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Dog ACL Surgery Recovery: Week by Week Timeline

by Geoff Works |

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury in dogs, can take a lot out of your furry friend. After all, an ACL injury in dogs usually results in lameness in one of their hind legs.

The tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) is a common procedure that treats ACL injuries in dogs. Dog ACL surgery recovery can be a timely process, however, and it could take many weeks before you see significant improvements. Dog patients have to undergo several exercises and physical therapy sessions to fully recover.

To ensure an optimal recovery for your pet, it helps to list down your goals after TPLO surgery. And to make sure that everything goes well, familiarize yourself with what to expect in your dog’s ACL recovery week by week.

Post-Operative Care Goals

You may think that your dog’s TPLO surgery is a tedious process and that recovery takes time. But there’s no need for you to worry because a dog ACL injury is similar to what happens when humans get a knee injury. As long as they receive the proper care, they can recover and get back to their normal routine.

Below, we’ve listed goals some post-operative care goals to ensure your pet’s smooth recovery:

Ensure your dog is comfortable

Recovery from a TPLO surgery can take a lot out of your dog so make sure they can eat and drink comfortably. You should also check on the position they sleep in and make sure that they aren’t uncomfortable while resting.

Let the anesthesia clear their system

Sometimes, the anesthesia doesn't properly metabolize from during their TPLO surgery. As a result, it could leave your dog feeling dizzy, feverish, weak, and disoriented for days after the procedure.

Keep the wounds clean and protected

Ensuring that your dog’s wounds are clean and adequately covered reduces the risk of infection. It also allows new, healthy tissue to develop.

Limit your dog’s activity

During your dog’s ACL surgery recovery, make sure to limit your pet’s activity. Doing so prevents their incision from opening and reduces the risk of further dog ACL recovery complications. Moreover, bathing or swimming should be 100% avoided to reduce exposure to moisture and prevent the spread of bacteria and infections.

Weeks 1 to 2: Home Prep, Short Walks, Hot & Cold Therapy, and PROM

During the first couple of weeks post-TPLO surgery, you’ll need to adjust your home so that recovery’s easier for your pet. First, ensure that their bedding is clean to help prevent an otherwise easily avoidable infection. You should also place a bowl of water nearby so they wouldn’t have to stand up and walk if they feel thirsty. Moreover, dog doors should also be kept locked to limit access to large spaces where they are most likely to encounter an accident.

There may be instances where you need to carry your dog, like if you’re guiding them up a staircase or lessening the weight off their legs. In particular, you may want to use a sling or folded bath towel under their belly to help them get up for the first few days after their surgery. Otherwise, you may install a stair ramp with a rubber mat to help them move around.

Dogs in recovery are not necessarily immobile, though. We encourage doing light dog ACL recovery exercises to stimulate bone growth and fusion. You may walk your dog slowly for five minutes three to five times a day, for example. But keep in mind that this short physical activity is strictly for urination and defecation purposes only. Moreover, put them on a short leash to limit their movements and make sure they don’t overexert themselves.

Because the bones are still “new” and weak, we discourage your dog from playing with other dogs, doing high-impact activities, and climbing on or jumping off of furniture.

Cryotherapy can help reduce inflammation for the first three to five days after your dog’s surgery. You may use crushed ice, or frozen peas or corn. Make sure that you ice around their knee’s circumference to maximize the effect of ice. Do cryotherapy for 15 minutes per session. Avoid from getting moisture anywhere near the incision.

After cryotherapy, thermotherapy can be done to reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. You may use socks filled with uncooked rice that has been heated in a microwave. Always remember to test the pack on your wrist first so you don’t burn your dog’s skin. Ten minutes per session is recommended.

We also encourage a passive range of motion (PROM). With your dog on their side and the affected leg up, you gently flex and extend their joints to resistance. As you do this, provide support to their knee to prevent twisting and rotation of their limbs. This brief exercise can be done twice or thrice a day with 10 to 15 repetitions.

Weeks 3 to 4: Massages & Low-impact Dog ACL Recovery Exercises

Massages are a great way to stimulate your dog’s muscles and provide comfort. A simple massage releases endorphins, a natural stress reliever. Performing a massage is also a great way to bond with your dog and give them the physical touch they love.

