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Anterior Cruciate Ligament Surgery: Post-Operative Care
Back Legs

Phase One: the first six weeks after surgery

It is imperative that your dog have strictly limited activity during the first 6 weeks after surgery. This allows proper healing after surgery, and minimizes the stress on the other hind leg.

When your dog is unsupervised, he/she should be kept in a small, restricted area indoors such as a small room with a nonskid floor surface and without furniture he/she can jump on, or kept in a crate. He/she is not to roam free in the house, or run, jump or play. He/she can sit with you in other areas of the house under full supervision. However, it is very important that he/she not be able to run to the door if the doorbell rings, or to the window to see a passing squirrel. Some people restrict their dog to a leash in the house for full control.

You should use a bath towel or other object as a sling under your dog’s abdomen to assist him/her in rising and walking on slippery floors or stairs. Your dog may walk up and down stairs with you holding his/her collar and using the sling under his/ her hindquarters for balance, but may not walk up and down stairs unsupervised. You do not have to support your dog's weight with the sling. Rather, it is to help balance him/her should he/she slip. Please use the sling at all times when your pet is not on secure footing.

When outside, your dog must be on a leash at all times. His/her activity must be restricted to short walks on the leash of 1/2 block or less 2-3 times daily to urinate and defecate during the first two weeks after surgery.

After the sutures or staples in the skin are removed, you may increase the length of the walks to 1 block 2-3 times daily.

Two weeks later, you may increase the length again to 1 1/2 blocks 2-3 times daily.

If you have a pool, swimming is encouraged beginning after the sutures or staples are removed. This is ideal exercise because there is no weight bearing on either the operated leg or the other leg, which would otherwise have to compensate for the operated leg by carrying more than the normal amount of weight. 

Bruising and swelling are usually at their worst during the first 2-3 days post surgery. In some cases a light pressure bandaged is placed on a dog’s leg to help prevent swelling. If there is not a bandage on your dog’s leg please place a cold compress on the incision 3-4 times daily for 5-10 minutes at a time. The area from the incision on down to the toes may be swollen. This is normal. Gentle massage of this area is not painful and will help the swelling subside.

If the region around the incision becomes progressively more swollen, your dog may have a seroma, which is an accumulation of fluid under the skin. This is uncommon but occurs most often with dogs that are very active immediately after surgery. Please call us for advice if you are worried about the possible formation of a seroma.

Please return to have your dog's sutures removed after 10-14 days. If your dog is licking at his/her incision, please contact us to obtain an Elizabethan collar immediately. Licking can lead to problems with healing or infection of the incision.

If your dog suddenly yelps or changes drastically in his/her use of the limb, please contact us as soon as possible. This may indicate a severe problem.

Phase Two: Rehabilitation

During the next six weeks, your dog's activities will be gradually increased to allow him/her to rebuild muscle tone. The amount of activity should progress in a gradual fashion. The idea is to slowly increase the duration, not intensity of activity. During this phase of recovery the other hind leg (the leg that was not operated on) is still at risk for injury as a result of bearing more weight while the operated leg is becoming stronger. Running, jumping and playing are still not permitted.

In the first two weeks of rehabilitation (weeks 7 and 8 after surgery), you should take your dog on progressively longer leash walks. Begin with walks of two blocks in length. Continue this for a few days. If he/she remains comfortable, you can increase the length of your walks by 1/2 block every 3-4 days. If he/she becomes sore after an increase in walk length, decrease the length again for a few days. You can walk him/her 2-3 times daily.

In the third and fourth week of rehabilitation (weeks 9 and 10 after surgery), walks can be whatever length your dog is comfortable with, but still on a leash at all times. Remember to walk him/her only the length that he/she can tolerate. Pushing him/ her to do more at this time will not speed rehabilitation and risks injury to the other hind leg.

In the fifth and sixth week of rehabilitation (weeks 11 and 12 after surgery), your dog is allowed to have mild off-leash activity. He/ she should be confined to an enclosed area with no other dogs, and under supervision at all times. No jumping, ball-playing or playing with other dogs yet! At the end of the sixth week of rehabilitation (12 weeks after surgery) we would like to check him/her again before full activity is allowed.


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