Monday, 25 July 2011

Dog-leg diary: into the danger zone

It’s over a week since Fargo’s cruciate ligament operation and he’s come along – well, maybe not in leaps and bounds just yet, but he’s definitely feeling well, his swollen ankle is back to normal and I’ve even seen him balance on his right leg so he can cock his left one.

Definitely not allowed - Fargo wrestling with Billy last year
We went for a check-up at the vet’s on Friday, and now Fargo is going out for a couple of five-minute walks every day, walking very slowly to make sure he puts his weight on the weaker leg and builds up his muscle again. It’s a challenge finding a five-minute walk, but we’re managing. Fargo’s so glad to be out of the house again that, despite his yearnings for the park, any bit of pavement makes a nice walk for him at the moment. We’ll also be starting physiotherapy soon, which should be a great help.

This is my second summer in a row with a lame dog, but it’s a very different experience this time. Last year, Charlie the Whippet lost the use of all his legs due to a compressed spinal cord, and his recovery was a long and slow process. Our first goal was simply to get him standing up again. This year, I have a high-energy dog who needs to take things slowly, but who doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with him.

There are positive and negative sides to Fargo’s high energy levels. On one hand (or paw), he seems so much better now that it would be easy for me to think he can go back to normal levels of activity – and he certainly seems to think there’s no reason to slow down. Like Tom Cruise’s character Maverick in camp 1986 flying movie Top Gun, Fargo feels the need for speed. And, echoing the Kenny Loggins song from that film, this is where we enter the ‘danger zone’. Fargo doesn’t just want to run; he wants to bounce about and wrestle with Billy the Whippet, with rapid changes in direction that could undo the vet’s good work.

But on the other hand, Fargo’s positive attitude means that he won’t let his injury get him down, and as long as I keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t overdo it, I have high hopes that he’ll recover well.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Dog-leg diary: Fargo’s op

It hasn’t been the most pleasant week for poor Fargo, but I’m glad to say he’s coping amazingly well.

Fargo shows a bit of leg
We went to see the referral vet, last Wednesday morning. I’d starved Fargo since the evening before as he was due to be booked in for an X-ray and probable knee operation. However, when we got to there we found out that the vet had two fractured legs to deal with that day, so Fargo’s op was postponed until Thursday. We did have a full consultation though, and the vet explained our options very clearly and answered all our questions so we could admit Fargo for his X-ray first thing the next day. Fargo seemed to like the vet, and he thought Fargo looked like a womble! So we left feeling as reassured as possible.

If, as was strongly suspected, Fargo had ruptured his cruciate ligament, there were two options when it came to surgery. One involved stitching in a ‘tightrope’ – basically a replacement ligament. The second option was tibial plateau levelling osteotomy (TPLO), which involves cutting into the tibia and rotating part of it, fixing it with a metal plate to make the knee joint work in a different way. This would mean a shorter recovery time for Fargo but it would cost more than the tightrope surgery. Since Fargo is a big, bouncy dog with loads of energy, we decided that TPLO was the option to go for.

The next day, while we were in the vet’s waiting room, a beautiful-looking Staffordshire bull terrier came in and started snarling at him. I know that dogs react in different ways when they’re at the vet’s so I don’t think this snarling necessarily meant that the dog wasn’t a nice fella, but its owner just came and sat right opposite us, with the dog continuing to snarl! It wasn’t good for Fargo, who was already a bit nervous, so we moved to a quieter area thinking that some people have no manners.

The X-ray confirmed that Fargo had ruptured his cruciate ligament, so the TPLO surgery went ahead and he stayed in overnight. The veterinary staff called me several times throughout the day and evening to let me know he was OK, and I went to pick him up the next morning.

Two surprises were in store for me. First, the nurse actually walked Fargo out to me I knew that the TPLO option would involve a speedier recovery, but I wasn’t expecting that. The nurse said that Fargo was already putting some weight on his leg, and that’s a good sign. He also seems to have got on very well with all the staff at the vet’s, and the nurse said that when she’d taken him into the garden to relieve himself that morning it had taken about ten minutes because he insisted on saying hello to everyone he saw. That’s the Fargo I know, and it means that he wasn’t too upset by his operation.

The second surprise was that Fargo’s leg was completely shaved, apart from his foot. The shaving is to be expected when surgery is involved, but I had never thought about what Fargo’s leg would look like. It looked really big, pink and bare, a bit like a giant chicken leg.

Fargo came home with a collection of antibiotics, painkillers and an ice pack that I have to put on his knee for ten minutes, three times a day. He was pretty uncomfortable for his first afternoon back home, but the pain seemed to suddenly ease off around 4pm. He’s still a bit sore, obviously, but not as bad as he was straight after his operation.

The vet had warned me that Fargo’s ankle would swell up for a couple of days after the operation, as fluids accumulated in it. That wasn’t nice to look at – what with his bruises, his furry foot and bare leg, he looked like a granny in a bobby-sock. But it didn’t seem to bother him. The swelling’s gone down a lot now and I’m used to the sight of Fargo’s bare leg.

