Three months after Sam’s surgery for her torn CCL and I’m here to report that all involved survived. Sam walks, runs, plays, hops and dances. She may need to stretch a bit, before bounding out the door, but overall she is looking good.
I’m basically going to evangelize a bit to those thinking about surgery for ligament tears, because it all can seem rather overwhelming and I’ve known people who have put their pet down rather than think of them being crated for 8 weeks. While that isn’t my first choice, I’m not going to fault them for it.
First off, it’s expensive. We chose to go with a vet who specializes in this kind of surgery after consulting with a good friend who happens to be a DVM. She convinced us that while our regular vet would probably do a fine job, there would be a smaller chance that Sam would encounter any post-surgical problems, since these vets do this type of surgery regularly. The thought of opening Sam’s knee up more than once was enough to convince me this was the way to go. We’ve learned early on that if anything can go wrong with Sam, it absolutely will. The vet she helped me choose and who I highly recommend if you’re in the Austin, TX area is Dr. Elaine Caplan at Capital Area Vet Specialists. In order to see Dr. Caplan, you do need a referral and our vet provided us with one. In going back through Sam’s medical history in preparation for meeting with Dr. Caplan, I discovered she was also one of our contacts when Sam had to see a local neurologist. Yes, our girl is special. Now, taking Sam to see the specialist was more expensive than what we would have paid if we had our vet perform the surgery. Personally, the increase was not cost prohibitive, and we both felt like the extra was worth it.
As for the expense, I did see that there are groups who specialize in loans for veterinary services. The one listed on the Capital Area Vet Specialist site is Care Credit. It seems like something we might use in the future should Sam develop any more serious health problems. Hopefully, the worst is over, but with Sam we always knock-on-wood as soon as the thought flits through our heads.
Some key things that helped us along the way:
- Crate Training – Sam came crate trained, so getting Sam in and out of a crate was never an issue. During the 6 weeks she was crated 24/7, she would go in willingly with little to no fuss. The crate we purchased was the Richell Wood Mobile Pet Pen. I like it for a several reasons – 1) Mobility – we could roll Sam with us from room to room – as a pack animal and more importantly as an animal who suffers from separation anxiety, it was important to be able to keep her near us. 2) The top of the crate came off – this meant we could reach in and pet Sam and she didn’t seem to feel caged. By week 4, she could take some weight on her knee so keeping her from jumping presented a challenge at times. 3) The product came with some great reviews and I have not been disappointed with it. In fact, it’s now Sam’s crate when we leave the house. We use the other for travelling. (Side note: the vet did ok Sam being out of the crate and in small confined spaces, so we’d let her out in the computer room or create a small area in the living room where we’d sit with her.)
- Rehab – Dr. Caplan recommended we take Sam at least once. She felt that would get Sam started off on the right paw. We ended up taking her once a week for about 5-6 weeks and also purchased a rocking board to help strengthen her legs as well as a round ball after watching the rehab specialist show us how to properly use the tools. While in therapy, Sam used the underwater treadmill.
- Ruff Wear’s Web Master Harness – We have stairs all around us – even rehab was up a flight of stairs (don’t get me started) and this tool helped us get Sam up and down those stairs, over curbs and into cars. The harness, once adjusted, fit snuggly around Sam’s body and she (mostly) didn’t mind being hauled around like luggage, paws dangling.
- A vet just a phone call away. Now, not all of you had sleep overs, talked on the phone for hours on end or cried over the wrongs of the universe with your DVM. In that regard I was lucky and when I had panic attacks, I had someone I knew I could contact immediately or send photos of Sam’s leg to (they’re still on my hard drive, if you’re interested). BUT the one thing my DVM friend tried to drill through my head is that our local vets were actually here to help and I shouldn’t be hesitant to call if I had questions. Granted, the surgical techs scared me. They were very short and didn’t give me all the snugs and cuddles of reassurance I needed when I was freaking out that I was maybe the worst beagle owner ever.
