Dog Knee & ACL Surgery Recovery From an Insider’s Perspective

Scout, my German Shorthaired Pointer, is only four years old but has already endured two ACL surgeries (both knees) and a meniscus tear surgery. I am well acquainted with each surgery and its recovery time. The weeks following any knee surgery are difficult for the dog as well as his guardian. I felt so bad for Scout. He looked so sad sitting in his kennel with his leg all bandaged up.

“There are many procedures that have as their goal the stability and comfort of the stifle joint,” says Dr. G. Timothy Lee, DVM  of VCA Northwood in Anderson, Indiana. Dr. Lee’s practice is limited to referral surgery and was Scout’s surgeon for all three knee surgeries. “The most common procedures done by orthopedic specialists include the TPLO, TTA (Scout’s surgery), Tightrope, Lateral Imbrication Sutures, and the Fibular Head Transposition. The procedure used will vary with the dog involved and the experience of the surgeon.”

Scout and I are no strangers to compression bandages, staples, the dreaded e-collar, and lengthy rehab. Each dog will have its own rehab schedule, so what I’ll do here is give you five tips to assist your beloved doggy with recovery from knee surgery.

Tip #1: Follow your vet’s post op instructions

While this is going to seem like a no-brainer, but first and foremost, follow your surgeon’s rehab schedule to a T. The more you pay attention to instructions sent home with your pooch following surgery, the more quickly your pup and you can fall into a regular rehab schedule and get well. “Under the best of circumstances you must allow six to eight weeks before your pet is allowed to do everything it wants to do. For the first couple of weeks a passive range of motion exercise regimen is helpful,” Dr. Lee said.

It is really important to heed the good doctor’s advice.

Read carefully, you will learn from my shortcomings and brain-fades!

Tip #2: Two people should pick your pup up from the hospital

Each time Scout was released from the hospital, I made the mistake of picking him up all by myself. (Apparently, I have a very short memory!) He was ready to leave and go home and wanted out of there! As such, he was difficult to confine in the car. If someone had accompanied me to the vet, I could have sat in the back seat with Scout and kept him calm, still, and quiet during the ride home.

Tip #3: When out of the kennel, always have your dog on a leash

Seems pretty obvious, but you don’t want your recovering pup tearing out of the door after a squirrel or the neighbor’s cat. Keeping Scout on a leash, even when he was in the house, kept him under control, out of harm’s way and from jumping on the furniture! “Most surgeons recommend leash-only exercise when outside for the first four to five weeks,” Dr. Lee adds.

Tip # 4: Confine your pooch in a crate, kennel or small room

During rehab and recovery, your pup will need to be confined in a crate, kennel or small room to limit his activity and movement. A well-ventilated crate or kennel will limit any unnecessary activity. Keep in mind, your dog will need some room to adjust its position so he can be comfortable in several positions. Those little joints can get a little stiff being in one position all day.

Tip #5: Support your dog’s hind quarters to lift weight off the healing joint

When talking with Dr. Lee following Scout’s surgeries, he reminded me, “No stairs unless supported with a sling and increase the length of walks incrementally over the six week period.”

Our house has tons of stairs–everywhere! Outside, inside. From a recovery standpoint, this was a nightmare. In order to support Scout’s hind quarters so he wouldn’t put any weight on the recently repaired knee, I used a towel that was rolled up and placed under his tummy. I held the ends in one hand and while he was leashed, lifted his hind end as we traversed any stairs. This was effective but very awkward. There are many products on the market that will accomplish this lifting in a better, more controlled way than a towel. After three of these surgeries, I strongly suggest researching the options and purchasing one prior to picking your pup up from the hospital. Unfortunately for me and Scout, each time Scout had surgery, I forgot how important and cumbersome lifting his hind quarters was until I was in the throws of rehab.

Tip #6 The Cone of Health and Happiness

Your vet will most likely send you and your pup home with a hard plastic e-collar. You know, those gigantic collars you put around a dog’s head to keep him from licking, biting and tearing off bandages and staples from a wounded area. Yep, now you know what I am talking about!

Most dogs and their owners dislike these types of collars but they are very necessary to keep your pup from chewing off bandages like Scout did or chewing out his staples….Scout did that, too. There is not a great deal of room in a crate for a dog wearing an e-collar to turn around, so I found a softer, more flexible version of this collar and moved Scout into a small bathroom on the main floor of the house.

I also moved his bed to this new room and placed an old cabinet door in the doorway that was tall enough to keep him from jumping over it and out of the bathroom but small enough that he could see everyone in the house as they passed by the room. He is a very social doggie!

The benefits? Cooler room for Scout to sleep, hang out and recover. Provided more room for him so he could wear his flexible e-collar and give him the ability to see everyone in the house as we went through our daily activities.

Okay, back to the benefits of the flexible e-collar.

These flexible collars are great for the dog because he won’t overheat (a cooler pup), they don’t make that loud sound when the dog bumps the collar into something and you can bend them down so your pooch can drink water and eat while wearing the device. It worked so well for Scout, we nicknamed the collar the ‘Cone of Health and Happiness.’ Everyone, including Scout, was delighted when we took the the collar off for the final time after his staples were removed! WOO HOO!

Tip #7: Adjust the quantity of food at mealtimes

One thing you will need to keep an eye on is your pup’s weight. During these weeks of immobility and limited mobility, he will eat and gain weight. Just be aware so your pup doesn’t gain too much weight. Injured or recently repaired areas do not need the additional weight bearing down on a recovering joint.

Tip #8: Give your dog the right supplements

Talk with your veterinarian about supplements. There are many on the market that can aid in recovery and stimulate bone regeneration. I give Scout glucosamine and chondroitin twice daily…once in the morning and once in the evening. I want to give Scout the benefits of a long life and healthy joints as long as I am able…..even though both his hind leg knees have titanium plates and screws attached to them now.

Tip #9: Use mats and floor coverings

If you have tile, hardwood floors or floors with slick surfaces, cover them up with mats that have rubber backing. During and following rehab and recovery, this will keep those little paws from slipping on the floor and from damaging or injuring the recovering joint or creating new injuries.

Tip #10: Give your doggy lots of TLC

Scout had his first ACL surgery when he was just six months old. My heart just hurt for him. At night during his rehab, I would crawl into his kennel, sit with him and just pet him for what seemed like hours. I wanted him to know I loved him and wanted him to be well but he had to be somewhat immobile. His next two knee surgeries were in 2011, March and September. Both of us could no longer fit into the kennel, so each night I would place the leash on him and spend time with him on the floor rubbing his tummy and petting him while we watched television.

Tender loving care, diligent rehab and reassuring tummy rubs got us through all three of these surgeries. Hopefully, you and your dog won’t ever experience a knee surgery. But if you do, there is hope. A trusted, talented surgeon and dogged attention (pun intended) to detail during rehab mixed with many heaping spoonsful of TLC will get you both through the weeks following surgery.

To watch Scout take those first cautious steps off the leash at the completion of rehab made it all worth it. Now when I watch him run like the wind and leap over the boxwoods, my heart just sings.

Cindy Dunston Quirk is the Chief Dog Lover at Scout & Zoe’s Natural Antler Dog Chews. Scout & Zoe’s chews are allergy-free and a green, organic, renewable resource created only from 100% naturally shed elk antlers.

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