At just eight months old, Sirius, my Newfoundland, partially tore the cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL) in her right knee. It was a shock to me, as she came from an excellent breeder, and because my partner and I had been very cautious about our puppy’s activity levels and kept her from doing anything even remotely high-impact.
Because of her age and the fact that her growth plates were not yet closed, we decided the best option for the time being was conservative management, rather than surgery. Sirius healed well for a time and was medically cleared to return to low-impact sport training.
Multiple Cruciate Ligament Tears in One Dog
This past summer, at 20 months old, Sirius began limping again. Just as before, there was no precipitating incident, and we were being assiduous in maintaining her low-impact lifestyle; we always lifted her in and out of cars, etc. Yet diagnostics showed that she had – again – partially torn her right cranial cruciate ligament and significantly torn her left CrCL.
This time, thankfully, her growth plates were closed, making Sirius an ideal candidate for surgery. We began meeting with and interviewing veterinary surgeons.
At the time, we were living in a multi-story Brooklyn townhouse. For some time, my partner and I had been talking about a move to the West Coast; suddenly, this seemed like the perfect time to make the move. We realized that if we moved first and Sirius had the surgery there, she could have an easier rehabilitation than would be possible in a home with as many stairs as our townhouse. That’s how we came to spend a couple of weeks sleeping on an air mattress and living downstairs (since Sirius couldn’t do stairs) as we packed up our life and put our house on the market. Then we drove cross-country with our three dogs (and three cats!) to our new single-story home in Portland, Oregon.
Sirius’ TPLO Surgery Plan
As we learned in our independent research and from meeting with multiple veterinary surgeons, the TPLO surgery has become the gold-standard treatment for this kind of knee injury, especially in very large, strong, young, athletic dogs. While waiting for Sirius’ growth plates to close, we saw firsthand how conservative management worked – and then didn’t. We were looking for a treatment option that gave Sirius the best chance at the kind of fun and normal life she deserved, one that would allow her to return to the activities and sports training that she loved.
We had a surgical consultation scheduled for right after we arrived in Portland, and Sirius was scheduled to go in for surgery a few days later.
Sirius had bilateral TPLO – both knees operated on at the same time. It was determined at the time of surgery that Sirius had one fully torn knee (left) and one partially torn knee (right, with scar tissue from the months of conservative management we had to do when she was too young for surgery).
In addition, the surgeon recommended one more procedure: a meniscus release in both knees. There are actually two menisci in each knee, and in some cases, they can become “caught” on protrusions from the tibia within the knee joint, causing further pain and injury. In the meniscus-release procedure, some connective tissue is severed to divide the menisci and ensure that they can no longer get caught. The procedure decreases the chances of a subsequent meniscal tear, so we told the surgeon to go ahead.
TPLO Surgery Recovery and Rehab for Dogs
I have to say – recovery was no joke. My partner and I both work from home, so we were able to arrange our schedules in order to provide Sirius with around-the-clock care and supervision when she came home from the hospital; this started the day after surgery. It was incredible to see how she was bearing weight already! We didn’t leave Sirius alone for a minute until the staples came out, 16 days after surgery.
The day after the staples were removed, we began weekly visits with a veterinary physical therapist. Sirius’ treatments included laser therapy, time on an underwater treadmill, and guided structured exercise. The latter was essential, as it also gave us a tailored daily exercise plan to work on at home, as well as a schedule for daily walks that increased in length and intensity under the guidance of her therapist.
Sirius had her final surgical recheck at eight weeks post-surgery and had new x-rays taken. Her knees had healed beautifully. In total, we had done eight sessions with a physical therapist before Sirius graduated and was fully cleared to resume all normal activities and all sport training.
Prior to her knee injuries, Sirius was swimming regularly. To be extra safe, we booked a consultation with a veterinary swim specialist at a dog pool/swim center, to ensure that she was still a strong and collected swimmer. It was determined that surgery had no impact on her swim style and that it was safe for her to resume regular swimming and begin water work training next season.
At nine weeks post-surgery, Sirius returned to low-impact Rally obedience training; at 13 weeks post-surgery she competed in her first Rally trial.
Today, at not quite five months post-surgery, Sirius’ quality of life is beyond what I could have imagined. She completed her Champion Trick Dog Title, has returned to Rally training, enjoys hiking and visiting the beach, walks for more than an hour a day, runs in the backyard with my other dogs, swims in rivers, and basically is loving life in the Pacific Northwest. TPLO surgery gave back my young, exuberant, athletic dog the ability to live life to its fullest.
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author and Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Sassafras’ forthcoming books include Tricks in the City: For Daring Dogs and the Humans That Love Them, Healing/Heeling, and Bedtime Stories for Rescue Dogs: William to the Rescue.