At the vet’s office they call this “TPLO”, and at the house we call it her “ACL Surgery”, when it’s really her Cranial Cruciate Ligament which was ruptured. Call it what you will, it’s a pain in the ass, expensive as heck, but the success rate is fantastic. I’m sharing this story as it’s our second go-round. When it happens to the one leg, it’s almost guaranteed to happen to the other leg within 6-9 months.
Sadie did the same thing to her left rear leg last year – just about a week after we returned from our wedding and honeymoon. I watched her do it. She was lying in the backyard when a squirrel ran along the back fence. She got up, turned 180 degrees, and started to sprint all in one motion. SNAP! That was it. She didn’t yelp, or fall, or anything. She simply stopped and lied down. It was odd for her to do this, but I didn’t think much of it until she got up, hobbled a few steps, and lied down again about 10 feet later. When I called to her, she came limping over with her leg tucked up and not touching the ground. At first I hoped it was a thorn, or a torn foot pad, or just a pulled muscle – but something told me it was more. We had some Zubrin in the house from a previous injury, so I gave her one of those and scheduled an appointment with the vet the next day. It took the vet about half a minute to confirm Sadie had “blown her ACL”, or again, as we know, her “CCL” (Cranial Cruciate Ligament). Her surgery was scheduled for two days later.
Needless to say we were nervous wrecks, but quickly found out just how common this is and were surprised by how many friends and co-workers began sharing similar stories. Vet’s have been repairing this injury in dogs for years, and we learned a variety of methods have been used, but this seems to be the latest and greatest and we were told stories of sled-dogs in the ski towns around here still pulling sleds after going through all of this.
As anyone with an injured and recovering dog knows, it completely throws your routines into a tailspin. I’m hoping by sharing this we can help others better prepare, as well as alleviate some of the concern and stress that comes with the unknown.
Day 1 – You drop off your dog at the vet for the surgery after having not given them any food for at least 12 hours. Both times for us, Sadie was quickly admitted, administered sedatives, and prepared for surgery within the first couple hours. It’s nice to know she’s basically sleeping within minutes of leaving her. Preparation includes completely shaving the injured leg from the top of the hips down, as well as a couple small spots on her other leg where they administer the IV, etc.
Within hours we were called to let us know she was already in surgery, and about 2 hours later got a follow-up to tell us all had gone well and Sadie was now sleeping off the anesthesia. If there was anything else they would call again, otherwise we’d hear from them the next morning with another update and to tell us when she could come home. In both cases with Sadie she was ready the next morning. Some dogs react differently to the anesthesia so a few extra hours may be recommended.
Day 2 – We bring Sadie home. The first time we got her as soon as we could and she was still pretty doped up. This second time we waited a few extra hours and she was her good old self, wide awake and happy. And even with a big fat soft cast on her leg (Sadie got purple wrappings both times) she was easily hobbling around and getting where she wanted to go. On her injured leg is also a pain-patch. In this second case it was Duragesic (fentanyl) patch – 50mcg/hr. (Sadie is about 45 lbs and 10 years old). This releases pain-medication for the next couple of days. More on that later.
The vet was nice enough to send us home with some sedatives (Acepromazine) to help us keep her down, resting, etc. As Sadie is a border collie and likes to know where we are and be within sight at all times, this is a really good thing to have. Otherwise, if you’re like us, you’ll find yourself trapped in one room afraid to move in case it makes her want to get up, etc. However, we found out the hard way that even half-a-dose was too much for Sadie. With half a pill she was so knocked out she couldn’t even wake up to use the restroom and instead wet her bed more than once. We thought it was the pain medication doing this to her, and only days later the first time after we removed the pain patch did we make the association. We knew better this second time.
Day 3 – Sadie’s cast comes off today. It’s not really a hard plaster cast, but instead a bunch of gauze and padding tightly wrapped around her leg to help with swelling. Taking it off is quite the chore. For this task, we chose to wait until the sedative had kicked in a bit, and slowly began cutting it away with scissors. Un-wrapping it would be way too much motion and take way too long. We happen to have the sort of scissors with the blunt tip on one side that physicians use, and this make all the difference. The last thing you want to do is start piercing your dog’s skin on their injured leg. Underneath you’ll find your dogs shaven and skinny leg. The first time Sadie showed very little swelling and bruising. The second time it was a bit more obvious. Both times we applied an ice pack a couple times a day to help with this. You’ll also see a row of staples down the leg. This is when wearing the e-collar becomes more of a must-do.
Days 4-7 – Sadie has to stay inside and confined with as little activity as possible. No stairs, no jumping on furniture, etc. Restroom breaks, even in our own yard, are on-leash and only as much walking as necessary to get to “the chosen spot” is allowed. With her first leg, Sadie was at least putting it down to touch the ground by the 3rd day. She wasn’t putting much weight on it, but it was at least getting used. This second leg took a couple extra days. We started to get anxious as the only time her leg went to the ground her toes were folded over “knuckles down” and otherwise she had it up and tucked. We spent a few minutes every few hours helping her uncurl these toes, massaging the foot etc, and finally at the end of day 5 she slowly started setting her foot down correctly. We were quite relieved.
Days 8-14– The first time we visited a physical therapist who showed us how to help Sadie stretch her legs, massage the muscles, etc. This is very necessary and done 2-3 times a day. We are also instructed to begin very light and very slow walking. We literally go up and down the street and it takes almost 10 minutes. You do this once or twice a day for the first week, and can slowly increase the time (15 minutes each walk the second week, etc) and frequency provided your dog isn’t regressing. What’s most amazing is how quickly the muscles have atrophied from just a week or two with no use. Getting them to use the leg and build back the muscle is very important.
Day 14– The staples come out and the cone (e-collar or Elizabethan collar) comes off! Big day for everyone since we all know how miserable your dog is wearing the cone. The vet-tech takes out the staples and the surgeon checks the leg, the range of movement, etc.
As I post this we’re rounding out our 4th full week. I’ll fill in some of the details above and keep documenting the rest…