10 months after the TPLO: “Luna looks great! She looks like a new dog!”

At Greenbank Farm, Whidbey Island. A dreamy off-leash area at the narrow waist of the island from which one can see Puget Sound to the west and east.

Today Luna looks like her old self–a younger Luna.

“And, she’s a happy dog!” That’s what the rehab vet said recently when I took Luna in for an Adequan injection, which she now gets once a month to discourage inflammation in her joints .

About 10 months have passed since Luna’s TPLO surgery to repair her ruptured ligament in her right rear knee. She had a rocky recovery due to being overweight and to having a torn ligament in her other knee, as well. But she and I soldiered through, doing the work, staying the course, adhering to the recovery plan. And, it was worth it: She’s looking good and doing well now. A happy dog!

I remember a year ago she was hobbling on three legs. I was fearful, worried: “What should I do? I don’t want to cause her greater suffering. But, I can’t bear the thought of her declining slowly, losing more function, becoming depressed. What if the surgery is a bad move? But, what if it works really well?” I went for it.

Immediately after the surgery, I used a full body harness to help Luna move about because her other rear knee had failed, as well, most likely because its cruciate ligament was partially torn, too. During the day when I was at work, she lay in the shade of a Japanese maple in my backyard on a cool patch of bare earth. At night I slept near her to make sure I could respond to her needs quickly. (The latter was hardly necessary, but it made us both feel better.)

Within a couple of weeks of her surgery, Luna began a series of 10 sessions of water rehab, twice a week for five weeks.  Rehab involved her standing in chest-high water and walking on an underwater treadmill for about 20 or 30minutes. These sessions seemed to seal the positive trajectory of Luna’s recovery: Buoyed by the water, she re-acquainted herself with walking on four legs. That seemed to boost her mood and confidence.

As directed by the vet, I put Luna on a strict diet immediately after her surgery. That worked like a charm: She has weighed-in at a lean 62 pounds for the past few months, down from a high of 85 pounds. Her fur is as soft as velvet and she’s got a twinkle in her eye.

Because Luna’s left, unrepaired knee remains fairly compromised, she does not cover a lot of ground on our walks. She enjoys stopping for rests along the way, during which I hunker down beside her and give her a “rub down” to her never-ending delight. Her repaired leg seems to be doing great!

So, did I make the right choice? Yes. Absolutely. Would I recommend the procedure for others: Definitely—especially considering that the vast majority of dogs bounce back quickly and the biggest challenge facing their people is how to keep them quiet for six weeks.

Onward! All four paws on the ground!

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A crash diet and the underwater treadmill

So, back to the story of my dog Luna’s TPLO surgery to repair her ruptured cruciate ligament in her right rear leg. In my February 3 post, I described the days immediately following her surgery.  Fortunately, the repaired leg was healing quickly and flawlessly. Unfortunately, Luna’s “good” leg suffered a fate similar to her other leg—the cruciate ligament failed.

As a result of her disability (she couldn’t use either leg at this point), I used a full body harness to help Luna move about. I “suited her up” in the morning and released her from the harness in the evening just before settling down for the night. The design of the harness allowed her to eliminate while wearing it. Worked like a charm.

During the first week of placing her in the harness, I tied a cone on her neck during the process. I wanted to be sure she couldn’t bite me were I to inadvertently cause her pain. I can report now that not once did she show an inclination to bite during this process.  In fact, she began to shift her weight in ways so that I would have an easier time of slipping the straps around her. (Good job, Luna!)

Luna insisted upon staying outside in my fenced, shaded backyard when I departed for work each day. (Thank goodness we had a sunny month in Seattle this year!) A retired couple, her very special friends, would visit her once each day in my absence. Luna loved this!

About two weeks after her surgery, Luna had her first appointment with the rehab vet, who proved to be a wonderful person and highly skilled. This appointment coincided with her first post-surgical check-up, which she sailed through with no problems.

The rehab vet took a look at Luna and proposed the following:

  • Crash Diet:  Place Luna on a diet to reduce her weight immediately as being overweight was a serious problem for her compromised joints. Feed her 1/3 cup of her regular food twice daily and feed her ½ cup of veggies with each meal.  If she insists on eating between meals, give her only vegetables.  Luna weighed in at 83 pounds on August 10, the date of her appointment. She needed to lose about 20 pounds.
  • Give Luna 1 teaspoon of psyllium twice daily to help her bowels move easily. (I bought it at Trader Joe’s at a great price.)
  • Give Luna an Adequan injection now to help reduce inflammation in her joints. (Done at the appointment. $17.40)
  • Consider taking Luna to a “dog spa” to swim or arrange for her to walk on an underwater treadmill in order to help with recovery. 

After learning more about the underwater treadmill I asked, “Would it be possible for Luna to walk on the treadmill today?  I think it would do wonders for her spirit to stand up on her own and to experience walking again.”

Aqua Dog! Luna tries out the underwater treadmill. The water buoys her and also provides resistance so that she gets a work-out while walking.

Luna in the tank, body and mood buoyed by the water.

