Socks, Rocks and Weekend-Warrior Hikes: How to Avoid Costly Surgeries and Treatments for Your Furry Friends

Dr. Ann Heffernan is a board-certified veterinary surgeon at AESC in Parker. Veterinary  specialists from a variety of fields have appointment availability during the day and a surgeon is on call for emergencies, too. The hospital is staffed 24/7, so pre- and post-operative care is always available. Dr. Heffernan has two labradors named Huck and Billie. Originally from Minnesota, she enjoys hiking, camping, gardening and grilling. She is enjoying the less humid Colorado summers, too.

What sets AESC apart?

The brain power here is significantly advanced. We have a great team and communicate with each other, which is especially important when we are in the gray zone between specialties. The hospital has designated OR and recovery spaces. Physical therapy can start immediately and rehabilitation is always monitored. From the technicians to the specialists, it is clear that everyone loves their jobs – each person shows compassion and patience for the owners and their pets.  We always welcome phone calls and questions. We also have more “toys” for complex situations, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, MRI, and ventilators.

What is a board-certified veterinary specialist? How are you different than my family veterinarian?
A veterinary specialist is a veterinarian that has gone through four to six years of extra training in their particular specialty beyond their veterinary school. These specialties require a certification examination that the doctor needs to pass in order to be board-certified in that specialty. Specialties include surgery, internal medicine, oncology, neurology, cardiology, dermatology, critical care, just to name a few. We work closely with your family veterinarian to provide a comprehensive healthcare team for your pet.

What are the most common orthopedic injuries you treat?
Cranial cruciate ligament injuries, equivalent to the human ACL, are the most common injury we see during appointments.  Humans can have the ACL reconstructed, but dogs usually destroy the graft, so we perform a Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO), which modifies the knee joint and changes the geometry to stabilize the knee. The surgery slows the progression of arthritis and in just six months, dogs are usually doing very well. It is more common in larger breeds and often both knees will need surgery at some point. Bone fractures in dogs and cats are the most common orthopedic emergency.

If my pet eats something they shouldn’t, does that ever require surgery? If so, what are some of the common culprits?

Not all items require surgical intervention; however, there are a variety of things that your pet can eat that may require surgery because of bowel blockage, which is a life-threatening situation. Common culprits include corn cobs, dog/kids toys, fruit pits, socks, rocks and underwear.

What are some common symptoms that indicate a pet may have an orthopedic injury?
Limping and reluctance to stand, jump, walk or run. Just because your pet does not cry out does not mean that they are not in pain.

What can I do now to prevent orthopedic injuries or conditions in my pet later in life?
Keeping your pet healthy can reduce excess stress on your pet’s joints. Consistent activity rather than “weekend warrior” activity helps keep your pet in good shape, just like a person going to the gym consistently.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see pet owners make that lead to surgical intervention in pets?
Pets that are unsupervised outside off-leash can get into altercations with wild animals or vehicles and they can ingest items that can be dangerous. Supervising pets when they are outside can prevent injuries.


Animal Emergency and Specialty Center

17701 Cottonwood Drive, Parker, Colorado, 720.842.5050,