Chance the Rescue Dog and the Torn CCL

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Right after I brought Chance home from the vet after his TPLO surgery.

Right after I brought Chance home from the vet after his TPLO surgery.

If you got to this article by frantically Googling "torn CCL in dogs"--I am so sorry. This whole process will not be fun. But...it's not the worst thing that could happen. Chance and I are here to tell you roughly 80% of what you need to know about the torn CCL (cranial cruciate ligament), a very common knee injury in dogs. Hopefully it will help you understand your options and what to expect should you choose to go down the surgery route--and give you a head-start on the rest of the internet research you really should do (because we're not experts, just survivors).

Let me begin by saying that I fully intended to document every step of this process, because I had such a hard time getting good information myself. That intention lasted all of a week before I just became too overwhelmed with the whole thing, so unfortunately this is going to be a cobbling-together of the photos and videos I did take, augmented by lots of descriptive passages by yours truly (and any other non-copyrighted material I can round up that might be helpful). However, other people on the Internets have meticulously logged their dogs' recoveries--you can see some examples here, here, and here if that's what you're really looking for. Also, if you're not thrown off by more academic language, I just came across this guide from the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group that is incredibly informative (and I somehow didn't stumble across when I was going through this myself).

What I'm going to attempt to do here is try to tell you (or guide you to something that can tell you) everything I wish I'd known the day Chance was diagnosed--in the plainest English I can muster.

Ready to begin? Here we go...

 

Chance, What's Wrong with Your Leg?

 

 

It started with not even a whimper. Or a limp, for that matter. Check out "torn CCL" videos on YouTube and you'll see some dogs in serious distress (like the one posted here). But that's not what I noticed with Chance.

Instead, I noticed that when I gave him a bath, he readily lifted his back right leg, but would stubbornly refuse to lift the back left one. Then, when he was just standing there and I was looking at the tail-end of him, I noticed something curious--I could see part of the pads of his back right foot, but none of the pads on his left. As though he was putting all of his weight on his left foot, but none on his right.

To confirm my suspicion, I went up to him, placed my fingers just above his back right paw, and lifted his leg up. Sure enough, it came right up without any shift in weight--he was putting zero weight on that leg (I later learned this is called "toe-touching" and is a classic sign of a torn CCL).

Concerned, I called my vet. I explained that he wasn't noticeably limping, but he didn't seem to be putting weight on his leg. Now, bear in mind--I had been in to see the vet just a few days prior, and a few days before that. We'd been struggling with getting his allergies under control, and I think our vet thought I was maybe just a TOUCH of a hypochondriac. For crying out loud, I had been taking Chance to agility classes all week and he'd been eating it up, racing around and leaping over jumps like a pony.

When I brought him in, there was some gentle ribbing about seeing me so often, until my vet knelt down and picked up the leg. Then, suddenly, her face just soured. I just instantly knew there was something really wrong. She had me look again at him from behind--but at his haunches, not his feet. That's when I finally realized that the muscles on his right leg were maybe half the size of his left leg. Something had been wrong for so long that his muscles had atrophied from under-use. AND CHANCE HAD NOT UTTERED A WHIMPER.

So, that's the first thing I want to emphasize. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOUR DOG LOOKS LIKE THE ONE IN THE VIDEO. For some dogs, it is that quick--they go from perfectly fine to completely lame in an instant. But I didn't notice the moment it happened, and Chance never suggested (by whining, panting, licking, chewing, etc.) that he was in pain.

You want to catch this as early as possible because, for some dogs, if you can catch the tear while it's not a complete tear, you can avoid surgery--this is called conservative management, and I'm going to get into that in just a second.

For now, if you notice there's something funny with your dog's leg--get him to a vet!

 

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has a Torn CCL?

First, what exactly is going on in that knee? I'll let PetMD explain in their very erudite way:

"Cranial cruciate ligament disease , also referred to as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), is the sudden (acute) or progressive failure of the cranial cruciate ligament, which results in partial to complete instability of the stifle joint. Cranial cruciate rupture is the tearing of the cranial cruciate ligament; it is the most common cause of rear-leg lameness in dogs and a major cause of degenerative joint disease (progressive and permanent deterioration of joint cartilage) in the stifle joint; rupture may be partial or complete."

