Case Notes from Beyond the Clinic: Scott shares his perspective on canine orthopaedics

Scott Rutherford is clinical director at frank.Pet Surgeons in Leeds, focusing on orthopaedics and spinal surgery. He shares his journey and insights on the Beyond the Clinic podcast. He discusses the unique model of frank.Pets, and his thoughts on orthopaedic dog health, including the importance of weight management, exercise, and diet. Drawing from his extensive career, he offers advice for aspiring orthopaedic vets.

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Could you tell us about yourself and your role with IVC Evidensia?

I'm the clinical director at frank.Pet Surgeons, a specialist-led surgical referral hospital based in Leeds. We're relatively small and ‘boutique’, focusing on orthopaedics and spinal surgery, with a bit of soft tissue work as well.

When we founded frank.Pets, we wanted a different model for a referral hospital. We aimed for a small hospital focused on efficient surgery, with fixed prices, a surgical complications warranty, and a pro bono scheme. It was quite unique at the time, but these features are being copied by other practices now! Becoming part of the IVC Evidensia network was the next stage in the frank.Pets journey, and has been really beneficial, providing stability, resources, and the benefits of being part of a global network of veterinary professionals.

Could you tell us a bit more about your career journey?

I went to vet school intending to be a farm vet. My first job was during the foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001, which slightly altered my perspective. I worked in mixed practice in Cheshire for 2.5 years, where I realised I was ready for a new challenge, and I found small animal work offered more for me. After travelling and working in farm work in New Zealand, I returned to the UK, took a small animal job in West Yorkshire, and focused on surgery and my certification.

Not long after, I realised I wanted to pursue surgery seriously, so I moved to Northumberland for a residency in private practice with a huge caseload in orthopaedics, which interested me due to my rugby background! After my residency, I stayed there for several years before seeking something new. I moved to North Downs Specialist Referrals in Surrey and later to Willows Referral Service in Birmingham, aiming to test my orthopaedic skills among a top team.

Throughout this time, I developed a keen interest in the business side of things. I saw opportunities to do things better, which led to founding frank.Pets.

Your episode of the podcast is about maintaining the orthopaedic health of dogs. Can you tell us your thoughts on this topic?

One key message is that orthopaedic disease is common, especially in dogs, though often missed in cats. Many issues are due to developmental or degenerative conditions, often with breed predispositions. So, we encourage people to choose their dogs with their eyes wide open, understanding the risks.

Another critical point is weight. Most dogs are overweight, significantly contributing to the onset and progression of orthopaedic diseases. Exercise is also crucial; many dogs are over-rested, which can be detrimental. We advocate for appropriate, consistent exercise rather than long rest periods.

Lastly, diet is important. We recommend good quality, complete dog food. We have concerns about homemade diets, including raw diets, as they can be unbalanced and lead to nutritional deficiencies.

For a vet interested in orthopaedics, what advice would you give?

Orthopaedics can be challenging and intimidating because the results are immediately visible on post-op radiographs. Many people shy away from it because of this, but there are ways to get started. There are numerous courses and mentoring opportunities available.

You have to start somewhere, and while it's harder in some ways today due to higher public expectations, there are still cases where you can practice without working in a referral hospital, provided you get proper informed consent.

For those truly interested in specialising in orthopaedics, a residency is likely necessary. It's the best way to gain the required expertise.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The best advice I received was that all complications in surgery are my ‘fault’, which means I can learn from them. This approach has shaped my career. However, it’s important to remember that mistakes are normal and it's okay when things don’t go perfectly. Learning from them is what matters.

What do you do outside of work to unwind?

Historically, I played rugby, but due to injuries, I had to stop. I love scuba diving, snowboarding, travelling, and climbing mountains. Recently, I've gotten into triathlons. One of my favourite mountains is Buachaille Etive Mòr in Scotland, especially in the snow. It’s beautiful.