The Post-Op Process for a Dog’s ACL Repair

We are now roughly 72 hours post-surgery for Comet’s ACL repair. I’m really happy with how she’s progressing and how well I’ve done taking care of her over these first three days myself. Most importantly, even though it’s been very challenging at times, these first few days and nights of her post-operative recovery have been a special time for Comet and me. She’s one of the main loves of my life and I can feel love and admiration from her directed at me as well. However, in the months after the initial injury when she tore her ACL, she became very depressed from the pain, inactivity, and what I can only assume to be resentment or sadness because I was no longer inviting her on walks or to sleep upstairs with me. Of course, this was for her own safety and healing, but I’m confident she didn’t understand that. To her, it just felt like exclusion and neglect. Our relationship suffered in a way. It was difficult for me to actively remember in every instance where I was frustrated or missed her that it wasn’t her choice that she wasn’t by my side or hanging out. Eventually, the only time she’d reliably pay attention to me was if I was going to feed her or if there was the potential for dropped food she could scarf up. Even if I was crying, for instance if I fell and got hurt or had a torturous PTSD flashback, she’d barely glance in my direction, whereas previously, she’d always jump up from wherever she was resting and come to my side, offering her head in my lap for comfort. It just felt like we were drifting apart, our bond somewhat severed by winter blues, her pain and mood changes, her worry of sadness that I was mad at her or punishing her (since she wasn’t coming along with me on walks, which she interprets as withholding life’s greatest treat), and no effective substitute activity to engage in together.
Of course, I hope it goes without saying that I didn’t love her any less or blame her for the emptiness I felt from the lack of physical presence and emotional support she was providing. That said, our human/dog bond has been completely restored in the three days since coming home from her surgery. Although I’m “bad cop,” since I’m making her engage in painful rehab exercises per the protocol from our animal surgeon for a dog’s post-operative ACL rehabilitation, and I’m the only face she’s been seeing during this window of most severe healing pain, we seem more bonded and loving towards one another than ever before. She’s been my beloved pet for nearly eight years now after her adoption in May 2010, and our tight bond has continued to strengthen over this time up until this injury. I can’t adequately express my elation at the strides we’ve taken together in reuniting as the tightest pet and pet mother duo during these three days, which I imagined would have been so trying and contentious in many ways. After all, patients in pain usually despise the caregiver who orchestrates and administers the various facets of their difficult rehabilitation process. Comet has been a loyal, loving trooper. She’s so keyed into me and eager to pick up on any verbal or nonverbal cues that I may deliver to her. Despite the tiring sleepless nights since her return, it’s been an honor and heartwarming process to feel like such a needed mom, as she’s made it abundantly clear that I’m the only effective nighttime comfort aid to soothe her discomfort and unease.
Last night was a bit easier than the night before, though not by much. I was so tired from being up the whole night on Wednesday night, so I tucked her in downstairs and headed up to my bed relatively early. She immediately starting whining and crying for me, but I waited twenty minutes or so to see if she’d settle down and fall asleep. She didn’t, so I went down and carried her and her bed up to my room (she’s not permitted to climb stairs on her own right now). I put a nice big blanket on her, kissed her head, and went to my own bed. We both fell asleep for an hour or so. I woke up from the sound of her rustling, and upon getting up to check on her, it was evident that she needed to go outside because her stomach was making all sorts of gurgling noises. The vet said that antibiotics and pain medication can upset a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, so I knew I should hurry up and get her outside. I had to turn on the lights in my bedroom and in the stairwell so that I could safely carry her down the illuminated stairs. One of my most prominent sensory sensitivities is artificial light, particularly at night, which totally disrupts my circadian rhythm. If I’m exposed to light even as much as two hours before I intend to sleep, I’ll be so wired and unable to get sleepy. I have to be in a completely dark room in the couple hours preceding my intended bedtime. Natural light isn’t quite as potent of a circadian rhythm resetter, but it still needs to be avoided for at least 90 minutes before I want to sleep. Therefore, a house light turned on during the night is exceedingly jarring. However, as a caretaker and mom, my needs are secondary to Comet’s and it was most important to ensure that I carried her safely outside without risking stumbling and fumbling in the dark. Frankly, it was difficult enough to carry her downstairs after suddenly waking (strength is always reduced during sleep as the muscles naturally relax).
Once outside, I walked Comet until she went to the bathroom. At that point, I put her in the crate downstairs and assumed my makeshift bed on the couch. I set my alarm for 1am as that was when she was to be due for another analgesic. Ultimately, the alarm wasn’t necessary because I had yet to fall back asleep in that two-hour window between taking her out (and being jolted awake by the lights) and the medication time. Additionally, in the final half hour before her dose time, she was awake and showing signs that her previous pill was wearing off (stirring, wimpering, and staring at me). I opened the crate and pulled her bed out so she could lie on the floor where I could pet her, but I held firm to the 1am schedule because I don’t want to overmedicate her, especially after the initial dispensing error.
I spent the next two hours on the couch and got up around 3am to do laundry because I seemed to throw up on my clothes and the sheets on the couch during my early morning sleep. Then, I took Comet out and tried her passive range of motion (PROM) exercises, which essentially involves me gently moving her repaired knee and hip through the normal arc of motion (flexion and extension). She hates this part of the routine, so I’m conservative in how much I push the joint at this point. She’s not yet able to bend the knee as much as a healthy dog’s knee should flex, but I’m just trying to watch her facial reaction and gradually increase the flexion degree she achieves. I imagine the grizzly incision itself is quite tender too, and it’s nearly impossible to conduct these exercises without contacting her stitches, as they cover quite an extensive length of her leg. Worse than the PROM exercises, Comet can’t stand the cool pack that is supposed to go on her knee for ten minutes following the mobility exercises. It’s just kept in the refrigerator, not the freezer, so it’s not all that cold, but she can’t stand it. I wrap it in a paper towel. I’m not surprised she won’t tolerate it because she dispises being cold. I try to slowly feed her treats while we inch our way towards ten minutes. I don’t think she’s actually allowed it to stay on for more than eight minutes yet. Again, I think the raggedly stitches are bothered by the contact of the pack, let alone the issue of her cold discomfort. We do our best. It’s not worth it to keep it on if she’s fighting me because of the risk of her pulling away or overstretching the leg and causing damage to the surgical site. Needless to say, it’s been a busy few days tied up with caring for my dog. Work has taken a bit of a backseat, though I’m trying to put in my hours between bouts of attention and responsibilities surrounding Comet’s ACL surgery rehabilitation. The house has gotten a bit messy, so I’m hoping to tidy up before Ben returns. It will be especially nice to have him around this weekend; not only have I missed him, but it’ll be helpful to have a hand in all this care for Comet. Tomorrow will be a beautiful reunion of our little family. I’ll be proud to show him how well Comet is doing and how hard we’ve been working and jiving as a cohesive team. Comet has actually started to get so much more confident on her leg and energetic that I’ve been putting her in the crate when I step out to ensure she doesn’t move aggressively. How much things have changed in 72 hours!

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