Hello fellow dog lovers!
I have been wanting to write this post for a long time but just have not gotten around to it. This post is the final conclusion to my previous posts on Sheika The Akita’s Torn ACL and our efforts to get her better without surgery. In my previous posts I explained how I felt that we were going to be able to rehabilitate Sheika’s torn ACL by restricting her activity for several months. The great thing about writing a blog is that you can look back a year or more to see your thought process for decisions. When I look at the previous posts now I am amazed at how convinced I was that the rehabilitation was going to work. And while I still believe rehabilitation and the avoidance of surgery is worth a shot in most cases, in ours it turned out that surgery was the only option.
Before deciding on rehabilitation we did hours and hours of research into the topic and spoken to our vet. Our vet originally recommended the TPLO surgery but I was hesitant because our research showed that it was a very extreme surgery where they actually make a cut in the bone and reposition it and then secure it with a steel plate that would stay there for the rest of her life. I also read that the worst possible side effect would be that the steel plate would fail and cause an infection that might lead to leg amputation. This was said to almost never happen and only in the most extreme cases including old age and additional health problems. But just the thought of our sweet baby losing her leg was enough for us to consider other options.
If you have done as much research as we have you know that there are basically only two other options:
- Traditional Surgery: They tie the bones together with a nylon string that will act as a new ligament but this is usually only effective in smaller dogs. Our vet warned us that this surgery would not work for her because she is 100 lbs. and very active. He said he still recommends TPLO even in smaller dogs but because of the high cost of TPLO the traditional surgery may work for smaller dogs and is much less expensive.
- Rest and Rehabilitation: In cases where the ligament is not completely torn it may be able to regrow the tissue around the ligament over time if the dog is kept on a very strict regiment of no running, no stairs and basically on the leash at all times when outside for 4-6 months.
Because of my fears of possible amputation and the extreme nature of the surgery and because Sheika was still able to walk on her leg with just a minor limp, I felt that we should try the rest and rehabilitation first. We saw good progress in the first few months to the point where she was walking with no limp…but then one day she lunged for a cat during a walk and re-injured herself and the limp returned.
Back to square one. We continued the rest again and it got better again after about a month. And we felt like, OK this is it, she is getting better and we were able to avoid surgery. She was doing great for another few months and we felt she might be fully rehabilitated. But then another set back. We don’t know what happened this time we just came home one day and she was limping badly again.
At this point we had enough, we didn’t want her to suffer anymore. We knew that the rehabilitation was not working and that we had to consider the TPLO surgery. Our vet recommended Miami Veterinary Specialists as the best option in South Florida. He said he had sent numerous patients there all with great results.
So we knew where to go but the next question was how to pay for it. The costs were estimated at anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500 which is a decent amount of money no matter what. But considering that we had begun making payments for our upcoming wedding and had also just paid for Jany’s hand surgery (another post to come) it was a difficult amount of money for us to come up with. Luckily, we were able to get approved for Care Credit, which is a type of credit used for medical expenses for both pets and humans. The good thing is that as long as you pay it off within 1 year you do not pay interest. The very bad thing is that if you don’t pay it off within 1 year you have to pay a very high interest rate on the entire original amount of credit you received. We actually applied for it online, but you can also apply for it at the veterinarian.
So now that we knew how to pay for it we visited Miami Veterinary Specialists for a consultation. The surgeon who met with us was polite and answered all of our questions but was also very brief. He did not seem to want to spend too much time with us or care that we were very worried about this procedure. He did not rush us but he also did not take his time to go into detail. In short he came off as very confident and almost cocky about the surgery as if it was the perfect solution and that we should not worry about anything. In my experience this is the attitude that many human surgeons have and apparently it is the same for animal surgeons. So although we were a little bothered by his brevity he did answer everything we asked and was highly recommended by our vet so we scheduled her surgery for the following Friday.
Like a normal human surgery she could not eat the day before and she would have to stay overnight. We dropped her off and spent a few hours very worried until they called us and told us the surgery went fine. They said we could come see her if we wanted but they recommended we let her rest. So even though we were dying to see her we did the right thing and let her rest. We picked her up the next morning and were amazed to see her walking towards us. She had the giant radar on so she could not lick the incision and she was limping but she was very alert and happy to see us. Here entire leg was shaved and the incision was very big and very scary looking.
The vet told us that we needed to severely limit her activity, so that she would only get up to go pee and poop and for nothing else for at least a week or so. She also could not use stairs for at least a few weeks while the wound healed. We had prepared for this and had built a wooden ramp so that she could get in and out of the house because our house is elevated.
They also gave us a bunch of antibiotics and pain killers and we were supposed to bring her in about a week later to check her progress and remove the stitches.
We took her home and she had a very difficult time getting around with the giant radar on her head and was constantly banging into things. We bought her an inflatable doughnut that was supposed to be better than the radar but it really was not big enough and she was still able to lick the incision. But the donut did give her some comfort when she used it as a pillow so we kept it for when we were home with her and we could stop her from licking the wound. But when we went to work we had to leave her with the big radar. She was still limping a bit for the first week and her ankle (a.k.a. hock in animals) started to swell a lot and caused us concern. We called the vet and they said it was normal an so we brought her in a few days later and they removed the stitches.
They recommended limited activity for another two weeks and then a gradual increase in activity including short walks that could get progressively longer. We kept her on a leash at all times when she was outside for about the next 6 months. She continued to get stronger and began using her leg more and more over those months.
Around month 6 we felt that we could soon let her off the leash in the backyard but there was another concern. We had steps from our deck to our house that did not have a rail. So we started blocking the steps with chairs and our hose container. But one day I was with her in the yard and Jany came out of the back door. Sheika was so excited to see her that she ran full speed and jumped up and over the hose container and onto the top landing of the steps! She must have jumped about four feet high and landed perfectly. We both stood there in shock at what we had just seen and immediately started making plans to build a rail on the deck!
The new rail was a success and Sheika continued to progress over the next several months. In her internet travels Jany came across another lady who had TPLO surgery on her Akita. She said that the hair on her leg would take almost a year to grow back and that by then she should be fully healed and running at 100%. We can tell you that it is now about 10 months later and her hair just finally filled in completely and she is running at 100%! She runs full speed back and forth in the yard and her muscle has built up completely so that she can stand up on her hind legs like every Akita should. She walks slightly different than she did before but she is not impeded in any way. In the end I am so happy we went with the TPLO surgery and that she is all better. Our vet told us that in most cases where one leg goes the other leg will go eventually as well but so far no sign of that so we will keep our fingers crossed.
In the end each dog is different and you have to make your decisions based on the facts at hand and what you feel is best for your best friend. In hindsight I feel that we probably should have gone with our vet’s advice and gotten her the TPLO surgery sooner. I think that in delaying and try to rehabilitate her it actually caused her muscle to weaken more and possibly extended the recovery time, but I don’t have any definite proof of that. I still would have tried the rehabilitation first but if it did not work within the first 3 months I would have gone straight to the surgery instead of trying again for another 3 months.
We wish you all the luck in dealing with your best friend’s ACL injury and hope that recounting our experience may give you some insight and hope. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below and we will do our best to answer them. Thanks for reading, best of luck and health to you and yours!
If you want to learn more about Sheika the Akita click here to visit her page!
If you want to check out the previous posts about Sheika’s torn ACL when we thought we could cure her you can see them here:
How to Repair a Dog’s Torn ACL: Lay Sod and Put up a Privacy Screens
How to Repair a Dog’s Torn ACL (Update)