Luxating Patella - One Small Dog's Experience

The holiday season is upon us, and it's amazing as always just how fast time goes. We just got our Christmas tree this past weekend and are getting the house decorated. However, I can't help but be reminded of last year when our Daisy was recovering from surgery.

Daisy had her spay surgery at 6 months of age, and shortly after her recovery we noticed she had a limp in her walk every now and then. If she ran around the yard doing zoomies, her running would end with yelping. We thought it was related to her spay - perhaps she tore something internally...? However, a vet visit determined that wasn't the issue and we were told to keep an eye on her. After that we noticed her knee clicked when we picked her up,  and she couldn't go a few steps without limping on her leg. It got worse very quickly. One day, when she was crouching to jump, she let out a screeching yelp - her second knee was now doing it too. Sometimes both of her knees would go at once, and she'd be forced to walk on her two front paws like a circus dog. But it wasn't funny or cute. 

We took her to the vet, and it was determined she had luxating patella in both knees. In a matter of a few weeks, her first knee was listed as a grade 3 and the second knee was not far behind. At 8 months old, she needed another surgery. Because both knees were so bad, our vet mentioned that the orthopaedic surgeon may elect to do both knees at once. We let her know that this would be our preference, as I didn't want her to have surgery on one leg, only to rely on another bad leg for support, and then go through the whole process all over again for the second leg. I also didn't like the idea of her going under anesthesia two times. Surgery was booked, and the surgeon would determine if he would do both legs at once upon seeing her.

Surgery day came, and not long after I dropped her off I got a phone call that he would do both legs at once - a relief for us. I then got a call after her surgery to say everything went really well. Her knee caps weren't the issue so much as the loose tendons around her knees. Her knees had good grooves in them, and he had to place pins in to secure  everything around the knees. I was given instructions on how to care for her over the next few months - a long and necessary recovery. Very specific. I was told that she is guaranteed to have arthritis later on in life. She had pain killers we had to give and a pain patch held on with a blue mesh shirt. We were told the pain patch was quite strong and would let her relax while the initial healing took place.

One of her legs - the other side looked the same.

One of her legs - the other side looked the same.

We brought her home in her crate, and as some of her drugs were wearing off and others were kicking in at the same time, she let out the most sad little whimpers in her crate. I couldn't believe my eyes when we took the lid off her crate. She looked like a rag doll stitched up in the worst way. Dark sewed stitches along her naked bruised and swollen legs. I almost cried seeing it. This was all normal, but a huge shock to see. What made it worse was that she couldn't move and any attempt at moving resulted in yelping.

Let me just say that whatever instructions we were given before we took her home did not in any way prepare us for that night. Those soft whimpers quickly turned to yelping, crying and moaning all night. She was in torture, which made it torturous for us. I kept wondering why her pain patch wasn't kicking in...?

Limited to her crate. We kept the lid off so she was secure, but could see around and we could comfort her.

Limited to her crate. We kept the lid off so she was secure, but could see around and we could comfort her.

At 5 in the morning, still not a wink of sleep, I phoned our vet's cell phone - she was on call that night. I got the answering machine, and explained what was going on before having a complete meltdown on the phone. I felt so helpless and scared for Daisy. How on earth was she going to recover from this, and what kind of people were we to put her through this? 

I was called back by one of the vet techs who informed me that her pain patch would just be kicking in - it takes 10-12 hours. That would have been nice to know! But no sooner than she said that,  Daisy was finally getting relaxed enough to sleep here and there throughout the day.

Me in "sling" mode. Daisy still managed to sniff around with her cone on.

Me in "sling" mode. Daisy still managed to sniff around with her cone on.

If I had time to think I would have been terrified of taking her outside for a pee. But in these moments you have to do - and just get it done. We had a system. Steve picked her up a certain way out the door, I prepared a towel sling, which went across her belly and walked her around with her front legs  - back legs hovering above the ground. All this in really cold weather. It took a few times, but she eventually peed, and after her first poop much later, I think I was more relieved than she was!! This system occurred for the first few weeks of her recovery. It was definitely a 2-man job!

Daisy is able to stand on her own.

Daisy is able to stand on her own.

Sure enough, she got a little bit better day by day. We kept her in our office room during the work week where she couldn't jump on anything, and watched her like a hawk in the evenings and weekends to avoid her jumping as much as possible. She got to a point where she could walk on her legs without the sling, but was kept on leash outside, so she couldn't run. She got stronger and stronger each day. We were very careful, and waited until the vet said she could be off leash.
I'll never forget when she ran freely for the first time since her surgery. She had her zoomies like never before - months of pent up energy, and frustration from being restrained. She ran like the wind, and while I was slightly nervous about it, I was so happy to see her do it that I shed a tear. We made it through, and despite the horrible initial experience, she was so much better for it. She can do everything a normal little dog can do. No limping or yelping, just running and playing. We continue to be careful with her legs (no crazy wrestling and carefully putting her booties on in the winter). I know for myself that when Daisy was going for surgery, I spent a lot of time on forums, reading about other's experiences to get prepared, but never really found anything that related to my experience. I hope this can help someone who's dog is undergoing a similar surgery. Trust me, it WILL get better!

Walking freely. It took a full year for her fur to look completely normal on her legs again.

Walking freely. It took a full year for her fur to look completely normal on her legs again.

Daisy today with all her hair back!

Daisy today with all her hair back!