In fact, we had several moments where Sam would yelp and we were 100% positive she was going back into surgery – that the 40# nylon strap that was supposedly anchored to our dogs leg had pulled apart, her femur was splintered, and there were going to be bits of bone popping out at any moment. (It was THAT kind of yelp and I come from an occasionally overdramatic family, it’s not my fault.) This was usually followed by calls to snapping surgical techs and hours spent staring at her knee convincing ourselves that it might have swollen a millimeter. At one point, we took her back in because I was convinced she had torn her other CCL. I could see the familiar wobbling. I may have spent a few days also thinking that our local vet, despite x-rays and feeling around on her knee, clearly couldn’t tell what a torn CCL looked like – forget the fact that there was no fluid on the new knee. (See, the seriousness of it all can make you a special kind of crazy. I’ve heard you can be prone to posting that craziness on your blog only to have to take it down later, because you’ve lost your little mind – so its been said.)
To wrap it all up – Sam survived, she’s doing great, she hasn’t been scarred (emotionally) for life. She hops into her crate when we leave (so no crate trauma after her 6 week confinement). Runs around the backyard. Jumps at the smell of food. If you look at the photo above, you can see her leg looks great and most of her hair has grown back.
All the heartaches, the tears, and the expenses were completely worth it.
UPDATE: Sam’s left knee went out over the summer and she had a second “Extracapsular Repair”. You can read about it starting here: The Continuing Saga of Sam – there are also posts that follow which document the daily/weekly adventures of a recuperating beagle, as well as a few posts prior to this one. (To find the related entries, just use the “Archives” drop down box on the right and choose January 2010 and July 2010 (near the bottom of that month’s posts).). They’re not particularly insightful – just one pet owner’s take on all the worries, joys, etc.
UPDATE 10/26/2014: Sam is now 11 and its been about 4 years since her knee surgeries. The report is she’s still doing great. She does have some arthritis in her hips and around her lower spine, but thankfully this rarely flairs up and when it does it can be easily controlled with Rimadyl. Sam still bounds around like a nut and spins in circles when it comes to food, which is a great testament to the surgeries. Choosing CCL surgery can be a very hard decision for people to make in large part due to the costs involved. We were very lucky to be in a position to do that and she was well worth it. Her quality of life immediately improved. I know in our area there are some veterinary surgeons who are very aware of this issue and provide services at a discounted cost. If the price tag is too high, you may ask your vet and generally ask around to see if there is a cheaper option. There are also an assortment of crowd funding sites that you might be able to use use to see if your friends/family could help offset some of that cost. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to ask, although I think asking for help is becoming a bit more common. Hey, if someone can ask for you to fund their trip to NYC, why can’t you ask for help with your beloved pet? 🙂
UPDATE 5/1/2017: Sam is now 14, and it’s been 7 years since her knee surgeries. The report now is that she’s an old lady – a little addled, a little fussy at times, and the arthritis in her hips and knees gets to her more. She has good days and bad. In the last year and a half we’ve introduced a vet who specializes as a chiropractor/acupuncturist. Normally, I would not be the kind of person who would go for this, but Sam’s neck had gotten so bad she couldn’t move, was in constant pain, and when she attempted to walk she’d fall over; it was horrifying to watch Our vet told us, “we’ve taken her as far as Western medicine can go,” and recommended we at least try this alternative. My husband was in, I wasn’t, but I was willing to try anything versus facing the alternative. It took a few weeks and a lot of visits, but Sam got to where she could walk, run, and dance around. She still needs to do exercises to help with her hips, but these treatments have made a huge difference in her quality of life. Now the vet sees her every few months vs. a couple of times a week when we started. Since dogs aren’t affected by the placebo effect, and she had zero expectations from being poked and forced to sit still that she’d be better, I am sold on this treatment. She’s not 100%, but most days she’s happy, and toddles around occasionally chasing the cat who has decided she’s the best thing ever. He likes to lay as close as possible to her, then extend his paw to try and touch her. I think he may be even growing on her a bit.