If you’re new here, you might want to check out these previous posts for a little context (or just click on the “dog” tag below for more of our crazy adventures together):
- When I got a dog
- When the dog started having problems
- The nature of the dog’s problems (angular limb deformity)
- What I’ve been doing for the dog since he started having problems, and some more of what I’ve been doing for the dog
So I took the dog for his follow up appointment with the orthopedist, yesterday. He’s been doing really well, for the most part. His legs are definitely deformed, but he runs a little, and is playful and sweet and wonderful and good-natured and fun. I try not to treat him like he’s disabled, but to give him the space to be who he is— I take him on walks and to the dog park and doggie day care, but I let him rest when he’s tired and we do more in the way of massage and occupational therapy than most 20-month-old pups do with their people. And less of long walks and throwing the ball, and things. We play more tug and physical therapy-supportive games, and less with things that involve running.
The doggie day care and physical therapist feel like he’s doing really well, and so do I— we had a walk earlier this week where he ran the first half-mile, which did my heart so much good, so I was hoping that surgery could be avoided. He’s really functional— he does stairs fine and I don’t always have to help him in and out of the car, which I did when he was actively getting worse.
The orthopedist was very positive about how functional he is, but said that he recommends corrective surgery, because angular limb deformities will result in osteoarthritis over time. He’s a young, healthy dog, the surgeon seems positive that the surgery can be minimally invasive and very successful. He didn’t sugar-coat it for me— recovery is going to suck. And he’s recommending surgery on both front legs, one right after the other (will help minimize costs if bloodwork, etc. is still current from the first surgery), so we’d do the first surgery, let him mostly recover, then do the second surgery right away (barring complications).
He said that he wouldn’t blame me if I didn’t want to do the surgery, given how functional he is, and that’s definitely an option, just not the one he recommends.
I have to admit that I’m disappointed that I couldn’t, through sheer force of will and love, avoid surgery altogether. And if you could see him walk or run, you’d say (as others have) “that looks like it hurts.” I honestly think it hurts him less than it looks like it does— I saw him when it was hurting him, and I think he’s mostly on the other side of that— but it’s not pain-free. And given that it’s likely to cause him more pain over time, I’m inclined to do the surgeries.
I had them quote the surgeries for me. When I random-Googled it, after the first orthopedic visit, I got an idea that it would cost $8K per limb (up to three limbs affected on my particular pup). When I talked to the vet at physical therapy, she said she thought half that. Yesterday’s quote was even lower, with ways to mitigate (he has a regular vet visit tomorrow. I can have his surgical bloodwork done there and then, for example). It’s not going to be easier on him the longer I wait, and the prognosis for him seems really strong.
I’ve started to realize all the ways I’ve gotten stuck thinking of him as a disabled dog. I don’t feel like I can take him on long walks, because if he overdoes it, I can’t haul all 80 lbs of him home easily (he never has taken to the wagon thing, though I might give that another shot). Social as he is, I dismissed a recent random thought about getting another dog, because I thought the contrast might be frustrating for him (or the other dog)— if I could take one of two dogs hiking, or play ball with one of them, I don’t think he’d love being the one who needed to rest. I’m inclined to forgo dog parks, because he got really aware of the things the other dogs could do when he couldn’t keep up (less obvious at doggie day care, where they’re all in a big room together).
If I have a shot at giving him a more normal life, a life where these things aren’t factors and I don’t have to give him a daily painkiller and hope that it doesn’t poison his liver and substantially shorten his life, I’m inclined to take it.
At the same time, I’ve had post-surgical animals before and it eats me alive. Getting them eating and eliminating, alone, is a challenge, and keeping them medicated and away from their stitches, confined from activity… Bru-tal. I have no stomach for seeing my animals in pain, so I just internalize too much of what I think they’re feeling. And he’ll go through it once and then we’ll have to start. completely. over. I’m sure he’ll be really cooperative the second time I try to take him to the orthopedist, given how fresh the first one will be in his mind. He’s so happy and functional, now, to take that away and opt him in for pain and struggle, even though I know it’s only for the short-term and it serves a greater long-term good— it’s not something I take lightly. I don’t imagine I can explain this in a way that he’ll understand, so I hope he’ll have enough faith in me for his sweet, sunny disposition to survive the struggle. Then again, he had a serious surgery before I met him and has had nine months of struggle and pain and rigamarole, and there’s not one thing I’d change about his disposition, today.
Bottom line, I think this is what my fall is going to look like. Expensive and kind of ugly, but in service of what I hope are better things in the new year. Hope along with me, will you?
FWIW, I’ve thought a lot about this and lived the reality of it in ways that most people—even most people with dogs— have not, and I’m not specifically asking for advice. Please be aware that while I welcome insight and support, I’m pretty skeptical of any opinion that comes from the cheap seats, where there are no consequences and everything’s very simple and theoretical. In my world, there are consequences— financial and otherwise, and none of it is as simple as it looks from the outside. I’m not disabling or discouraging comments, but please be thoughtful, if you choose to weigh in. And if your comments involve anything about putting down my healthy, functional puppy (which I’ve heard several times since this saga began), please refrain from offering them to me. It’s not a suggestion I can hear in the way you mean for me to.