In layman's terms, that means that one of the ligaments inside the knee joint, which prevents the whole thing from sliding around in an unnatural fashion, is tearing or has torn completely. I can't find a diagram that is free for me to post, so I'll refer you to this page if you really want to know how this works.

 

This is a very common injury, and most vets will perform only a "drawer test" to determine the presence of a torn CCL. Take a look at the video I've posted here, and you'll see what that looks like.

This is what my vet performed on Chance, and coupled with the atrophy, there was no doubt in my mind that the diagnosis was correct. However, I have read that some dogs (especially very anxious, strong dogs) need to be sedated in order for an accurate drawer test to be performed--if they're under stress, they may be able to hold their muscles so tight a vet cannot move the bones, even WITH a torn CCL, thus registering a failed drawer test.

There are other diagnostic options to keep in mind if you have any doubts about whether or not your dog has actually torn his CCL. PetMD, take it away:

"A diagnostic evaluation for cranial cruciate rupture will include a cranial drawer test, which involves specific manipulation to assess the status of the cranial cruciate ligament; puncturing the joint so that fluid can be removed from the point of origin (arthrocentesis), in order to study the cells for toxins, invasions of microorganisms, or immune mediated diseases; and arthroscopy, which uses an arthroscopic tool to directly visualize the interior ligaments, cartilage, and other structures inside and around the joint, as well as to treat abnormalities in the joint."

I say this because it is starting at this moment that I give you complete permission to start questioning your vet. I don't care how much you love him or her, or how long they have been taking care of your dog. If you want another test done, insist on it. If you want to get a second opinion, go get it. Here's why...

 

How Is a Torn CCL Treated?

You have two options: conservative management and surgery. There is heated debate all over the internet about which is better. I'll leave that little Google adventure to you. But general consensus boils down to this:

If your dog is under 30 pounds and/or is older and/or is fairly inactive, conservative management may be the best option.

If your dog is bigger, younger, or fairly active, surgery is almost always recommended.

Again, I'll refer you to PetMD:

  • "Dogs less than 33 lbs (15 kg) may be treated conservatively as outpatients; 65 percent improve or are normal within six months
  • Dogs greater than 33 lbs (15 kg) should be treated with stabilization surgery; only 20 percent improve or are normal within six months with conservative medical management"

Conservative management entails crate-rest for a period of time, usually augmented with supplements and pain medication. Since a torn CCL can result in rubbing of the knee joint, arthritis almost always results, so the pain meds may be a for-the-rest-of-his-life kind of thing. Many older dogs live out their later years regularly taking pain medication, so it's not the worst outcome.

As for the surgical option, there are two major groups of surgery available (here is a great article that details all the options)--suture-based techniques and osteotomy-based (bone-altering) techniques.

The suture techniques are the lateral-suture and the Tightrope techniques. With both styles, a fishing-line type suture is wrapped either around (lateral-suture) or within (Tightrope) the joint to stabilize it, in the hope that scar tissue will eventually form to permanently stabilize the joints (as the sutures eventually degrade).

The osteotomy-based techniques are (most frequently) the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) and the tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA) technique. Both involve cutting or shaving the leg bones to reposition the joint and the addition of a permanent plate with screws to stabilize it.

Still with me? It's complicated, I know.

Let me rephrase.

Conservative management: You can put your dog on serious bed-rest for awhile, give him medication, and maybe apply a leg brace. Scar tissue may form and stabilize the joint, making a functioning CCL unnecessary. If that doesn't happen, you just kind of work around the issue. He's got a bum knee and you make it work.

