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After Your Dog’s ACL Surgery: 9 Tips to Help

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Years ago our Irie had surgery on her right rear leg. She had TPLO (tibial plateau leveling osteotomy) surgery to stabilize her stifle (knee) joint, all due to a tear in the ACL (or known as CCL or cranial cruciate ligament in dogs). Whew…that’s a mouthful!

dog on walk after ACL surgery

Irie spent just one night at the specialty hospital but the recovery period is long–12 weeks in all. Her surgery was in late August and she didn’t resume regular activity until after Thanksgiving.

So, in the meantime, we learned how to keep Irie happy and healthy, making what seem like baby steps toward her recovery. She had to be on leash any time she’s outside and couldn’t jump or run at all. Our walks were super, super slow (think funeral march).

dog in cone after ACL surgery

Here’s a look at nine tips we used as Irie recovered from ACL surgery:

Plan for very limited activity the first two weeks.

staples in dog leg after dog's ACL surgery

While Irie had  surgical staples in place (and a cone around the clock), we did very little other than potty stops.

Brace yourself for the staples; I am a wimp about all things surgical so they were a bit of a shock at first.

Once I got over the initial jolt, though, the staples really proved to be no issue at all. Irie couldn’t access them due to the cone.

Consider a change in your sleeping arrangements.

If, like us, you sleep with your dog, you’ll need to make adjustments to your usual arrangements.

We moved our mattress directly onto the floor so Irie could get on the bed with us and rest comfortably.

Consider a change in sitting arrangements.

Typically Irie rested on the couch in the evenings. Since she could no longer get up on the couch, I removed all the cushions and sat them on the floor so we could sit there.

(No, we have not had any company during this recuperation period! And, yes, it looked about as good as you are imagining. But Irie was comfortable.)

Furniture that she could get on was been removed from the house.

Plan to watch or crate your dog.

Fortunately, we both work at home so we were here with Irie around the clock. I have a laptop so, instead of working from my upstairs office, I worked downstairs with Irie.

Block all stairs.

The stairs up to our offices were blocked with baby gates. The cats could still get upstairs but we don’t have to worry about Irie trying to go upstairs. This was one of the most important changes we made because accessing those stairs could have been very dangerous after ACL surgery.

Sleep on leash.

For the first month, Irie slept with a leash clipped to her collar. I wrapped the leash around my arm so that, if she tried to get up in the night, she would awaken me.

Prevent boredom.

After about the first week, once the initial discomfort was gone, Irie grew bored.

When she was first released to begin activity again, Irie was only able to walk five minutes, twice a day. (We later worked up to two 25-minute slow walks.)

We used interactive toys to help distract her and stuffed a Kong with her meal, to help make her mealtime more challenging and longer lasting.

Walk dogs separately.

Since Irie had very, very limited activity in the first few weeks (and still walked extremely slowly), we walked Tiki separately. When Tiki came home from walks tired, it helped keep Irie calmer as well.

dog using dog ramp after ACL surgery

Schedule fun.

Irie loved to travel…but her overnight stay at the hospital meant that she was really reluctant the next time we headed to the car. She still had one more post-op appointment (for x-rays) but, the day after each vet visit, we try to schedule a fun day trip.

Since she was not able to ride for extended times in comfort, we planned mini day trips of just a couple of hours. We used an extended dog ramp for her to access the car safely.

We’ve learned a lot about post-surgical recovery and, most especially, the importance of patience (which has not always been a strong suit of mine!) The recovery is slow but it was exciting to see the progress she is making!

This post was first published in 2014. Irie passed away four years later of spleen cancer–but in the remainder of her life she never had another problem with her ACL! She remained active and happy–and enjoying car rides–right up until the end!

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9 tips to help your dog after ACL surgery

Janet Hoes

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

My Wookie is having this surgery Friday. We live way out in the country with steps up to our door. Wookie weighs 90 pounds and I’m worried about potty time. How did you handle that?

Paris

Friday 15th of April 2022

@Larry, Be sure to check with your vet if your dog can't get up to pee! You may need to help him; a towel under his belly can be used to help support his weight. I hope he is doing much better!

Larry

Tuesday 12th of April 2022

@Kristin, our 80 pound English Cream Retriever just had the surgery today. No option because he couldn't walk--blew out his knee chasing a rabbit. Got him home and he really can't/won't get up to go pee. I don't want to force him. what is your experience? best.

Kristin

Saturday 9th of April 2022

@Janet Hoes, Hi, may I ask how your dog handled the surgery recovery process? My dog is 90 pounds as well and she just got her surgery done yesterday and I was wondering how the recovery process went?

Claire

Friday 17th of December 2021

My dogs having this surgery done on Monday 20th December. Your post has been really helpful. Gives me a good idea of what to expect.

thank you!

IVY RADFORD

Monday 29th of November 2021

thank you for that information it was a great help we go the through operation tomorrow and I was so worried how I could keep Ollie safe he is an golden retriver i have be given a crate

Oneida Quintanilla

Friday 10th of September 2021

Hello, thank you for sharing your story about Irie. I pray and hope that she is doing a lot better now. My sunshine just had acl surgery on the 30 of August 2021 and she will go to get her stitches out on Tuesday but My husband and I were really worried about her because she is still dragging herself around the house. So when I read your story my hopes for seeing her walk again went way up. I knew it would be a slow process but I didn’t realize that it would be that long. I understand now. Thank you again for sharing your story.

Sincerely Odie In Elmendorf Tx

Karyn

Friday 30th of July 2021

Oh how I wish I’d seen this weeks ago! It would have made our first two weeks post-op so much easier!! We have found our rhythm now but the first couple of weeks were rough! I am going to share this with our vet so they can consider adding some of these ideas to their information packet!!

Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Saturday 31st of July 2021

Thank you, Karyn! Those first few weeks are definitely the toughest...so glad you and your dog have found a new rhythm for those post-op weeks which hopefully will pass quickly! Paris