When DorkyDad was having radiation treatment, one of the things I really appreciated was how many other people had shared their similar experiences on blogs and forums. It was so reassuring to read about folk who had been through something very challenging and come out the other side, and to pick up numerous hints and tips that made our own experiences easier.
When our little DorkyDog was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, and it was confirmed that she would need surgery, I was hoping to find similar writing online from dog owners. But that hasn’t been the case. Beyond the official information on vet websites, I’ve been able to find very little.
With that in mind, I thought I might write a couple of blog posts as we make our way through this – in the hope that sharing our experience is helpful for others doing the same in future. Writing has also, always, been my way of processing hard things. And this is very definitely a hard thing, so I’m hoping it will be helpful for me too.
Back to the beginning…
DorkyDog is a one year and one month old spoodle.
Towards the end of last year, we noticed that her hips were starting to clunk as she walked. You could hear them clicking with every step, and if you placed a hand on her back you could feel something slipping out of place. We also noticed that she often seemed stiff and a little sore when she got up from a lying position.
Our fabulous vets in Hobart, The Dog Clinic, brought her in for xrays and unfortunately they showed very clearly that she had hip dysplasia. Her parents had no hip problems, and nothing showed up in any of her early hip checks – they seemed fine until she was about 9 months old. It really is just one of those unlucky things.
On DorkyDog’s left side, the top of her leg bone looked to be about 50% supported by the hip socket. Not great, but not a disaster. Something that we might have to deal with a little further down the line. On the right side, the top of her leg bone was only about 20% supported by the hip socket, so little wonder it was clunking all over the place. We clearly needed to deal with it right away.
Had she been several months younger, we would have had the option to do a pelvic osteotomy – surgery that realigns the pelvis to address the joint instability. And if she was years older, the advice would likely have been to manage it conservatively with anti-inflammatory medication, a special diet, and restricted exercise.
But DorkyDog falls right in the middle. Her bone growth is just about complete so the osteotomy isn’t an option, but she hopefully has years and years of life ahead of her that we want to be as active and pain free as possible. The advice from our vet was to go for a total hip replacement. An entirely new ball and socket. Serious surgery, but with a strong chance of a good outcome.
This was the point at which we breathed a huge sigh of relief about the Trupanion pet insurance we’d taken out, which meant that we didn’t need to worry about the financial aspect of the decision.
Unfortunately, no vets in Tasmania offer total hip replacement surgery. Only a handful of places in Australia do. It’s a major procedure that requires specialist training and facilities, and necessitates the presence of two nurses and three vets throughout. Instead, we would have to fly DorkyDog to Melbourne, where she would undergo surgery and begin her recovery at Southpaws Specialty, Emergency and Referral Hospital. The prospect of the travel and the surgery was horribly daunting – I actually think sticking her on the plane was the worst bit of all – but we knew that once she arrived at Southpaws she would be in super safe hands.
DorkyDog’s surgery took place ten days ago from the time I’m writing this, and it all went as well as it possibly could have done. Immediately afterwards, x-rays were taken to check the positioning of the implant, and the vet was happy with how it looked. She stayed up in Melbourne for a week after the surgery, and then flew home to us a few days ago.
The next two months look pretty overwhelming, honestly. The recovery period is almost as important as the surgery itself, and our vet has read us a long and unpleasant list of things that can go wrong if we don’t follow the advice very closely.
For the first four weeks, DorkyDog is on full crate rest, while the bone and the implant fuse and stabilise. She’s allowed out to eat and for toilet breaks three or four times a day, with a sling support under her back legs to prevent her slipping – and that’s it.
(I honestly think that after four weeks of supporting her, DorkyDad and I may need as much physio and massage as DorkyDog does, in order to repair our poor backs!).
Between 4 and 8 weeks, we can slowly start doing short walks of around 5-10 minutes, and can start a physio and massage program to restore strength and flexibility in the joint. Then from 8-12 weeks, if everything is looking good, we can start returning to normal levels of exercise.
But from here, that all feels like a very long way off. There are only two priorities right now.
One is to make sure her incision stays clean and doesn’t get infected. We removed the bandage this morning and it looks brilliant, and she’ll have the stitches taken out next week. But until it’s fully healed we need to keep that big pointy snoof and that big licky tongue away from it, so she’s stuck in the big plastic cone.
Over the last three days, we’ve tried a soft plastic cone, a small inflatable collar, a medium sized inflatable collar… and have ended up right back at the big plastic cone that she flew home in. The others may be more comfortable but when you’ve got a bendy dog with a long nose, they do naff all to stop her picking at her hip.
The second priority is to keep her calm and rested. No running, no jumping, no games – basically no fun at all, which for a young spoodle who is used to being in the middle of everything is super tricky.
She’s on a slightly alarming cocktail of pain medication, antibiotics and sedatives at the moment. I’ve had to write myself a chart to keep track of what medications need to be dispensed when – and I don’t know how we’d be keeping her calm in the crate all day without the sedatives. But it’s a horrible feeling to come down in the morning and see her all sparkly eyed and waggy tailed like normal, and then immediately have to knock her out again.
I keep reminding myself that in the grand scheme of a dog’s life, eight weeks really isn’t much – and it’s a heck of a lot better than having her bounce away from us and damage the implant. I can feel myself walking around with so much tension because I’m anxious about messing up and somehow letting her hurt herself – so I’ll be VERY GLAD when we reach the 8-12 week mark and can start to relax a little. What a responsibility!
So, just a few days into this, and there has already been a lot of trial and error. Trying to find the right recovery collar; trying to get the house ready with non-slip matting and an outside toilet area that doesn’t involve steps ( I swear if you designed the worst possible house for a dog recovering from surgery it would be ours…); trying to find ways to sneak bitter-tasting pills into her…
(Still working on that one – the latest attempt is to buy empty gelatine capsules and pop the couple of half-pills she needs inside!)
We’ve been lucky that it’s still school holidays here in Tassie and we’ve had time to try and find a routine that works without too many early-morning time pressures. I’m not too sure how we’re going to go on Monday morning when we’re trying to bundle DorkySon out the door by 7.30am.
We’re also lucky to be supported by an incredible group of doggo professionals – our vets here and in Melbourne, and our fabulous dog trainer Carly from SuperWoofers who has set us up with everything from a playpen to a physio recommendation.
I reckon we just need to go one day at a time, keep our patience and a sense of humour, and hold onto thoughts of long beach walks and chasing birds in the park a few months from now. Gosh, won’t that be lovely.
Wish us luck!
I’ll check in with an update in a few weeks.
On a slight tangent, but still dog related, a buddy in New Zealand has recently started a fab new website called the Wuff Wuff Club, where she profiles the goodest girls and bois. Check out Luna’s little Wuff Wuff Club profile here, and take some time to meet the other beautiful doggies too!