During this period, we encourage that you increase your dog’s physical activity. From 5 minutes a day on the first two weeks, you can make it longer at up to 10 to 15 minutes per day, depending on their strength and energy. So monitor their activities and contact your veterinarian for any concerns.

But if you notice your pet placing all of their body weight on their back legs during exercise, encourage them to perform low-impact exercises instead, such as sit-to-stand, puppy squats, and three-legged standing exercise. However, if you notice that they are having a hard time, don’t push it.

Additionally, you can perform hydrotherapy to promote muscle and joint strength. In order to do this, your pet's incision must be completely healed with the sutures already having been removed. Please consult with your veterinarian before allowing your pet’s incision to be exposed or submerged into water. This form of physical therapy submerges your dog underwater. The water buoyancy takes the weight off their joints, while the hydrostatic pressure helps soothe and ease their movements.

Week 5: Balance, Proper Body Position, & Hillwalking

At this point of their recovery, focus on regaining your pet’s balance and body position. Balance helps your dog stay upright and steady. On the other hand, regaining your dog’s sense of self-movement means being aware of the different parts of their body and how they’re related to one another. After surgery, dogs may need to relearn this awareness to move naturally again.

Your dog should be able to use the affected limb. Help boost your furry friend’s recovery speed through longer yet controlled leash walks. Hillwalking is one of the easiest exercises you can do. Going up and down a hill shifts more weight on the hind legs so start hillwalking on low-incline surfaces and slowly work your way up. You can increase the number of repetitions depending on the size and slope of the hill.

Week 6: Follow-Up & Curb Walking

Follow-up check-ups are usually done on the sixth week of your pet’s ACL recovery. Your dog’s veterinarian will usually conduct an x-ray test to assess their recovery progress between weeks 6 and 12. They may also recommend specific exercises for speedy healing.

One exercise that you may do is called curb walking, which involves stepping up and off a curb in an “S” pattern while walking your dog. This exercise could vary among dogs, and the height of the curb’s height could change depending on the heavy your dog is. Curb walking promotes muscle strength, balance, and flexion.

Weeks 7 to 10: Additional Exercises, Weight Management, & Radiographs

At this point, you are nearing the end of their recovery phase. By week 8, your dog will undergo a radiograph to confirm its bones are appropriately healing. Assuming they are in great shape, you must continue strengthening your dog’s hind legs through exercises, including Figure 8’s, Weave Cones, Weight Shifting, and Stair Work. Always remember that doing these dog ACL recovery exercises should be progressive and incremental.

Figure 8’s is a fun and effective exercise. It works your dog’s various muscle groups that aren’t used when walking straight. To perform this exercise, place cones at equal distances apart then guide your dog in going around the cones by forming a figure “8”. You can increase the difficulty by putting the cones closer together and increasing the speed.

Meanwhile, the Weave Cones type of exercise improves your dog’s agility, body awareness, and feet placement. It’s similar to the Figure 8 because your dog still goes around cones, but this time, there are multiple cones (or any kind of obstacle) they need to go through.

Weight Shifting, on the other hand, is a type of exercise that encourages weight bearing on the surgically repaired leg. You may need another person to assist you with this activity by having one person keep your dog’s head steady and facing forward, while you slowly rock your dog’s hips back and forth.

The last type of exercise involves using the stairs. Using a short leash, lead your dog up and down a flight of stairs. This exercise strengthens their major hind muscle groups and improves flexion and extension. Do this slowly so that your dog’s hind legs can provide the proper support. You can opt to use a towel or harness for added support.

Apart from conducting these different types of exercise, dog owners should give their pets a healthy diet and monitor their weight so they stay in good shape. After all, studies show that overweight dogs lived shorter than those who are able to maintain the body weight.

Walk Your Way to a Healthy Recovery

Follow this dog ACL recovery timeline so that you’re on the right track every week post-TPLO surgery. Assist your dog through this crucial phase and help them regain mobility, range of motion, and strength. In no time, your furry friend will be back on their feet again.

Visit our website for more info about your dog’s ACL recovery.

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