Post Surgical Care
Week 1 of post surgery care after luxating patella surgery on an 8 month old puppy
By DANIELLE BECK MSc
Luxating patella surgery is very invasive, and bone surgery in people is known to be incredibly painful. From watching my puppy the first couple of days post surgery, I agree, he was very much in pain/discomfort but happy. We had lots of pain meds and some to help him settle too. However, his enthusiasm and love for life overrides any pain or discomfort he feels, a problem I know all to well from my behaviour work. Dogs are incredible at masking pain and can push though as though they are fine. It’s our responsibility to ensure their movements are restricted, so they can heal and not damage themselves. This is easier said than done.
This week is both the easiest and most stressful. Your dog won’t be as mobile due to their pain, medication, and desire to sleep. However, they will be more prone to injury and infection; frustration will be high with the restriction. This week my other dog Nuffle had a holiday for 3 days, he went to a friends to have fun with their dogs. This allowed us to focus on Spock and not have to worry about Nuffle wanting to play – that was later. Set up an area for your dog to ‘live in’ for the next few weeks consisting of their crate and a pen, small room or arrange the furniture to keep them enclosed. They can’t have free access to the house, consistent movement, jumping etc will do internal damage. For more information about preparing for crate rest check out my preparation blog HERE
As a behaviourist I’m good with setting management, it’s literally my job, prevent unwanted behaviour from being practised whilst we teach coping strategies. So how did I set up the environment to help Spock to cope with bring restricted? I utilised the do nothing with your dog philosophy that I have, and we did lots of ‘If In Doubt; Chill Out’ and frustration tolerance practise before he had the surgery, so when he was being restricted he understand and was able to manage his frustration. The medication given to us by the vets to help him to keep calm also benefited him. For help with meds check out my other blog and video HERE.
“Week one down, despite the vet visit after the crate incident, all went well. This is by far the easiest week.”
I bought new dog beds, flat ones that allow him to spread out, that were low cost, as I’m aware they will no doubt get chewed or stained from an accident. One was for his crate the other for by the sofa. I sat with him on his bed and read or worked on my laptop or I lifted him onto the sofa to sit with me.
Both Spock and Nuffle (once he returned around day 3) were on puppy lines, all day. Both of them are used to having lines trailing, as I use them a lot for different things, and with all puppies so they know what they are. These lines are to prevent Spock from jumping onto / off the sofa, running, playing, and to be used as a lead for toilet breaks in the back garden. Yes I took him out on a lead, every few hours to toilet and sniff in the garden. Wellies by the back door to cope with the mud, puddles, and snow are useful. The lead stops any burst of excitement resulting in garden or house zoomies, which will not be good for him.
Since a puppy he’s been taught to rest in a crate, he prefers his bed out of the crate but will relax in one. As a tiny puppy he had a fabric one which are my personal preference, then a sturdier metal one to grow into. I was aware he’s likely to have a few tantrums and scratch/chew the fabric on the occasions he was forced to rest, so I used his metal one. I’ve used crates for over a decade, they keep my dogs safe and give them a place to chill out. As puppies, sometimes they can get their noses or paws stuck and you can quickly release them with ease. Some dogs I’ve worked with chew the bars and damage their teeth or the bars, others have learned how to pull the crate door in to escape. Therefore, don’t just expect your dog to be ok with this restraint, they need to learn to be ok and relax in it. It’s not ok to leave them to cry when in confinement without doing any of the preparation work. This is distressing for both you and your dog.
However, despite this Spock decided that he wanted to open the crate door to play with his brother. Previously he’s only ever pawed the bars for a bit then gave up, that’s what I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting was for him to push his nose through and twist and get his nose stuck! We had his whole nose and canines on one side, the bars part way down his muzzle. He was screaming and panicking, thankfully a friend grabbed him to hold him in place to stop him damaging his face, teeth or the very fresh wound on his leg! We got him out by bending the bars and took him to the vets to double check…..all clear do damage noticeable.
So now I had a dog on crate rest and no crate as there was no way he was going back in there. The pain he was in made him more likely to snap around his crate due to the fear he felt. So everyone was told to give him space to prevent any reactions and we borrowed a fabric crate. He was able to settle and relax in here no problem, with the door open or shut.
We slept downstairs to make taking him to the toilet easier in the night, as it’s unrealistic to expect him to hold it all night when he’s on medication. Plus, he can’t do stairs and needs to be carried, so it was easier for all. He had crate time and none crate time, followed by crate time. This first week he’s able to relax more, we bought lots of chews for him and static toys and licki mats. Thanks to ‘If In Doubt; Chill Out’ he was well versed for how to relax. He’d have his tablets in a game, food in a bowl, then extra food as activity feeder snacks. I didn’t think it was fair to ask a sick dog to work all day for their food. Nuffle was on lead this week too, he needed to understand that he couldn’t play with Spock, and prevention is easier than interrupting two zooming dogs. Spock attempted to play but wouldn’t argue when we asked him to chill out or put him in the crate, he’d just huff; the self management and frustration tolerance training paying off!
Toys and chews
I picked up a few different toys and chews and found old ones. I gave a couple of games where I’d show him a few options and let him choose the chew he wanted. It’s a nice way of giving back some control to a dog whose had most of the control taken from them.
Top Tips For Week 1
- Plan your area. have an area of your house set up ready. This should be somewhere quiet but not out of the way. Your dog will want to be around you but not in the way.
- Prepare yourself. It’s difficult to see your dog in pain. They will most likely be whimpering a lot when you get them home. This is common after a general anaesthetic. You dog may need comforting but might not want to be touched. Sit on the floor with them or next to their crate. Talk to them or read a story to them, sounds odd but it can help, especially if you have children. Many children will want to comfort the dog through cuddles, reading to them gives them something they can do safely.
- Have a spare crate. Crates are a personal choice and theres pros and cons to each, have a back up.
- House Lead. Get your dog use to having a house lead clipped on when coming out of their crate. This is a routine that needs to start asap, you’ll thank me come week 3.
- Don’t over fuss. This week they need sleep and rest. Don’y worry about mental stimulation, the need rest. Chews or a filled kong that they can lie with are great.
- Chill Out. Any time out of the crate is rest time when on lead. Get them into the routine of relaxing on their lead by you.
- Stock up. This is the week to stock up on snuffle mats, lickimats, and food filled toys and chews.
- Over the next few weeks your dog will become increasingly wrestles with their confinement. Each will handle it differently, some will enjoy the time to snooze and wont miss the exercise. others will get increasingly frustrated and may even get aggressive when you try to put them back in the crate. Therefore, stocking up on activity feeders they can enjoy in their crate will help.
The first week is the easiest from a behaviour perspective, as your dog will be tired, in pain and medicated. Build the routine of crate, put on lead, toilet, lead off, then back in crate. Lead on, rest on lead out of crate, then lead off rest in crate. It will help you in the weeks to come