Polly 3-Week Post-TPLO Surgery Update
It’s been almost 3 weeks since Polly had the TPLO operation on her leg, so I figured this would be a good time to update everyone on her progress. Plus we finally (finally!) figured out what we’re going to do in July so I wanted to share that too.
Since we have several doggie owners who follow the blog & perhaps folks who will go through this surgery in the future, I’m going to go into quite a bit of detail about her recovery process here. For those not interested in the nitty gritty (including poo!) feel free to skip this post. For the rest of you, here goes….
Polly’s Leg Looks Amazing
Our primary good news is that Polly’s new bionic leg looks absolutely amazing. TPLO is a very invasive surgery and I’d read horror stories of recovery online which probably made me worry waaaay more than necessary. I’d seen online pictures showing scars that went across the full length of the leg, deep purple/red bruising, swelling, stitches that split open and infection. Honestly I was prepared for the very worst.
In Polly’s case I’m incredibly relieved to say that NONE of this happened!
I believe that finding the right surgeon was KEY and I can honestly say we are beyond amazed at how well the leg has healed. Dr. Acker made a very small incision (only a few inches long) and Polly had literally ZERO swelling and only one teeny, tiny barely visible bruise. If I hadn’t seen the X-rays which showed the plate and the enormous screws in her leg, I would never have believed she’d had such major surgery. It’s a total testament to the surgeon’s skill & efficiency that the scar/bruising was so minimal. Honestly, we are astonished.
Recovery Has Gone To Schedule So Far
On the recovery side everything has (so far) gone pretty much exactly as expected. Here’s the week by week blow:
Week 1 -> Forced Rest, Toe-Touching & Poo Issues
The first week of TPLO recovery is perhaps one of the hardest. The dog must be kept at rest, only taken out to do their business and cannot run, jump or do ANY stairs. Some dogs start to use the leg right away, but others don’t use it (at all) for several weeks. You DO want to see “toe touching” (= toe touches the ground), but you want to keep use to a minimum and you DON’T want to see ANY split, leaking or bad smell from the wound. Some bruising and swelling is also normal (although we saw neither, as I mentioned above).
In Polly’s case, the she started toe-touching the very first day after surgery. On day 3/4 she was tentatively putting down the leg and using it (very wobbly, very unsteady) for a few steps every now and then. However she did not properly walk on the leg the entire first week and spent most of her time hopping around on 3-legs. For meds she had a pain patch (Fentanyl) on her rear “good” leg and was on oral antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory. The pain patch came off on day 5, while the antibiotics & NSAID continued for a few more days. The meds were fine and she showed zero discomfort after she came off them (which was a big relief). During the entire first week we only took her out for quick ~5-min outings, and monitored her inside the rig to make sure she was resting & not moving around excessively or jumping on any furniture.
The only major problem we encountered in the first week was poo, and it was all related to the anesthesia & post-op meds. It took around 3 days post-op before she poo’d and she didn’t get back to completely normal poo’s until 2 days after the antibiotics were done. Fellow dog owners will understand why I mention this and why we monitored it closely!
Week 2 -> Limpy Short Walks
The second week post-op you can start to walk the dog (slow, controlled 5-10 min walks, 3-4 times per day), but you still cannot allow doggie to run, jump or do any stairs.
Polly started using the leg slightly more this week (almost every time we went out), although the majority of her walking was still 3-legged hops. The leg was still wobbly and her 4-legged walking was very slow and with a very marked limp. All walks were kept short and she was monitored inside the rig to make sure she was resting and not moving around too much around or jumping. She went to the vet end of week 2 for an incision check (all perfect). She received NO MEDS this entire time and showed NO signs of discomfort or pain.
Week 3 -> More Regular Use & More Normal Walking
By the third week most dogs will start using the leg more regularly and you can start slowly increasing walk time (up to 15-20 mins, 3-4 times per day) outside. Walking stimulates bone growth and fusion, so it’s important to do, but it also can’t be overdone since the “new” bone is still very weak. The dog must still be kept calm, with NO running, jumping or stairs.
With Polly this has been the week we’ve seen the biggest improvement. Over the past few days (15-17 days post-op) she has started to use the leg every time she walks. She’s no longer “wobbly” and she has only a slight limp, but she is definitely still weak on that side and she favors the other leg whenever she stops or rests. The muscles in the bionic leg are starting to develop, but there’s still a measurable difference between her two rear legs in terms of muscle size. Overall however, I would say that she’s almost looking “normal” when she walks which is pretty impressive. We’re still doing slow, controlled outings, but increasing her walks ever so slightly with each outing.
How Do You Handle NO STAIRS In An RV???
Perhaps the biggest difficulty we’ve faced these past 3 weeks is that Polly is NOT allowed to do any stairs. When you live in an RV that’s something you can’t avoid, so Paul has resorted to carrying Polly in/out of the rig for each of the 3-4 times we walk her per day. That means he’s doing full ~50-lb squats ~12-16 times per day (2 squats each time you move her) = not exactly power-lifting, but tiring nonetheless.
I joked that I probably should have taken a “before” and “after” picture of him because I reckon this is going to buff him up and hey…who doesn’t like a buff hubby? Oh, and me? I managed to tweak my back pretty badly on day 1 so I’ve had to abstain completely from anymore doggie-lifting. Coincidence or just because I want to admire hubby doing lifts? We’ll never know…..