Surgery: You can opt for a suture-based surgery, which basically ties the knee together with fishing line. The fishing line will most likely stretch and/or break. Hopefully, enough scar tissue has developed that the surgery doesn't need to be redone, and the joint is stable enough. Alternatively, you can opt for an osteotomy-based technique, which basically bolts the knee joint together with a permanent plate. Your dog will have a plate/screws in his knee for the rest of his life. If your dog is younger, bigger, or more active, an osteotomy-based technique is generally suggested.

Trying to make this decision is where things really went south with my vet.

 

How Do I Decide What to Do?

 

This is Chance playing at the dog park, approximately 4 months before tearing his CCL and the subsequent TPLO surgery.

Chance is neither an old nor a small dog--when this happened, he was about one-and-a-half years old and weighed 58 pounds. So conservative management was out from the get-go. But even if I had a small dog who still had a few good years left, I would be really wary of anyone trying to convince me to go with conservative management. I have a friend with a 4-pound Yorkie who opted for surgery with wonderful results.

Of course, if money's tight and you don't have pet insurance (you should really have pet insurance), this may be your only option.

Fortunately, I enrolled Chance in Healthy Paws the day I got him, so all this madness was covered (if you use that link to sign up, by the way, you can get up to a 10% lifetime discount on your coverage). It wasn't FREE, mind you, but we didn't end up on the street.

So, I knew surgery was going to be our route. But which one?

My vet herself did not perform CCL surgeries, but she worked with a vet who came to her practice a few days a week to perform them. However, he only performed the lateral-suture technique; the osteotomy-based techniques require specialized training and only specific vets (specialists, really) perform those surgeries. She said she'd have him take a look at Chance and determine which one he needed.

Surprise, surprise...he said Chance would be a good candidate for a lateral-suture surgery.

At first, I thought I had done my Google research wrong. I thought I had misread something somewhere. But when I dove back in to the internets--I realized that I was not wrong. The overwhelming consensus seemed to be the whole "big/young/active dogs" get TPLO/TTA thing. In fact, this very scholarly article, published in The Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association in 2014, reviewed 444 studies done comparing the different techniques and concluded that the TPLO surgery had both the best chance of returning dogs to their normal function and a better recovery period than the lateral-suture surgery.

So when my vet asked me when I wanted to schedule the lateral-suture surgery with her partner, I told her I was going to take Chance to get a second opinion with Dr. Alan Schulman at the Animal Medical Center of Southern California.

In front of an entire waiting room full of people and pets, my vet got really mad. She started telling me that he wasn't qualified to do the surgery (then she Googled him, right there, in the waiting room, and realized that in fact he was), and then she told me that every vet will suggest a TPLO because it's more expensive than a lateral-suture and other vets just want to make money.

Honestly, this experience was the most traumatic part of the whole thing. I really trusted her, up to that point, but here she was suggesting something I wasn't entirely comfortable with, and then telling me that if anyone suggested anything else it was just for the money.

I didn't back down, and I kept referring to the things I'd read online. Finally, she calmed down a little and told me that she really has a thing against putting plates in animals. She told me that she's seen plates and screws cause a lot of pain in older animals, and she just doesn't like it.

For some people, that will resonate. For me, it did not. In my opinion, just not liking something isn't a reason to disqualify it as an option--especially if ALL THE RESEARCH seems to point to it being a good solution.

The next day, I did take Chance for a second opinion with Dr. Schulman. And let me be clear--I am receiving no discounts, kickbacks, or compensation of ANY kind from Dr. Schulman. But from the second that man walked into the exam room, I knew I had just found our new vet. If you're dealing with a CCL injury and you're ANYWHERE near Los Angeles, head straight for the Animal Medical Center of Southern California (and tell him I sent you, just because I want him to know how insanely grateful I am).

I explained what had happened thus far, and in turn he explained that--while he respects that a lateral-suture surgery is in fact one option--he would recommend a TPLO or TTA. The lateral-suture surgery, he said, has a decent chance of failing in the near future, especially in a larger or more active dog like Chance. This would mean ANOTHER surgery, probably within a year. Also, we would be looking at twice the recovery time. To top it all off, there would also be a very good chance of arthritis in the near future.

