My Border Collie Irie had the most subtle indication of lameness before she even finished growing. She would limp for the blink of an eye and then walk and move perfectly normal. There were times that I wondered if I imagined it.
This was my 2nd dog with a mysterious ailment. Another BC had some sort of shoulder thing that his adrenaline would mask so well that I was convinced he was sound after studying him like a hawk before deciding to let him exercise. Neither dog had been properly diagnosed (not for lack of trying) and I would give up and just try and rest Irie, put her agility training on hold, and whenever she looked sound for a while, I’d try again. This went on for 5 years of her life until she got up with a more pronounced lameness (walking on 3 legs upon waking (which she walked off!)). It was then that I renewed my efforts to figure out what was going on.
In an attempt to locate exactly where she was hurting, I thought, maybe if I practice lots of different conditioning exercises I can pinpoint where the weakness is. I scoured the internet, so hungry for information. I took different courses, including a detailed certification program, and still couldn’t find all the answers I wanted. There isn’t a lot of good research on dogs (with most of it geared towards sleddogs or racing hounds). But, I did learn a lot. While this didn’t solve my dog’s mystery injury, it did giving me a deep comprehension of physical fitness…a real asset to myself and my students!
Meanwhile, thanks to the gifted Dr Patti Schaeffer, I heard of a very experienced vet, who, and it kills me to say this, told me that it was so clearly a CCL insufficiency that even his intern could have diagnosed it. What the hell?! Anyway, without going into why did the other professionals fail to help, I was relieved to finally know what was wrong, though bummed to find out that my best friend needed SERIOUS knee surgery.
For those of you who are in such a position, let me say that I had gone back and forth on getting imaging done (with varying opinions and being discouraged by some) and was about to spend a fortune on the wrong kind of imaging when Scott Gustafson informed me that the most certain way to look at those ligaments is arthroscopically. So, Irie went in to get scoped and, if it proved to be a CCL problem, she’d get the surgery then and there.
I’ve done so much homework on this injury and know that a lot of dogs blow out their other side, and wondered if it made sense to scope the opposite side while she was under…unless it was too invasive. He said he’d only scope it if I would proceed with surgery for that knee, as well. My mind was blown. I stood in the locker room of the community pool with my toddler laying on the changing table, holding the phone and trying to ask all the right questions before deciding to go ahead with TPLO surgery on both knees at the same time!! I had tried to take my kid swimming to take my mind off of my best friend going under the knife. I was such a wreck, forgetting my zip code while trying to fill gas the morning and totally stressed out.
Long story short (I may post some writing about how the the surgery and post-op went down), the vet was very skilled at what he did. Irie has excellent ROM and tucks her rear very neatly under. We also injected PRP to assist with the repair. I think doing both knees at the same time was definitely the way to go for me and this dog. Although, it made me a total mess as I fretted over every little thing because, by gosh, she had her leg bones sawed and bolted back together!!!
I’m normally not a fan of surgery. But, the mechanics of a dog’s knee are such that this surgery makes sense. Also, ligaments cannot heal properly but bone can.
I was totally freaked out about doing this surgery, because it sounds like a cruel and crazy thing to do. But, Irie is definitely better than she was or would have ever been. Part of my resistance to the surgery was due to the fact that if you saw my dog move prior to the surgery, you would NOT be able to tell that she had any problem. She moved better than a lot of dogs do on their best day. But, a few months after the surgery and studying how she moves I can see a difference and going back in time I could have recognized that she wasn’t doing as well as it seemed. Because I have an eye for quadruped movement (over 10,000 hours) and knowing this dog so well, I can see a pronounced difference in how well she moves in her low back now. She’s very lithe and that area has so much more movement while before she held that area tight to compensate for the insufficient support through the knees. Read an update about how you may not need surgery here.
I have to end with a little public service announcement about NOT letting your dog blow out her knees. No more chuck it! Stop letting your dog slip (on stairs, where you could have runners, etc). You can’t prevent all slips, but you definitely can stop a lot of them). Teach your dog to run around something so you can send your dog to run out and circle back and run TO you to get the reward. Not only can you present the toy at a safe location (up rather than on the ground, etc), you are building value for running back to you. It takes some training but you’ll be able to get your dog excited about running out to go around a tree (or whatever) with a whole cascade of endorphins without risking the crazy pursuit of the ball (which is so tantalizing when it bounces off erratically that it absolutely causes a lot of dogs to strain, tear and/ rupture the fibers of their body). If you have a high energy dog that wants to chase, you are almost guaranteed that dog will injure himself chasing things. Learn how to play smart and take care with your best friend. I used to think, “They’re dogs…they’ll be fine.” But, they are only human (or whatever the dog equivalent to that saying is;). They are not invincible and despite the fact that these athletes rip around like nuts and seem OK, the truth is that dogs have lots of undiagnosed and underdiagnosed injuries. Scar tissue builds up with repeated injuries and the area gets more and more compromised. The more you know, the more you need to make the appropriate adjustments…and get your dog in top condition!