Activities For Dogs After Cruciate Ligament Surgery

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Introduction

Did you know that cruciate ligament tears or injuries are one of the most common injuries to the knee (or stifle) of the dog as well as humans?  Called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), these injuries are quite similar to those from which we humans suffer, called ACL injuries. If your dog has suffered this injury, walking and normal gait will be difficult, painful and even impossible.  Surgical repair is recommended to be done as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the joint which may not be irreversible. After surgery, your precious pup’s activities will be restricted at least for the period of time while the knee is healing.  For some dogs, certain activities may be prohibited for the rest of your pet’s life. So, since this is such an important topic, let’s talk a bit about some of those acceptable activities for dogs after cruciate ligament surgery.

Passive Motion

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Any Day
Free
Easy
5 - 10 min
Items needed
Blanket, towels
stable padded surface
dog muzzle
Activity description

Your cuddly canine will require a great deal of attention from you while the healing and recovery process takes place after cruciate ligament surgery.  Expect that your pet will be uncomfortable and, perhaps, a bit uncooperative to manipulation and exercise due to the pain. The passive motion exercises will simply require that you gently manipulate the limb to help encourage cartilage and joint health, prevent muscular contraction and stimulation of vascular and lymphatic flow.  Because the joint will be sensitive to manipulation, you should expect to need to muzzle your precious pet to protect both of you during this activity. The passive range of motion exercises will be easy and should be done gently, beginning with 10 reps and gradually increasing over the next few weeks. Do not attempt any type of manipulation with your pet until you have consulted the veterinarian and have been given the okay, as well as detailed instructions on how to proceed.

Step
1
Apply cool compresses
Apply cool compresses for the first 3 days after surgery, 3 to 4 times a day for 15 minutes each. Then 2 to 3 times a day for the next 7 days for the 15 minute duration, to help reduce inflammation and swelling which will increase your pet’s discomfort.
Step
2
Apply the dog muzzle
Always apply the muzzle over the face of your beloved bundle of fur before beginning the passive range of motion exercises. Be sure to fasten it securely and don’t make it too tight. This step is important because, although your pet may not usually be aggressive, when they are in pain, their temperaments can be different. They will not be happy with having a newly operated limb manipulated! Most likely your vet will have given you some medications to ease the pain from the surgery so it is important to give the medication at the appropriate time intervals and with the correct dosing.
Step
3
Move the limb
Gently move the limb through a comfortable range of motion, being sure to move all of the joints. Slowly and gently extend and flex each joint (ankle, knee and hip) a total of 10 times, doing this 2 to 3 times a day. Be sure to keep in touch with your veterinary professional to assure that you understand what is expected and keep an open mind about asking questions if you are unsure about what you are doing.
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Massage

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Any Day
Free
Easy
2 - 3 min
Items needed
Blanket, towels
stable padded surface
Dog muzzle
Activity description

Massage is an important part of any issue which involves the muscles, whether it’s on man or beast.  While massaging doesn’t cost much, it is a priceless activity for the eventual success of the cruciate ligament surgery which has been done on your pet.  The massaging action involves the quadriceps and the hamstring groups of large muscles which run along the front and the back of the thigh. Massaging these muscles will improve blood flow and lymphatic flow as well as work to help break down any scar tissue which has developed inside the muscles.  Just like the passive range of motion exercises, your precious pooch won’t be very happy as you manipulate these tender places, making that muzzle a very important safety item for both of you. Be sure to put it on and leave it in place every time until the entire process has been completed. Your veterinarian will instruct you on the massage technique; follow the advice of your veterinary professional to the letter.

Step
1
Muzzle your dog
Keeping the muzzle on your dog, gently massage the quadriceps and hamstring muscles. These will be the large muscle groups located on the front and the back (respectively) of the thigh. Massage these muscles for 2 to 3 minutes before and after the passive range of motion exercises every time as this will help to encourage blood and lymphatic flow as well as helping to break down the scar tissue inside the muscles.
Step
2
Begin the massage
Begin massaging with a light pressure and gradually increase the pressure you apply as you work your way through the massage. Don’t be alarmed if you hear the whine of pain as you massage and manipulate the muscles of the thigh as this is normally not a particularly comfortable process for your pet, just as it isn’t for we humans after knee surgery.
Step
3
Keep steady rhythm
Try to keep a pretty steady rhythm as you massage, beginning at the knee and working your way up to the hip. The emphasis is on doing the massage gently and slowly with a steady pressure as you work your way from knee to hip. Gentle cooing and soothing words during the massage will likely help to calm your precious pooch during these uncomfortable moments.
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Short Leashed Walks

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Any Day
Free
Easy
5 - 10 min
Items needed
Collar or halter
Short leash
Bath towel
Activity description

The short-leashed walks won’t begin until about 10 days after your pet’s surgery.  They will begin with a duration of 5 to 10 minutes and will gradually be increased in duration to 15 to 20 minutes by day 28.  These walks are important for the eventual return to regular activities for your pet as well as for their emotional health. You can, of course, take your pet outside briefly on the leash to urinate and defecate as needed immediately after surgery.  These particular walks are different than those needed to relieve themselves.  At all times, your pet should be controlled, on a short length leash and never allowed to run, jump, strain or play for the first 20 weeks after the cruciate ligament surgery.  You should never push your pet beyond their limits of duration and strength. Towel walking may be an option in the early stages of your pet’s therapy.  This involves slinging a bath towel under your pet to help to support them on wet or slippery surfaces.  You won’t really be carrying their weight, rather only providing some support on those more dangerous surfaces.

Step
1
Attach collar and leash
At about 10 days from surgery, (seek this acknowledgement from your veterinary professional), you will likely be able to begin short leashed, controlled, slow walks of brief duration. Start your walks with a duration of about 5 to 10 minutes and do them 2 to 3 times a day. After about 7 days of walking in this way, you can begin to gradually increase the duration and the frequency of them.
Step
2
Increase walk duration
By day 28 your goal should be to be walking 15 to 20 minutes about 3 times a day. These walks should be controlled; there can be no jumping, running, straining or pulling on the short leash. Always monitor your pet’s condition. Never exceed the limits of your pet as you try to increase the duration and frequency of the walks.
Step
3
Follow with massage
Always follow the completion of your short leashed walks with the passive range of motion exercises and massages to maintain flexibility and the joint health noted above. Apply warm compresses for 5 minutes before the walk and cool compresses after the walk. As a time saving measure, try applying the compress while you’re massaging the muscles.
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More Fun Ideas...

Figure Eights

To help with neuro re-education, walk your dog in figure eights, going to the left and to the right.  As they get more strength, you can make your figure eight smaller to allow for more mobility practice.  Avoid sharp turns at all costs.

Dance With Your Dog

This activity involves holding your dog’s front paws in your hands so that their hind legs are supporting all of their weight.  Encourage your pet to take steps while in this position. This activity won’t likely be an option until about 2 months after surgery.

Increase Walk Time

Increasing walk time will come as your pet recovers from the surgery but it will have to be done in gradual increments to prevent injury or healing setbacks.

Easy Stair Climbing

This activity involves slowly ascending and descending stair steps but doing so on no more than 10 steps. This activity will not likely be one in which you’ll need to engage early in therapy but you may need to address 2 or 3 at a time if steps are involved in going outside to urinate or defecate.

Conclusion

Just as when a human being has a knee surgery of any type or a hip surgery, there is a period of time in which healing must take place.  Our pets will experience similar healing periods and these periods will be painful for them and will require our help to assure they are able to attain the best range of motion possible.  Patience and tender loving care applied in copious amounts will go a long way toward making your precious pooch whole again!