He also showed me Chance's x-rays; he had both the left and right side. He explained (in great detail) how the anatomy of Chance's right back knee was not very good, and that this was most likely bound to happen at some point. He contrasted it was Chance's left knee, which he said was formed very well--this was great news because it lessens the chances of this happening on the left side (see later in this post, Recovery: Weeks 6-8, for more on this).

The right knee x-ray...

...and the left knee.

...and the left knee.

Essentially, Chance was a perfect candidate for an osteotomy-based procedure, and suggesting a suture-based procedure was borderline reckless. If you didn't already look at this guide from the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group, have a read and you'll see what I mean.

So. How do you pick which road to go down?

1. Get a second opinion.

2. Do a lot of research.

3. Consider all your options, and take into account your dog's lifestyle, how many years he's most likely got left, and your pocketbook.

4. Find a vet you would trust to do surgery on you.

*SIDENOTE: Once an osteotomy-based surgery has been selected, the decision to do a TPLO or a TTA is largely based on your dog's anatomy, and the surgeon usually makes that call. You just need to be very clear whether you want to do a suture-based surgery or an osteotomy-based surgery, and then your vet will take it from there.

 

A TPLO, Huh? So...What'sThat Like?

Congratulations! You've opted for a TPLO. Here's how it went down for us.

 

Get the Surgery

Chance went in for surgery on September 16, 2015. The charge for the office visit (our second-opinion visit) was rolled into the cost of the surgery, which ended up being just under $5,000.

I wasn't allowed to give Chance food or water the night before or the morning of surgery--so of course his acid-reflux kicked in and he vomited twice in the car on our way to the hospital. I dropped him off with the amazing staff, then went home to wait nervously.

A staff member called me after the surgery to report that everything went well and Chance was sleeping soundly.

The next day, I went to pick him up. Before they let me leave, they walked me through the VERY strict guidelines for post-surgery recovery. This involved a medication schedule, a cone-of-shame to prevent licking/chewing at the stitches, and most importantly, a confinement protocol (I'll get to this in just a second). Chance was basically supposed to move AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. He could go ahead and put as much weight as he wanted on the leg, but under no circumstances was he allowed to run, make sudden movements like jumping or pouncing, and definitely no hopping up on furniture.

I live in a second-floor apartment with no elevator, so there was no way to avoid the stairs. Dr. Schulman wasn't too concerned about that, but the vet tech said to limit it as much as possible. She also suggested I get a sling to take the pressure off his leg--you MUST buy this sling, it was a lifesaver.

Armed with a drugged-up dog, a stiff plastic cone, a bag of pills, and a pamphlet of instructions, I headed home. I drive a small, sporty car; if you can borrow someone's car that drives like a boat, I'd recommend it. My little guy felt every single bump of the 405.

I don't know if it was the pain medication or Chance's general pain tolerance, but he lay in the back seat on his bad leg the whole ride home. Apparently, this is a thing they do, and it's not harmful--this person's dog did the same thing, and his vet said "that was normal for a dog with TPLO surgery to lie on the leg."

 

Recovery: The First Day

The incision site on the day I brought him home.

The incision site on the day I brought him home.

I brought Chance home and put him in the crate I'd set up in the middle of the living room. He was still pretty drugged up (had a pain patch on, and I was to give him both Clavamox and Deramaxx twice daily), but he did want to eat after his first nap. He even played with a brand-new squeaky toy! The vet said it was ok to give him toys as long as he didn't work himself into a frenzy over them.

I had been warned that he may not have a bowel movement for awhile, but he did need to go potty before bed. I used the sling to help him down the stairs--he really resisted it at first, but we got better at it. If I could have carried him, I would have.

I was so worried about him I basically sat right with him until bedtime.

 

Recovery: The First Night

Trying to convince him to fall asleep with the cone on his head.

Trying to convince him to fall asleep with the cone on his head.

This was maybe one of the worst nights of my life. Normally, Chance slept in a crate next to my bed--it's big enough for him to stand up and turn around, but that's it. He can't stretch his legs straight out. I was worried this would not be good for his leg, and then I realized that he couldn't even fit into the crate with the cone on his head (which I will discuss at length in just a second THE CONE IS NOT NEGOTIABLE).

