Molly was the adorable Harley look-a-like that was owned by my in-laws. I say ‘was’ because unfortunately we lost Molly, just in the past few months, so it feels like a good time to honor her by using her story. Molly was always an active girl – she was friendly with every person she met – she was the type of dog who never met a stranger. She was well-known in their neighborhood, and would greet those walking by with happy barks and tail wags, looking for pets. She was also known to wander off too, and several times was returned looking sheepish after going on a walk about around their cul-de-sac looking for attention, snacks, and anything else she could get her paws on. When Molly was almost 10 years old, she developed a limp in her one hind leg. We started off as I start off most dogs with a limp that don’t have an obvious more serious cause – rest, time, and anti-inflammatories. The vast majority of these simple sprains/strains, or soft tissue injuries, just need that rest and time to heal up! Just like us with a sprained ankle – stay off it and take it easy, and it will often get better.
Unfortunately, in Molly’s case she was just not resolving. So that led to phase two – where we brought her in for some sedated x-rays and an orthopedic exam. Her x-rays were mostly to rule out other underlying bony changes – which were thankfully normal! But on her orthopedic exam I was able to confirm what I suspected when it was not resolving – that she had torn her cruciate ligament, or ACL. This oh-so-fun ligament is often involved in hind leg lameness. It is a common injury in athletes, human and animal alike! It is the ligament in the knee that provides the front to back stability, so when it is injured, the knee becomes unstable and slides front to back with each step. This is one of the reasons that this ligament has trouble healing without help – each step causes movement in the joint and often breaks down any healing that the body is trying to do. Some small breed dogs can heal with rest and time – it can take up to 8-10 weeks to really see good healing, or even longer! With patience though, some can heal!! In larger breed dogs, however, it is much more common that we cannot get them to heal and we are left with a chronic limp unless we take action.
After some discussion on pros and cons given that she was a 10-year-old gal, we decided to proceed with surgery. We all felt she had a long life left to live, and wanted her to be as comfortable as she could be for the time that she still had. Though this is a big procedure, it has very high success rates – and I always try to remember – age is not a disease!! So, if we can fix something that will improve quality of life for whatever time they have left, then I think it’s worth it. We consulted with our orthopedist, Dr DeNardo, and he agreed with my diagnosis, so off to surgery we went! In repairing ACL injuries, as in most things in life, there are options. Depending on what surgeon you talk to, there are differing opinions on which procedure is best to repair this injury. In Molly’s case, the type of repair that Dr DeNardo performs called the lateral suture technique, was a good choice!! In this repair technique, a very thick piece of suture (think like the thickness of a fishing line), is strung through the bones on either side of the joint to recreate the front to back stability that has been lost with this injury. By stabilizing the joint, it allows the body to also create scar tissue, that will stabilize the joint long-term so they can go back to running and playing!!
Molly did amazing through surgery, and came home with me overnight to monitor her during her recovery. Our laundry room functions quite nicely as a sick ward when a family pet needs a little extra TLC! Once she had fully recovered, she went home and spent the next 12 weeks healing and starting to work back up to full use of her leg. The surgery has very high success rates, but it does still take about 12 weeks or more to get them to the point of being able to have freedom with walking, running, or playing, and can take up to a full 6 months to get back to full joint strength. Molly was an excellent patient – she took all of her medications, rested appropriately, followed her strengthening exercises, and was back to her walk-abouts before we knew it! Though she was an older lady at the time, based upon how well she did and that she lived for 4 years after surgery….I still feel it was 100% the right choice for her so we could get her back to doing what she loved! Yes, this is a big and scary injury, and yes the post-operative recovery period can be challenging, but seeing these guys who were so uncomfortable and limping get to the point where they can run and play again is totally worth it! 😊