Fortunately, it was possible for Luna to get in the dog-sized aquarium that afternoon. Using the harness, the vet helped Luna into the tank and filled it up with enough water to support a bit more than two thirds of her weight. (A computer on the wall and a remote control device held by the vet controlled the amount of water burbling up into the tank.)

The goal of this first appointment was simply to have Luna stand on all four legs for three sessions of about 5 minutes each. She did seem to “perk up”, even smile a little when the water buoyed her, lifting the weight from her legs.

Afterwards, we rubbed Luna down with towels. I bought a four-visit rehab deal ($360) and planned to take Luna twice a week for the next two weeks to see how she liked it and how she progressed.

BTW: At a recent visit to the vet for an Adequan injection, Luna weighed in at 63 pounds. The vet said, “You can see her spine and she’s got a waist now. She can go on a maintenance diet.” (Great job, Luna! Thank you, Dr. Kari Johnson for your excellent advice, care, and support!)

More about Luna’s successful slimming diet coming soon. Think green beans, okra, and pumpkin to add bulk, nutrients, and just a few calories to meals.

After TPLO surgery an adventure in healing begins

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth. -Henry Beston

Luna, the Wonder Dog, post TPLO.

So, back to the story of my dog Luna’s TPLO surgery. I received a call from the surgeon just after he completed her procedure, “Luna did well during the surgery. The breathing tube is out and she is resting comfortably. The CCL was completely ruptured. I cleared out the cartilage from her torn meniscus, as well. The joint looks good—there’s little arthritis. You can pick her up tomorrow after 3 p.m. The front desk will provide discharge instructions for taking her home.”

Whew.Twenty four hours later I was reunited with my pup. As I walked Luna down the hall at the vet’s office, she seemed disoriented, slightly veering toward walls. A 12-inch incision coursed down the front of her rear leg. No stitches were visible. The wound looked strangely “calm”— no redness and not much swelling. She seemed somewhat “out-of-it.”

The discharge instructions said to leave the Fentanyl patch (for pain) in place for five days after it was applied and to provide Tramadol (50 mg) two to three times a day for seven days to manage pain. Watch the incision for changes. Limit activity.

Before we left the office, the front desk staff person, who was very knowledgeable, said, “It’s quite common for dogs with one ruptured CCL to have the same problem in the other leg.” I had heard this before at previous appointments. Each time I heard it, I thought, “We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. I’m hoping that bridge is not on our particular path.”

Bill for TPLO--A hefty sum and worth every penny.I paid the remainder of my bill and boosted Luna into the backseat of my car. It was Friday. And so began an “adventure in recovery.”

I saw immediately that the rugs I had laid down on my slippery floors were helpful to Luna. In the yard I noticed how difficult it was for her to pee with an unstable leg. She had a very good appetite and slept well. (I slept next to her on the floor so that I could attend to her needs, a practice I continued for a few weeks.) So far, so good.

Unfortunately, by Monday Luna seemed to be moving about less. The wound looked good, but she did not. By Tuesday she was drooling big thick drops and barely moving at all. I called the vet ‘s office and spoke to a technician who consulted with a vet: “Your dog sounds over-drugged. Cut back on the Tramadol. Also, we suggest you bring her into the office as soon as possible.”

How would I get her back to the vet? She was now 80 pounds of incapacitated dog under the influence of pain and pain medicine with a foot-long incision on her leg. How to get her into the car?

Soon family and friends came to my aid. I put a plastic “Queen Elizabeth collar” on Luna’s neck to prevent being bitten. We scooted her onto a blanket then lifted her into the back of a friend’s van. With all of this activity,  my mild-mannered, kind-hearted Luna had morphed into a head-waving Tyrannosaurus Rex of a dog.

Once at the vet’s office, staff met us in the parking lot with a gurney and whisked her away to be examined. When Luna returned to us, she was suited up in a full body harness that had a handle at the shoulders and at the hips. Using this harness, I would help Luna stand up to eat, relieve herself, drink water and visit the vet.

The good news was that her incision looked great. Unfortunately, her other cruciate ligament appeared to have torn and her “good leg” was now incapacitated, too. Also, she was way too fat and needed to lose weight pronto plus, which would help with her recovery.

The vet tech explained that in a few weeks the leg that had been repaired would work well, but until then, things were going to be rough. She said, “I hope you are strong.” I was in for some “heavy lifting”, both physically and emotionally. Luckily, I am strong.

I watched the youtube video about how to put on the harness a couple of times to figure out how to do it. Putting the harness on and taking it off became an everyday ritual that required Luna and I work well together. It proved to be worth its weight in gold.

The good news: The weather was sunny so that Luna could stay outside in my fenced backyard during the day. The vet would prefer that she be indoors, safe from bad guys, cats, squirrels, and other things that cause excitement and excessive movement. But, Luna insisted and I followed her wishes: Outside she would be while I was at work. Besides, she wasn’t moving much these days…

Next step: Doggie in the Tank for RehabDoggie walking on an underwater treadmill during rehabilitation. The water buoys up the dog and provides gentle resistance, which is therapeutic.