First, I tried having him sleep on two dog beds on the floor next to my bed. He was so upset about the cone that he just stood there, staring at me, before wandering over to the closed bedroom door and looking at it like he wanted to leave the room.

So then I moved him into the bigger crate in the living room, and I tried sleeping on the couch. The cone could fit in that crate, but he still wasn't happy. It kept hitting the sides of the crate, and he kept whining.

Finally, we moved back to the bedroom. He was not allowed on my bed (because jumping off furniture is just about the worst thing he could do, more on that in a second). He finally lay down on the dog beds--while he whined off and on all night, we both managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

The next morning, I realized our situation was borderline untenable. (I also wondered how people have newborn children and continue to function. I may have vowed to never have children. Anyway.) Fortunately, my parents live in a single-story house in Pasadena, and as an actor I don't really have a 9-to-5, so I was able to pack us up and head out there. I meant to stay just for two weeks, and ended up staying over a month.

 

Recovery: The First 10-14 Days

This early part of recovery is THE MOST CRUCIAL PERIOD. I cannot emphasize this enough. DO NOT FUCK THIS PART UP. The care you give your dog in the first 10-14 days will directly determine whether or not you have to go in and either have the stitches redone or have the entire surgery redone. You will be responsible for the cost of all of that, by the way. Do not take this lightly.

I had two responsibilities: keep Chance from licking/chewing/scratching at his stitches, and prevent him from moving as much as possible.

Shakespeare couldn't pull his stitches out, either.

Shakespeare couldn't pull his stitches out, either.

First, let's talk about the stitches and the cone (also called an e-collar, short for Elizabethan collar, like the ruffly white one that Shakespeare wore).

To prevent Chance from bothering his stitches, he had to wear a cone unless I was directly supervising him. As in, he was within my line of sight and if he so much as SNIFFED at his leg I could stop him from getting at the stitches. The internet is FULL of stories of people who took the cone off their dog because they felt so bad for him, and next thing they know they're back the vet for restitching (and possible infection treatment). A dog can get stitches out in 20 seconds--at best this introduces nasty mouth germs to the surgical site, and at worst the whole wound will gape open.

Chance haaaaaaated it. Oh man. The looks he would give me... My personal solution was to spend literally every waking second with my dog (or leave him with one of my parents for babysitting). If we so much as left the room to go to the bathroom, the cone went on.

 
 

And yes, the hard plastic cone the vet gets you is awful. But our vet tech explained that larger or more flexible dogs can easily get around the inflatable cones if they are so motivated. Now, Chance really didn't seem to have much interest in his stitches, so we bent the rules a little and ordered him a Comfy Cone. This thing comes with hard plastic stays that make it almost as rigid as the plastic cone, so I felt safe using it, and he could lay his head flat down in it to sleep at night. I highly recommend it, unless your dog really loves chewing at himself. Then, just stick with the hard plastic cone.

So, the cone isn't negotiable. It's at most two weeks--you'll make it, I promise. And so will your dog.

Now, let's talk about this confinement protocol.

Dr. Schulman put it this way: "All movements must be CONTROLLED at ALL times." (His emphasis.)

That means Chance had to be in a "cage or small room" or "on a short leash" at ALL times. Even inside my tiny apartment, Chance either had to be in a crate, barricaded inside the kitchen, or an a leash ALL. THE. TIME. And obviously, when we went outside, he was not only leashed but also slinged-up (so if he decided he needed to go after a passing dog, I could simply lift his entire hind-end up and he would not be able to damage it).

This is important because strenuous or sudden weight-bearing activity can BREAK THE IMPLANT. That's right--if your dog takes ONE misstep, hops up onto ONE piece of furniture, lunges ONE time when someone knocks at the door, the vet will have to do THE WHOLE SURGERY ALL OVER AGAIN. You can read the sad accounts of this actually happening to people here, here, and honestly just Google it.

