Post-surgical Recovery

The first few days after surgery (with photos of the surgery wound) are covered in Surgery.

By a week after surgery, Bea was getting around quite well, and I only used the sling to help her on stairs. She didn’t need it and would often do them without waiting, but to be safe I tried to use it when possible. She rarely lost her footing though, I was surprised at how rare tumbles were! The odd time her front foot would slip and she’d go down on her chin, but it never slowed her down, she just sprung right up again and carried on.

The surgeon said that we should keep movement to a minimum for the first two weeks, as too much movement can cause fluid buildup. Bea would have happily gone on longer walks, but she did get tired and so we only went partway around the block starting in week two. During the first week we just stayed inside the yard. I could tell it felt good for her to run a bit though, so I tried to take her for a short walk once a day so she could stretch her legs and check on her neighbourhood. She was in good spirits. The gabapentin is relaxing, and at higher doses is a sedative, so it takes awhile to get the dose just right. For the first several weeks she needed 300mg every 6 hours, and then by week 4 she had it every 8 hours, until the two month mark when she started having them every 12 hours or so, as needed. Six months later she still gets one at night, it helps her sleep and keeps the phantom nerve pains at bay. I will discuss those in more detail below.

At the two week mark, the staples were removed, which meant she could wear the Ruffwear Webmaster harness. It was great for walks, and for helping her on stairs, etc. By the third week post surgery we started going on slightly longer walks, just 10 minutes or so. Sometimes she would have to stop and rest, sometimes she just plowed on through, I let her set the pace. Oh yes, and if you’re heading into this, be prepared: tripods walk FAST! Early on, running fast makes it far easier to keep their balance, so Bea was off like a shot! It must feel like riding a bike, the slower you go, the more wobbly you are. She was very sure-footed when running, but was a bit more bouncy when walking. Every week she slowed a bit more, and now she likes to walk at the same brisk pace she always walked at, but doesn’t do the crazy run that she did in the early days! 

By the third month, she had built her stamina back up and was doing 20 minute walks (runs, really) without any trouble. She still only goes on one walk a day as opposed to her two before surgery, but she’s also nearly 10 years old, so that’s probably got something to do with it as well! 

As time went on, I kept thinking Bea was at a point where she had recovered as much as she was going to. It seemed there was little that she couldn’t do, and then she would go on and surprise me by doing something I hadn’t seen her do since surgery. She started digging in the yard (she’s not supposed to, but she’s stealthy!), which was great to see. After about 5 months she began full on wrestling with Buster, something I thought she would never do again. She has always favoured the leg-around-the-neck move when wrestling with other dogs, and I thought those days were gone, but of course she has proven me wrong. She gets up on those back legs and wraps her leg around his neck like nothing has ever changed! It’s really amazing how little her life has changed—she isn’t hampered much at all. Now she thinks 4 legged dogs are just spoiled show-offs! 

Physical Therapy

I started taking her to Physical Therapy about four weeks post surgery. The first appointment was an assessment, they checked all of her joints and muscles and gave her a thorough massage and stretch. They reported that she was in amazing shape for her age, which is great—they were surprised to see her bound in enthusiastically, not what they were expecting when they knew she was a 9 year old Bernese Mountain Dog! It was decided that I would bring her every 3 weeks or so to start, and after the third visit they suggested every 6-8 weeks, since she wasn’t having any significant issues. They sent me a list of stretches which we do several times daily, and if she starts having more trouble we will increase the frequency, but for now she loves her massage and stretch visits every 8 weeks or so.

Phantom Pain

Many dogs get phantom limb nerve pain in the area where the leg has been removed. For Bea, I can tell they aren’t super painful, and it’s just a quick little jolt, but she has always been sensitive to things touching her, so she jumps up and moves every time it happens. They were quite frequent in the second and third months, and are the only real side effect that has been problematic. She can tend towards being neurotic about things like this, so gabapentin helped keep her calm, and it also helps with nerve pains. From the descriptions I’ve heard, this seems to be common, where the dog will be laying and suddenly jump up and look at the floor to see what bit them! Bea has always done this a bit, even before surgery—I refer to them as “floor crabs”. So I had seen this behaviour before, but whereas those were probably more like an itch, these are a jolt of discomfort. For awhile she even did a little yelp when they happened, but it’s hard to know if that’s from pain, or from the fear of them. I spoke to another tripod owner who also lost a limb herself, and she said that when she saw her dog having them, she knew exactly what it was because she had them herself! She describes them as a zap, almost like a little electrical shock, that’s then immediately gone. That certainly seems like exactly what Bea gets.

By the third month they started to decrease in frequency, and now she still gets a couple a day, but rarely yelps. She did have a 10 day period recently where she had a lot of them, and it seems like sometimes she can either pull a muscle or disturb the nerves in that area from overuse, and then she will have more. I’ve noticed that any time she’s doing an action where I can see the “shoulder” area moving as if she was moving the missing leg, she then gets more of the little twinges. Believe it or not she still digs, and as she doesn’t do anything without going full tilt, when she digs she loses herself in it! Any time I find that she’s been digging outside, she is pretty much guaranteed to have more nerve twinges the next day or two. They’re definitely bearable and I’m sure a lot of dogs would be far less bothered by them, but all in all, as side effects go, we’ll take it!

Next: Chemotherapy