Last updated on July 19, 2017
Two weeks after having surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and removal of a damaged meniscus, my dog’s stitches were removed today. Indeed, the road from dog ACL injury to recovery has been a long and interesting journey.
In a continuing effort to keep Fidose of Reality readers up to date, our road to date has included:
March of 2013: ACL partial tear diagnosis from doing a jump for the ball at the park
April of 2013: Cold laser therapy sessions at the local pet rehab center
May of 2013: Custom orthotic ACL stifle brace to wear for 4-6 months with modified activity (read: no jumping)
Early August of 2013: 90 days the brace and all seemed well
August 2, 2013: A 90-day update of the ACL saga
Mid August of 2013: Limp – pop – stagger. My dog injured the same leg but worse. Surgery is required. A partial tear became a full tear.
Today, September 3rd, he had his 5 skin staples removed without flinching. I flinched a bit, but my little man stood there and allowed the vet tech to remove the metal pieces that bound his wound together.
Here is what I’ve learned and pass on to you, fellow dog moms and dog dads, if and when you are faced with this injury:
* The ACL (aka CCL) is a ligament that is commonly damaged. In fact, the surgeon who performed the repair on my dog says that more than half of his patients have this injury. Dexter also needed to have a damaged meniscus removed.
* Keep your dog’s weight in check. Overweight dogs are at more of a risk to tearing a ligament or worse with the burden of carrying extra weight.
* Keep your dog active. Even if your dog is elderly or has any current health issues, check with your pet’s veterinarian on the types of activities he or she can do. Mobility is pivotal, especially as means to combat atrophy (muscle wasting) and keep limbs mobile. There are things you can do to keep a dog active in the postop period.
* If your dog limps or appears to have any staggering or uneasiness in his or her gait, seek veterinary care. I know it sounds like common sense, but I cannot tell you how many folks I met in the many vet and rehab visits over these six months that waited to get help for their dog. Dogs feel pain as we do, but dogs are less likely to exhibit the level of pain they are experiencing. They truly are wolves at heart when it comes to disguising their pain. Often times, they will internalize it and not let you, their pack leader, know when pain is affecting them. Know your dog’s “normal” behavior so that you can act on the abnormal times.
* Be extremely careful when it comes to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID,) proceed with caution. They can be hard on the GI tract as well as causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or worse. Talk to your veterinarian about any potential side effects and proceed with extreme caution. We stopped using an NSAID after 10 days because we noticed issues.
* Do rehab and find something that works. Consider alternative things before immediately jumping to surgery IF your dog is a candidate. A partial tear in a smaller dog is more likely to benefit from conservative management like orthotics.
* If your dog is older or has health issues that prevent him or her from surgery, a brace is a great option. Ensure it comes from a reputable company, that they work with you and/or your vet on the exacting process of a custom fit, and if possible, have access to the specialists so they can make one for your dog. We selected My Pet’s Brace and had a great experience.
* Look into homeopathic options for joint issues and pain but be selective and talk to an alternative medicine veterinary. Some practicing vets actually carry homeopathic meds in their practice: And thankfully my dog’s vet is one of them. We opted for Traumeel and Heel and had good success with them.
* Look into non Elizabethan collar (cone) options. I knew my dog’s biggest obstacle would come with having to wear that lampshade-looking device on his head for a few weeks. After looking into alternatives to the E-collar, which prevents a dog from licking and impeding the healing process, I found a viable and comfortable solution.
Granted, some dogs will figure out how to get through garments and bandages, so I wanted something easy to use, safe for my dog, and that would not dampen his spirits. Enter the onesie from Tulane’s Closet. Oh and folks who guffaw at a dog who wears clothes or who turn their nose up at the idea of dogs in couture, get this: My dog is totally okay with a onesie because, after all, it’s just clothes to him. If clothes aren’t your thing, consider a soft cone.
* If you end up needing to have surgery on your dog’s issue, get a board-certified surgeon. We received a referral and found the only doctor in our area that is board certified to perform this surgery. Someone with that skill set and extra knowledge goes a long way. Oh, and the surgeon’s bedside manner was spectacular, too. We had a consult first and only then did we decide to have him perform the surgery.
* Decide what type of ACL surgery best suits your dog: There are a variety of them and I highly recommend you check out a reputable source. Fellow pet blogger, Jana Rade, has done extensive research on this topic. We opted for the extracapsular repair: Basically fishing line is sutured into the area of the ligament tear. With time, scar tissue will form where the ligament damage is, the line will break, and the scar tissue serves to keep the bone connected to bone where once a ligament performed that function. Each dog is different, with different needs and injuries, and a qualified, caring surgeon will explain options to you. There is also nothing wrong with a second opinion. Here’s a shot of Dexter after he came out of surgery and we got to take him home the same day:
What I Would Do Differently
* If your dog has a partial tear of a ligament, don’t wait to start rehab and get an orthotic. I wish I started sooner.
* Be sure to eliminate jumping and any sort of movements that are harsh on joints. I should have used a baby gate to block off the bedroom. Jumping off a bed with a boo boo leg is not ideal.
* I’d not change much else that we did as a family. Life is full of coulda, woulda, and shoulda….and I have no major regrets.
What Happens Next
* With the 5 staples out, we are allowed to increase walk time to about 20 to 30 minutes. No running for a long while. We were also given the okay to start physical rehab. With a center nearby, we will go that route. A variety of PT (physical therapy) options include underwater treadmill, strength training, range of motion exercises, and cold laser therapy.
* By the way, we have pet health insurance and it has been amazing for us throughout this process and the past 20 years of being a customer. I am not being paid to say that: The insurance helped immensely: they even covered the majority of the cost of the orthotic device. I’d do anything I needed to for my dog, but having the cushion of pet insurance in place helped.
The costs vary from vet to vet, surgeon to surgeon, and city to city. Here’s a breakdown of some of the costs we incurred:
Custom orthotic brace for left stifle: $625
Six cold laser therapy treatments: $250
Extracapsular surgery with same-day release from veterinary hospital: $2,000
My dog’s love and devotion coupled with good health: Priceless.