The vet tech also suggested I put down as many rugs or yoga mats on any non-carpeted surfaces, or use the sling on slippery floors. My apartment is all hardwood floors or tile, so that was a no-go. Fortunately, my parents have a lot of carpet, and when I had to walk across tile or linoleum to go outside, I used his sling.

 
 

However, even with all of my attention to detail, I still somehow allowed him too much activity. At my parents' house, we set up a small exercise pen in the living room--this was roughly the size of a very large crate but it didn't have a top on it, so Chance didn't crash into the top with the cone all the time. To go potty, I would leash him up and hook up the sling to walk/carry him to the backyard, but Chance seemed quite happy to use his leg to a mild extent. Dr. Schulman had said this was perfectly normal and to be expected--the joint is fixed after surgery, so of course the dog CAN walk, it just comes down to how much pain the dog wants to tolerate.

Four days post-op. Click to enlarge (if you want).

Chance seemed so eager to get back to using his leg that I started getting lazy and not using the sling at all, and I was taking him out to potty every time he asked--which was maybe 8 times per day. Then, 4 days after surgery, the incision area swelled up like a balloon. It looked like a pouch of fluid around the incision, and it started weeping. It didn't smell, and Chance had definitely not so much as licked it even once (I knew, because I had eyes on him 24/7 and he wore his cone at night), so it wasn't infected.

When I called the vet's office, they said most likely he'd had too much activity. Honestly--just walking to the backyard and back without the sling was too much for him on Day 4 post-surgery. For most dogs, this isn't a problem at all, but not my princess, apparently.

After a gentle cleaning, still four days post-op. Click to enlarge.

My mom (a retired nurse) washed Chance's incision site, and we monitored it to make sure the swelling was going down instead of getting worse (it was). Crisis averted.

So, you have to be super-aware. Your dog may be delicate like mine, and even just walking to go potty without a sling could be too much stress on the joint.

To recap: during the initial 10-14 day period right after surgery, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU DO NOT LET YOUR DOG BOTHER HIS STITCHES, OR MOVE IN AN UNCONTROLLED MANNER.

This is hard. It's hard because it requires near-constant vigilance, and a lot of cone-wearing and crate-confining. No one will be happy about this period. Oh, who am I kidding, neither of you are gonna be happy for the next two months, but at least the cone is only necessary for these first two weeks.

 

Recovery: Weeks 2-6

The hardest part about this period was that Chance felt better with each passing day--but was still not allowed to do any activity. Even walks! If your dog must walk in order to go potty, they are allowed only as much walking as necessary to get them to go--that's it. Chance just gets taken straight outside to his potty spot, so he didn't even get that.

He adjusted pretty well, I have to say. He's an extremely active dog--before the surgery, we were doing at least two walks each day, unless we had agility class or went to the dog park. I thought keeping him confined for two entire months was going to break him. It didn't.

For this period, I recommend figuring out things your dog really likes to do that don't require a lot of movement. For Chance, that's doing tricks, getting treats, ripping apart toys, and sitting in the sunshine. 

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I cut way back on his breakfast and dinner (almost in half), to make caloric room for an increase in treats (and drastic decrease in activity). I got a book of tricks to teach your dog, a clicker, and an economy-sized bag of Zuke's, and for about 15 minutes each day, we'd have school. I would sit in his pen and teach him tricks. We still do this (not every day).

I'd also buy a ton of cheap stuffed toys from Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and HomeGoods that he could rip apart to his heart's content. For the most part, there was always someone watching him to make sure he didn't get too excited and start bouncing around as he shredded. I also bought him this interactive dog toy, a Trixie Poker Box Level 2--I think some dogs can play with it without getting too riled up, but for some reason Chance really just enjoyed pouncing on it so that was reserved more for Weeks 4-6.

And there was lots of sunbathing. He seemed to really enjoy putting the affected leg right on the warm concrete and soaking in some rays. I would bring my phone out into the backyard and Facebook for a good half hour while he just sat there.

