing forces and stabilize the joint, it can also cause changes to the articular cartilage and other joint structures, which could result in the development of osteoarthritis over time. The severity of the osteoarthritis may depend on factors such as:

  • The age and size of the dog.
  • The degree of pre-existing joint damage.
  • The level of physical activity after surgery.

To minimize the risk of osteoarthritis after TPLO surgery, it’s important to carefully provide appropriate post-operative care, which includes:

  • Limiting your dog’s activity level during the recovery period.
  • Administering pain medications and joint supplements as prescribed.
  • Scheduling regular follow-up appointments to monitor your dog’s progress.

If you think your dog may be suffering from signs of osteoarthritis — lameness or discomfort in your dog’s affected leg — then be sure to contact and consult immediately with your dog’s veterinarian for timely advice on how to proceed with further impacting your dog’s quality of life.

Understanding the Risks and Benefits of TPLO Surgery for Your Dog

We hope that this article has helped you gain a better understanding of the potential risks and complications associated with TPLO surgery in dogs. While there are risks involved, the benefits of the surgery can greatly outweigh them in many cases.

Remember to closely follow your veterinarian’s instructions and monitor your dog’s recovery for any signs of complications. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. Don’t forget to subscribe to the TPLO Care newsletter for more tips and recommendations to ensure a successful TPLO surgery for your furry friend.

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