Fargo’s under strict instructions to rest, but he is allowed into the garden on a lead to go to the toilet. He’s been quite good about resting so far, but as he starts to feel better he wants to stand up and walk a lot more so I have to keep an eye on him. I’m amazed at how well he’s doing. I’d say he’s actually limping less than he was before the operation.

Fargo’s about to have his last super-painkiller and then on Friday, he’s going for his first check-up. After that he should be able to start going on some very short, very slow walks to make sure he puts his weight on the leg properly. He’ll enjoy those walks, as he hasn’t been allowed out for a few weeks. It's in his nature to bound about, so the challenge now is to make sure he progresses at a measured pace.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Fargo's knee - update

Well, a week has gone by since Fargo’s knee injury. His medicine and regular ice packs have made him feel a bit better, but that means he wants to play rough-and-tumble with Billy, so I’ve had to keep a close eye on him.

Having a shake on the beach earlier this year

There’s no denying that Fargo’s knee is still a problem, and this was confirmed when I took him for his check-up last night. We’re pretty sure he’s damaged his cruciate ligament, so he’s booked into the referral vet’s next Wednesday for an x-ray and, probably, a knee operation.

Considering he’s such a bouncy dog by nature, Fargo’s been very good at resting. He doesn’t like the fact that he’s not allowed out for walks and he can get bored so I’ve been playing some games with him while he’s lying down. We’ve got a Nina Ottosson Brick game which he enjoys and I’ve transferred some of his food into that game. I have to make sure I watch his food intake while he’s not going for walks, as I don’t want him to put on weight.

So, onwards and upwards (I hope!). It’s a worrying time for us and Fargo faces many more weeks of rest, but at least we’re working to get the problem sorted and I hope he’ll be up and about again before too long.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Summer fun with midges and dog-legs

Well it’s been a hectic few weeks here and I know I haven’t written a blog for ages, but I have managed to fit in a holiday as well as a fair bit of work for some new clients and some trips to the vet.

We had a fantastic holiday in Scotland a couple of weeks ago, where the dogs enjoyed lots of long walks. We went to Strathyre in Perthshire and were lucky enough to have fine weather for most of the week. It did rain for an entire day, but that was at the end of the week when we were all tired out and didn’t mind staying in and around our log cabin, watching the red squirrels and the occasional red deer outside the window.

'Can we go inside now?' Billy hating the midges
Billy's midge issue
There were quite a few midges about in Scotland and they seemed to be particularly fond of Billy the Whippet. He wasn’t so fond of them and, a week or so after we got back home he developed a nasty rash on his thighs and tummy and in his ears, where the midges had bitten him. So, off to the vets we went and it turned out he’d had an allergic reaction to the midge bites. I’m glad to say that was sorted out quickly and easily and he’s back to his old self now with no sign of a rash.

Fargo’s knee
You may remember that I spent last summer helping Charlie the Whippet to learn to walk again, and it seems that this summer I have another lame dog issue to contend with. This time it’s Fargo the Labradoodle.

Fargo and Billy enjoying their holiday in Scotland
Fargo has been getting a bit stiff lately and I suspected the onset of arthritis. But he coped well with the walks in Scotland and in all, the holiday seemed to loosen him up a bit. Then last Wednesday we went for a long walk on the park where the dogs had a great time chasing their toys. Fargo was perfectly well when I went out for a meal that evening, but when I got back home a couple of hours later he was yelping in pain and he couldn’t put any weight on his right hind leg!

So, off we went to the vets again for the second time that week. An examination suggested that Fargo might have a cruciate ligament injury as well as possible arthritis, but since Fargo’s a bit of a squealer when it comes to vets pulling at his legs, further investigation is needed. He came home with some Metacam and an ice pack, which I’m currently applying to his right knee three times a day, as well as orders for a week of rest before the vet sees him again.

Fargo quite enjoys the ice pack and the Metacam has certainly made him feel a lot better. I think it’s been a great help with any arthritis he may have, but he still limps on his right leg now and again. He’s not allowed any walks at all this week and he’s not allowed to walk upstairs – a tough proposition for Fargo because he loves his walks and he really likes to sneak upstairs and lie on the bed whenever he gets a chance. Luckily I’ve got a stair gate and Fargo’s been very good about it all so far, but he’s a naturally bouncy dog who’s not allowed to bounce right now. I have to watch him when he goes out into the garden as he occasionally tries to start a wrestling game with Billy – this tends to involve them both standing up on their hind legs, so it’s definitely not allowed right now.

Fargo’s going back to the vet’s this Thursday for another examination and to see what we need to do for him. It’s likely that he’ll need an x-ray under anaesthetic and possibly some surgery on his knee.

I’ve kept dogs for more than 25 years now and I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is to have pet insurance. I hate it when my dogs are ill; it’s such a worrying time and all I want is to be able to make them better again. I’m anxious about whether Fargo needs an operation, but at least I can make sure he’ll get the treatment he needs without fretting about how I’m going to afford it.

Anyway, there’s no sense in worrying about it until I know for sure what’s going to happen, and I’ll find that out later this week. I’ll let you know what happens.