Dog Surgery: From Diagnosis to Recovery

By on 29 April, 2016 in Kate and Stephen, Pets with 0 Comments

IMG_1962It started with a limp in December. The dog came in from a stint of running around the yard and wasn’t putting weight on her left rear foot. We figured she’d gotten a thorn in it, but even after producing a flashlight and poking around while she displayed considerable patience, we weren’t able to play Androcles this time. After a day of this, we took her to the vet. A full exam revealed that they really didn’t know the cause – perhaps she’d banged up against a tree or the shed while chasing a squirrel and bruised herself? An X-ray showed (thank goodness) that her hips were normal, so they gave us some pills to help her with the pain and advised limited walks till she got better. And she did.


Until three month later, when the same thing happened. To the same foot. And then we were pretty concerned. So we took her back. Regular readers of MML know that we write about our dog with some frequency. And we love all of the veterinarians (and techs) who work at Montgomery Veterinary Associates. That day we were particularly lucky to draw their orthopedic specialist, Dr. Cade Armstrong. Getting down on the floor, he moved the dog through some range of motion exercises. It was a bit of a puzzle, he said – it might be a torn ACL, or it might be something much worse, like bone cancer. Neither of those was what we wanted to worry about, obviously, but having lost a beloved dog to cancer just a few years ago, that possibility was particularly scary. He told us that the way they test for torn ligaments in dogs (unlike just giving an MRI, like they would to humans) is to take fluid from the knee to see if there is an excess of fluid or other signs, like inflammation, that the ligament’s not functioning the way it should be. She’d be put briefly to sleep for this test. They’d also do another X-Ray to check on her hips and bones.

We worried for an hour. I wandered aimlessly around the Winn-Dixie. I sat in the waiting room. Then the news came: almost certainly a torn ACL. Without surgery, he couldn’t tell how much it was torn, but it would continue to tear. The good news was that she didn’t have any of the terminal conditions. We were flush with relief but also worry for what was to come.

Luckily, we were able to schedule her surgery for that Friday at the Vaughn Road facility. Dr. Armstrong met with us again and went over the procedure, risks, and rehab process. We were surprised (and pretty bummed, honestly) to hear that about half of dogs who tear one ACL tear the other within a year. We resolved to do everything we could to stop that from happening. The doctor called us later that day to say that her ACL tear had been fixed, her meniscus moved back to where it had been, and a metal plate put into her bone to stabilize the joint. Cyborg dog!

It’s worth noting that the surgery’s not cheap by any means. We were very happy to have insurance for the dog – it’s paid for itself many times over by now.


The staples

The staples

The day we picked the dog up, we didn’t know what to expect. Would she be drugged up, sad, unable to move? Nope! She bolted right out, excited to see us. It was all we could do to stop her from jumping into the car. We borrowed a gigantic crate from the vet and took her home for a month of rehab. Sure, we’d spent some time on the canine Internet and we knew the dog wouldn’t be allowed to run wild and free, but we didn’t really have a sense of just how confined we’d need to keep her and for just how long. We’re more than a month after surgery now, and she still can’t walk off the leash. We crate her when we’re not home, and at night, so she won’t do something foolish like chase a cat, jump onto a couch, or skid across our home’s hardwood floors.

We learned to do range of movement exercises with her, which she is a good sport about. It’s pretty weird to feel her scar tissue cracking and see her stretching. They do seem to help. There’s a video online that shows how to do these. We also learned how to walk her on the leash. The key is to let her pull you a bit, so you can slow down and force her to use the recovering leg. This took a little bit of practice, but it’s been very effective at getting her to use the leg and be less hitchy when she walks. Here’s a short video I took on my phone – you can see her skip a little bit before I correct her.

We do worry that when she’s allowed to run around again, she’ll keep skipping and not using the leg. This is, evidently, why dogs often tear that second ACL – they put too much pressure on the other leg by not using the repaired leg. We’re going to do everything we can to avoid it, but we’ll also be really glad (and she will too!) to be off-leash soon. We feel very lucky to live so close to such high-quality veterinary care – we didn’t even have to drive to Auburn this time!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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