Despite the obvious body benefits of regular dog-squats, we did consider two other ideas which we got from other doggie owners, just for good measure. Neither really worked for us, but I know folks who swear by them so I wanted to mention them in case they’re useful for others:
Hip Lift Harness: I’ve seen many doggie owners use a “hip lift harness” to help take weight off the rear legs. It’s basically just a wrap that goes underneath the belly of the dog (around the hips) with a handle to lift upwards. It’s especially useful for heavier dogs that can’t be lifted directly. You can buy these online or you can just cut-up two sides of a large canvas bag (which is what we did) or you can even just use a big towel. In Polly’s case we tried it out, but it was just too awkward and doggie wasn’t comfortable with it. Besides she was hopping around on 3 legs on her own most of the time, so we felt we didn’t need it.
- Stair Ramp: Some owners buy a stair ramp (much like this one) to help doggie get in/out of places. The ramps can be a bit tricky to use on narrow RV steps, especially if the dog is wobbly on their legs, but they can certainly help larger dogs and geriatric dogs who can no longer do stairs that well. With Polly we just felt it was easier and safer to carry her in/out of the rig.
Other Post-Surgery RV Modifications
Apart from the RV stairs, the other thing you have to be careful about inside an RV are the slippery floors and all the various furniture items which doggie might jump onto. For dogs who’ve undergone TPLO surgery it’s important to forcibly limit their activity, especially the first few weeks and there can be NO RUNNING and absolutely NO JUMPING. So, you have to do what you need to do to avoid this.
- Create a Comfortable, Safe Rest Area: Many folks chose to crate their dogs, especially the first 2 weeks after surgery. Other folks will corner off parts of their RV (e.g. with baby gates, indoor panels or X-pen units) to create a comfy, secure area for rest. Thankfully Polly has been “place-trained” which means she will rest in one place when we ask her to, so we’ve not needed to do anything special. Her “spot” is underneath the dining room table and she’ll happily stay there the entire time we’re inside the RV.
- Block Access to Furniture/Beds: If you’re anything like us you like to have your dog next to you in the sofa or in bed with you at night. So, if your dog is a “jumper” all those areas have to be blocked and/or doggie has to be crated/controlled so that he/she doesn’t have access to them. Polly has been trained not to jump onto (or off) anything unless asked, so we’ve been able to manage this easily with no modifications. The only time she’ll jump by herself is when we leave the RV (we’ve always allowed her to jump onto the couch when we’re gone), so on the rare occasions we leave her alone we place obstacles (tables, chairs) in the way to prevent this. We also close off the back bedroom, just in case. This has worked perfectly for us.
- Cover Up Slippery Floors: Dogs can be pretty wobbly post-surgery and you definitely don’t want them slipping around on the “new” leg. We have tile in the living room which is fairly slippy so we put down yoga mats to provide grip as Polly walks around. It’s encouraged us to do more yoga (more buffing?) and it’s worked perfectly for the dog!
What About A Head-Cone/E-Collar?? Many of you might wonder why Polly is not wearing an E-collar in any of her photos. Well the easy answer is that the surgeon gave her internal stitches, so she didn’t need one!! In fact, he said we didn’t need to worry about the wound at all unless we saw it leaking or she was licking it excessively. Many vets will require head cones after surgery, so it just depends how the surgery is done. If your dog needs a cone I highly recommend buying something like a Comfy Cone instead of the standard plastic torture device that you get at the vet. It’s much easier on the dog. Thankfully we haven’t needed ours for Polly.
Supplements & Home Rehab
I’ve always been a fan of good supplements and doing whatever you can at home to help the natural healing process, so this has been no different.
- Supplements: For the first week (while doggie was on antibiotics) I used probiotics to help replenish the good bacteria in her system between doses. We also put her back on her regular Glucosamine supplement (we use Cosequin) and gave her fish oil every few days. All are safe supplements and can only help long-term.
- Home Rehab: I didn’t want to wait for the “official” rehab process to start helping Polly, so I found this handy, free online post-TPLO rehab booklet (no affiliation, by the way) which we’ve been following since day 1. Note that their website can be slightly annoying since it bombards you with e-mails to buy their glucosamine supplement if you sign-up, but both their booklet and their online videos have been great, and I’ve found the free info very useful indeed. We started week 1 with daily range-of-motion movements and massage, and we’ve just (this week) started incorporating sit-to-stand exercises. It’s been really helpful to have a written plan to follow.
- Light Therapy: We’ve continued with daily light therapy using the Tendlite Pen I bought before she got injured. I have no idea if it’s helping, but I figured it certainly can’t hurt and doggie seems to enjoys the therapy.
So, WHERE Are We Going Next???
First I want to thank everyone for their offers, tips and support regarding Polly’s rehab options. We got lots of excellent tips on rehab spots, plus several wonderfully generous offers of places to stay. We considered Portland, Eugene, several spots in Seattle and (even) Michigan, but after much calling around and mulling over the problem we decided to go back to where Polly had her surgery done in Sun Valley, ID.
We settled on this for a variety of reasons…
Firstly can get there pretty quickly and start Polly’s rehab ASAP (this was important to us). Secondly we were were able (by some frikkin’ miracle) to finagle the last monthly site in the one and only RV park there. Thirdly the RV park is literally walking distance (!) to the doggie rehab center, which will make life super easy. And fourthly, by going back to the “source” we can get all of Polly’s follow-up (8-week X-rays and such) done in the same place and with the same vet who did her surgery. This simplifies a lot of things all at once.
Lastly, Sun Valley sits at around 6,000 ft elevation and has high mountains & forests all-around which should (hopefully) make it decent as far as summer weather goes, with the ability to easily escape to higher altitude if it’s too hot at our RV site. It’s going to be a new area for us too, which is always a bonus.
We’re going to start her rehab the day after we arrive which will be only a few days after we leave Cape D (end of June). Finally our July plans are fixed, and hopefully (all 12 paws and 20 fingers crossed) this will be the last plan change this summer!
That wraps up Polly’s 3-week progress. For any questions on TPLO or TPLO recovery (or anything else that comes to mind), feel free to fire away below!