Guest Post: What I Wish I Knew About My Dogs ACL Surgery Beforehand

This is a guest post written by a client of Leesville Animal Hospital, the opinions reflected in this post are not those of Leesville Animal Hospital, nor do they reflect them in any way.

A Senior Dog CCL Tear

My black Labrador, Jet, was 10 years old when he tore his CCL. We opted for traditional / extra-capsular repair surgery, the option which was best recommended in our circumstances. Our vet, vet techs and surgeon were all very helpful during our experience, but there are some things that I wish other pet owners had shared with me before we started our journey.

dog in cast

– Avoid Google. You are likely not trained as a veterinarian and anything you find online should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s okay to ask your veterinarian questions, research options and even get second opinions, but don’t trust a stranger on the internet to give you medical advice about a dog they have no history with.

– Trust your vet. It’s okay to be hesitant about surgeries, but don’t confuse uncertainty or hesitation with mistrust in your vet.

– Accept preoperative care if it is offered to you. Living on a budget is difficult during the best times but with CCL surgery pending for your dog, it can be tempting to cut financial corners. When we were offered hydro-therapy to help to strengthen Jet’s back end prior to surgery I admit that my first thought was that it would be wasted money. I understood the concept of building muscle in his back end but just how much good would three weeks of therapy do before his surgery? The answer to that question is A LOT. If you are like me, you will have family members and friends who will tell you that it’s a ploy to get you to spend more money at the vet’s office. I won’t lie to you, the process DOES cost money, but I also firmly believe that it played a role in Jet’s successful recovery.

– On the same note, take part in postoperative therapy as well if it is offered to you. Jet continues to use the hydrotherapy machine at the Leesville Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC even 8 months following his surgery. Certainly, you don’t have to continue therapy for as long as Jet has, but if you can afford even a few weeks, DO IT. Jet has excelled through the use of hydrotherapy. Taking part in walking exercises was difficult for Jet after his surgery, but the buoyancy of the underwater treadmill took away most of that difficulty and allowed him to focus on rebuilding strength.

– Don’t be surprised if your dog acts “zoned out” with a pain patch. The day before his surgery, Jet had a Fentanyl pain control patch put on his foreleg. Despite the horror stories that various internet sources offered on the patch, we took our vet’s advice and went with it (I have NO regrets in using the patch.) We had no horror stories and the only “side effect” seen was a little wooziness as the night wore on which is completely normal.

– Invest in a GOOD harness or sling. Depending on the age and weight of your dog you may find that one harness or sling will work best for your dog as they recover from surgery. As the owner of a senior dog who also weighs close to 80lbs, I invested in a “Help ‘Em Up Harness.” Believe me when I tell you that I would spend $1000 dollars on that harness for the amount of trouble it has saved both Jet and me.

– Expect bruising. This was the most shocking part of post-CCL surgery for me that I wasn’t prepared for. I don’t know exactly what I did expect once Jet’s cast came off, but it certainly wasn’t the amount of bruising that you can see in this picture:

ACL surgery on dog bruising

This is NORMAL. I can tell you this because I must have asked every vet and every vet tech in the area. Perhaps part of my shock was that I have never had major surgery myself. This bruising is from three days following his surgery, it vanished rather quickly in the days following.

– Don’t expect your dog to cry with pain. Jet is a tough cookie, he doesn’t cry or whimper when he is in pain. Being his “mom” for what is now 11 years, however, has taught me how to read him. Jet may not whimper or cry but he does tuck his tail right under his body, pant and continually shift around when he is in pain. I began to see these behaviors when it was almost time for another round of pain medication during the first couple of nights at home.

– Follow your surgeon’s post-surgical care instructions TO THE TEE. Having a dog blow out their second CCL after having surgery on the first is not uncommon but the likelihood of it happening can be significantly reduced by following the surgeon’s post-surgical instructions word for word. Your vet will tell you this and your surgeon will tell you this. As the owner of a senior dog who has had CCL surgery and survived 8 months *knock on wood* without blowing out his second CCL, I am telling you: FOLLOW THOSE INSTRUCTIONS STEP BY STEP.

– When you think your dog is ready to resume a “normal life” and recovered from their surgery…they aren’t. A few weeks following his surgery Jet started to act more like his old self. He wanted to take stairs and even pick up a little jog when walking. It took everything in me (as well as the well-secured handles on his harness) to stop him. Among your dog’s discharge instructions from his or her surgeon you should have a guideline for activity, your dog will likely begin to show signs of being ready before these guidelines. Do not let them! This is perhaps the most important thing I can share with you as a dog owner. Too much exercise too soon following CCL repair surgery can result in damage, infection and contribute to damage to the CCL in the other leg. Afraid that your dog is getting bored? Try picking up a puzzle toy to keep you both entertained instead and burn that “energy” in a hydrotherapy tank where their activity can be monitored and controlled.

I hope that you were able to take something away from my experience with Jet’s therapy and surgery. Please feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments below and I will answer them as soon as I am able.