Saturday, February 18, 2012

The ACL Saga

Our youngest German wirehaired pointer has had long gangly hind legs from the beginning.  About a year ago we noticed she walked a little funny, not bending the hind legs, sometimes dragging her toes during the stride, but she never complained.
     Then last fall, during hunting season, she came up lame, to the point it hurt to watch her walk.  I took her to a veterinarian up where I hunt, and she was at a loss.  My vet back home mentioned possible acl or hip problems, and we x-rayed the hips, which looked fine.
     I started doing my homework, reading everything I could find on acl problems in dogs.  My vet suggested an orthopedic surgeon, who looked at X-rays of the dog’s knees and said he could fix them, at $3,650 each leg.  I went home to see what the options were.
     There are four common surgeries for acl damage.  In dogs, the surgery is used to stabilize the joint so scar tissue can form around the damaged area and stabilize it permanently.  In humans they try to actually repair the torn acl. Two of the surgeries on dogs, the TPLO and the TTA drastically alter the shape of the bone in hopes of stabilizing the joint.  The newer Tightrope and, what is called, the conventional surgery use nylon cords to stabilize the joint, and are much less invasive or expensive.  My surgeon wanted to do the TPLO.
     I stumbled upon a website , which warned of the dangers of acl surgeries, and the author feels strongly the surgery is unnecessarily overdone.  He suggests first trying an extended period of light activity, meaning months on a leash.  The recovery from the surgery would be about the same length of time.  Of course the gamble is that if the rest period didn’t work we would have wasted the time, but I also read a large percentage of the surgeries give less than perfect results, so we decided to give it a try.
     After a week on lead she seemed fine.  After sixteen weeks, Colby is doing great.  For two weeks now she has short periods off-lead, about fifteen minutes, in the woods behind the house.  When she gets up from rest, she does have a bit of stiffness, but it passes quickly and then she walks, trots, and gallops normally.  She never appears uncomfortable.  I am very optimistic that she will have a complete recovery by sometime this summer.
     Things in her favor are her age, a little over two, and she doesn’t have any extra weight on her at all.  I have been giving her extra glucosamine daily, lots.  My older wirehair has benefited tremendously from glucosamine in her diet, almost aging backwards two years, so I am a strong believer in it.  And German wirehaired pointers are pretty calm for bird dogs, so keeping Colby quiet has probably been easier than if I owned a wound setter or pointer. 

     Acl problems seem to be more common lately and nobody is certain why.  A possibility is the spaying or neutering of dogs too soon, before their hormones help with the growth of their bodies.  Colby was spayed at six months of age.  Also, acl surgery is a big money maker for many veterinarians, so that may drive the rise in surgeries too.
     So that is Colby’s saga.  She’s a sweet girl with two seasons of grouse hunting behind her.  I hope she has a dozen more to go.

1 comment:

  1. That's some great info. I've never had a dog with ACL problems (plenty of other expensive operations, though) but I'm glad to know there are alternatives to $3600 cut and sews.