*A note on physical therapy: Some vets (and obviously rehab centers) suggest starting your dog in a therapy program right after surgery. My vet requested that we stick with complete inactivity until he'd had his x-rays at 8 weeks to ensure the implant was completely secure. This scholarly article seems to suggest that physical therapy can return the affected leg to completely normal function after 6 weeks, but I was ok with a slower, more conservative approach. I'm not rushing to get him back to crazy-active. Personally, I looked into physical therapy at 8 weeks when our vet gave us the go-ahead; our insurance would cover the actual therapy appointments but not the $300 initial visit. When I talked to Dr. Schulman about it, he said that if I felt like dropping the extra money, the rehab couldn't hurt, but that he'd done so many of these surgeries and seen so many dogs recover just fine with a slow return to activity at home that he didn't think we really needed it. We've been doing ok without it so far...

Recovery: Weeks 6-8

It was around this time that Dr. Schulman said Chance could start taking slow, controlled walks around the neighborhood. Just a couple blocks, nothing crazy. This was GREAT news, because I finally felt comfortable leaving my parents' house and dealing with being back at my apartment. I felt like the stairs would be manageable, and if I had to leave him alone in the kitchen while I went out, it would be pretty much like normal (with me spying on him the whole time). I did, however, put down as many rugs as I had, and I purchased these little non-skid socks called Pawks that work decently indoors.

This is another point at which it is critical to monitor your dog's activity closely. With the stringent rules relaxed, one could be lulled into a false sense of in-the-clear security--with disastrous consequences. You see, one of the very real complications of this kind of surgery is that at this point, your dog could DO THE SAME THING TO THE OTHER SIDE.

Here's how:

Your dog has been completely confined for nearly two months. The muscles on the affected leg have almost certainly atrophied from under-use. However, your dog is feeling pretty good! If you let your dog loose to, say, run in a field, he may think THE WORLD HAS RETURNED TO NORMAL and go bounding off in a fit of freedom-ecstasy. However, everything is NOT back to normal--he still has one leg that doesn't work quite right yet. So what does he do? Compensates with the other leg. And if there's ANYTHING wrong with his other CCL...that one could tear now, too. Because he hasn't been exercising for two months so it might be a little weak anyway, and suddenly his gait is all different, and it's bearing weight in a totally different way and--POP. Back to square one.

Don't let that happen. Slow and steady is the key here.

At Week 8, Chance had x-rays taken to see how things were progressing. Dr. Schulman said everything looked great. We were cleared to go back to regular activity, like the length of walks he was used to taking. The dog park and agility classes, however, will have to wait a few more months.

Still not bearing equal weight on his right hind leg, but we're getting there! 3 months post-op.

Still not bearing equal weight on his right hind leg, but we're getting there! 3 months post-op.

Recovery: The Future

We're due back for what I suspect will be our final check-up (gotta remember to make that appointment!). Chance's scar has healed beautifully. He still doesn't place as much weight on his surgery leg as he does on the other one--I can still lift it up with no struggle, while he fights me when I try to lift the other one (thus shifting his weight to his surgery leg). While his muscles are slowly building back up, they are still noticeably smaller on his right side than on his left. I plan on bringing up physical therapy with Dr. Schulman again--if Chance's progress is noticeably slower than other dogs he's worked with, I may consider throwing more money at the problem and going to rehab. I'll keep you updated!

 

Happily Ever After...

I hope this post has been helpful in some way. What I really hope you'll take away from our experience is that, if you take everything really seriously and are very careful, the whole daunting process really can result in a great outcome. I hope you can find a vet that you love as much as we love Dr. Schulman (and if you're in the Los Angeles area, you should really consider going to see him)!

Good luck!

 

Has your dog had an experience with a torn CCL? What worked for you? Leave us a comment below, or join the conversation in the Patchwork Dogs Facebook Group!


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie Wiita is an actorbloggercheap-wine enthusiast, and dog-parent to Chance, a two-year-old rescue. She wishes her vet had a rewards card, and that she got a free sandwich after seven visits. Just a thought, Dr. Schulman...