Tiger Lily’s Recovery: Weeks 1-3

As Tiger Lily dashed down the stairs into the yard, I heard her let out a fairly quiet yelp. I turned around to see her holding her left hind leg up in the air, unable to put any weight on that leg at all. I was concerned, but assumed it was just a mild injury. However, her obvious discomfort through that sleepless night and inability to use the leg the next morning had us headed straight to our regular vet. X-rays confirmed our vet’s suspicion; Tiger Lily had torn her cranial cruciate ligament (CCL – similar to our own ACL). We got in for a consultation with a board certified surgeon within days, and Tiger Lily underwent TPLO surgery exactly one week after her injury.

TPLO surgery is, in a nutshell, a type of surgery that reconstructs the dog’s knee to eliminate the need for the CCL. It was the only recommendation in Tiger Lily’s case, and can reasonably be expected to give her an eventual 90% or better return to normal leg function. Of course, that figure depends on how well we stick to the very strict post-surgery restrictions.

Tiger Lily returned home after just one night in the hospital. We had antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and pain relievers to help reduce the risk of post-surgical infection and keep her comfortable. She was unable to put much weight on the injured leg, but began using it as expected within the next couple of days. She must wear an e-collar (the cone of shame!) until the stitches and staples are removed at the 2 week mark. She didn’t seem to be too uncomfortable, but her brief trips out to the yard were initially very difficult. She was pretty unsteady on her feet and didn’t do well with a ramp, so she had to be carried down the four steps for the first several days (controlled use of the steps was ok with the vet, but she was unable to navigate them). She is now getting up and down the short flight of stairs easily and seems relatively strong on the injured leg. She was very restless the first few nights after her surgery, but is now sleeping pretty well at night.

Immediately following her injury, we kept Tiger Lily confined to her large crate. Luckily, as a young (1 1/2 years old) lab, Tiger Lily is still used to spending some time in her crate every day. She will need to stay confined until the healing process is complete, hopefully 8 weeks after the surgery. She obviously misses constant access to her family and her older sister, Princess Buttercup. We can’t take any chances with her recovery, so we are following the “no activity” restriction very closely.

We do let her out of the crate to socialize quietly in our room, but only under close supervision. She is on a leash at all times when not in her crate. The leash helps keep her from moving around too much or trying to jump up on anything (strictly off limits). I do take the cone of shame off so she can chew a Nylabone next to me during our quiet cuddling time. As long as we let her out for some of these quiet breaks every couple of hours, she doesn’t get too lonely.

The stitches will be out in a few days, and then we can start a very gradual exercise program. Even though the first walks will be short (5 minutes), this may help with her boredom. Our current physical therapy includes gentle massage and range of motion exercises. She loves the muscle massage, but isn’t too keen on the range of motion work. She’s on crate rest (or floor rest) the rest of the time, except a few short bathroom breaks.

All of this is a lot to ask of any dog, but especially for a young and active Labrador retriever. She’s used to running in the yard, taking long walks, and lounging on our bed (she isn’t allowed up high on furniture during her recovery). I’m continuously impressed with how well she handles her crate confinement, limited interaction, and lack of exercise. I’d be pretty crabby if it were me, but she always has a smile and a wagging tail. She’s quickly adjusted to the new routines and looks forward to the time we spend together, and she no longer thinks I’m crazy for putting a leash on her in the house. I’m sure it will get harder to keep her quiet as she heals and starts to feel more normal, and I’m looking forward to seeing her run and play again soon.

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