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How ACL Surgery Improved Alvin's Overall Health

Updated on October 1, 2015

Introduction - Why Surgery Was Indicated

Poor Alvin.

We owners thought we took excellent care of six-year old Alvin and his Cockapoo brother, Simon. They enjoyed a grain-free diet, daily exercise, and we took them to the vet for health checkups every year.

Then it happened. It started suddenly with 3-legged walking and serious limping. Alvin suffered an ACL tear. Note that dogs have two ligaments between the upper and lower leg bones. One tore while the other was intact. ACL injuries are common in small dogs like Alvin.

We headed to physical therapy (PT) as recommended by Alvin's vet. By the time we visited the PT tech a week later, the PT vet diagnosed a complete tear. The bad news - if we did not opt for surgery, Alvin would be permanently disabled. Alvin's vet agreed with the prognosis.

Alvin (left) and brother Simon - The Boyz.
Alvin (left) and brother Simon - The Boyz.
Alvin's surgically repaired knee two days post surgery
Alvin's surgically repaired knee two days post surgery

The Surgery Decision

We did not make the decision to subject Alvin to surgery without considering all the consequences. If he were a senior citizen, we might have decided differently.

Based on the picture of his repaired knee on the right, you might wonder why a few staples are missing. And here's the reason - he pulled out the staples the second night after surgery. The hospital released him with an e-collar that was too short. We took him to the vet the day after surgery for a longer e-collar and a look at the surgical site. The vet used glue to re-close the area without staples.

Lesson learned - get your own e-collar before surgery. Take the dog to a pet store and fit him with a comfortable collar or order online: see Alfie Pet by Petoga Couture - Soft Recovery Collar (for Dogs & Cats) - Color: Blue, Size: M.

2 Weeks Post ACL Surgery

After 2 weeks, Alvin had the staples removed.

Note that post surgical instructions required limited activity, no stairs, and no jumping on couches. Yes, we carried 25-pound Alvin up and down several flights of stairs a day. At least now he could climb a few stairs on his own. The vet gave us at-home rehab instructions - leash walking, sit and come (to promote thigh muscles), and figure eights.

If you have a dog who must have his activity limited because of surgery or some other circumstance, consider the x pen shown below. Alvin didn't love it, but he did tolerate the captivity.

5 Weeks Post ACL Surgery

Despite carefully following the vet's rehab instructions, Alvin was still hopping on 3 legs or limping. We were concerned that he was not recovering as quickly as he should. When Simon had luxating patella surgery (Luxating Patella in Dogs - Diagnosis, Surgery, and Recovery), he recovered quickly and without formal PT.

Back to the vet we went.

Interestingly, our regular vet was on holiday, so we saw his partner. She examined Alvin and said he was at the point where he should be BUT would not recover completely unless his rehab intensified. In fact, the muscles in his repaired leg had atropied quite a bit. As a result, he developed the habit of limping and walking on 3 feet to avoid the pain. Bottom line - go back to PT to create a new habit - walking normally.

She also recommended a product called Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM Soft Chews, Small/Medium Dog, 84 Count. The Amazon price is much better than the vet's price!

Dasuquin with MSM provides advanced joint support for dogs. We decided to give it to both dogs - Alvin because of the ACL injury and Simon because of his luxating patella surgery. Even if your dog has not experienced surgery, he likely will need joint support as he ages.

Recovering from PT
Recovering from PT

7 Weeks Post ACL Surgery

So far Alvin has attended 2 PT sessions.

During the first session, the PT vet emphasized that Alvin had developed a bad habit by not using his injured leg. He had to be taught new habits. He's also back on the anti-inflammatory meds he took just after surgery.

We received a list of exercises and watched the PT tech walk through them. The tech also placed him in a water tank for water therapy for 5 minutes the first session and 8 minutes the next. Walking on the treadmill through water takes the pressure off of injured joints and accelerates muscle development. An 8 minute water tank walk is equivalent to 20 minutes on pavement. See the video below to see how it works.

Alvin is slowly improving. He still limps and hops, but not as much as before PT. He also seems to be exhausted after a PT session or a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood.

How Dog Water Therapy Works

Alvin's Health Improvements

There are two improvements to Alvin's health as follows:

  1. The addition of Dasuquin MSM to his diet. We are hopeful this will keep his joints healthy.
  2. The increase in exercise. Alvin moved around quite a bit as a small, high-strung dog prior to his surgery. Now his exercise is more controlled and will stay that way. To keep his leg muscles toned, he does a form of agility training. We leash walk on a schedule.

Also extremely important - from this point forward, we will minimize The Boyz's jumping on and off furniture and running on slippery hardwood floors. Both these activities are blamed for ACL tears and joint damage.


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