About two months ago, Maia came up lame on her right hind leg. There was no specific injury that I knew about but Hailey and I take our dogs out to the dykes all the time where they run off leash so it was possible that something had happened that I hadn't seen. She limped for a few days and then it disappeared.
The limp came back about a week later. I started to worry that she may have partially or fully torn the cruciate tendon in her knee. I took her to the close by vet (who I am no longer going to – that's a story in itself) who recommended resting her. The limp disappeared again, which is apparently quite common with torn cruciates. I asked my dog friends for recommendations for a vet who is more experienced in this type of injury, and took her to see another vet who also recommended resting her but was quite convinced that the limp would come back and she would need surgery.
Then a friend of mine suggested Conservative Management. She has had two dogs who have had torn cruciates and had surgery, but she did Conservative Management with one of them and the recovery time was shorter. Conservative Management means no exercise, no jumping, no stairs, no nothing for six to eight weeks. The idea is to allow the scar tissue a chance to form and solidify, to help stabilize the knee joint. There has been success with dogs not needing surgery after doing Conservative Management but everything I read said that the success rate was much higher in dogs under 50lbs. Maia is closer to 70lbs.
I tried. I really did. I carried my girl up and down the stairs. Hailey moved the spare mattress downstairs for me so that I could choose to sleep there instead of bringing her up to my bedroom. I put my mattress on the floor in my room so that she wouldn't jump up or off the bed. I left her at home while I walked Bosco, even though she scream-barked her displeasure.
But. Living in a house with three other dogs meant that she still bounced around a lot. She jumped around happily every time I came home from work. She started peeing on the floor every time I went to pick her up to carry her up and down the stairs. Her anxiety and stress were through the roof. And she hadn't been limping for at least two weeks before I even started the Conservative Management.
I realized that unless I was willing to crate her for six weeks, this was not working. And I was not willing to do that. I am not a tough love mum with my dogs. I sat in tears explaining this to Jen, one of my good friends. I want to do the best by Maia – she is my heart dog and I want the best quality of life for her. And crating her for up to two months, when she will most likely need surgery anyway and have to rest for a period after that, is not something I can do.
I started bringing her out for walks again, leashing her sometimes but other times letting her run around with the others. I didn't play ball with her because that puts a lot of stress on the knees when they stop and twist. And still the limp hasn't come back.
A friend of Hailey's used to work for K9H20, an aqua therapy place in Abbotsford. Terri told me that they had a lot of dogs, big dogs included, come for aqua therapy with torn cruciates, and that there was a decent success rate in avoiding surgery. And even if she did end up needing surgery she would be in better shape for it because swimming would allow her to stay fit. I booked an appointment the next day.
Let me just say that Kendall, the owner, is absolutely fabulous. I emailed her and was frank about Maia's issues with strangers, and she said that it wouldn't be a problem. When I showed up for our appointment, both Kendall and her employee Mackenzie ignored Maia completely, and talked in low quiet tones. I took Maia for a walk around the pool, and then Kendall took her leash and did the same. Then we put a (pretty pink!) life jacket on her and started to get her in the water. She was apprehensive and digging in her heels because this was such a weird, new experience for her. We got her on the ramp, about six inches into the water, and then we waited. Kendall calls it the 'lick and swallow' – we wait until the dog does a tongue flick and swallows, and they visibly relax after that. The record is about six and a half minutes for a dog to get there – Maia didn't do too badly at about two or three minutes. She swallowed and started panting, still not happy but not as stressed.
Once we got her fully immersed I walked laps around the pool, with Maia following me in the water. Every time we would stop at the ramp for her to rest for a moment and so that she knew that that was her landing point. Then I started throwing her ball to the deep end while I walked the laps, encouraging her to come get it. She was happily grabbing her ball and bringing it back to the ramp. Then we tried throwing her ball and having me stay sitting by the ramp. Even though Maia was chest deep she was still launching off the ramp after it.
Mackenzie is the one to go in the water with the dogs; after we got Maia fully submersed Kendall stayed on deck. She explained to me that dogs with torn cruciates tend to turn into the knee with the tear – in Maia's case she should have chosen to turn right after retrieving the ball. But Maia consistently turned left unless we threw the ball in such a way that she had to turn right. Kendall also said that dogs can hide limps quite well but that they lose muscle mass quite quickly, so a way we can tell is to measure their thighs to see if there is a difference in circumference. When she was out of the pool and being dried off Kendall measured her thighs and although it wasn't an exact thing, they were close enough to equal for her to be convinced that Maia is not hiding a limp.
Maia showed no after-effects of her swim. She didn't limp, she wasn't stiff, she wasn't tired. In fact, she was bouncy and happy when we got home. She wasn't stressed either – Kendall and Mackenzie are both excellent with dogs and by the time Mackenzie was drying her off she was giving Maia kisses on the muzzle. Maia took treats from both Kendall and Mackenzie at the end as well.
So where we are at now is that it has been weeks since Maia limped. She went for a second swim at K9H20 yesterday and again she is fine. I have been taking her for off-leash walks with the rest of the crew and she has been running and playing. We have even played some ball. I am starting to suspect that perhaps she had a soft tissue injury and that resting her for those two weeks was enough. Perhaps it would be more honest to say that I have my fingers and toes crossed that that is the case.
I'm planning to keep taking Maia (and maybe Bosco too) out to K9H20 through the winter when the weather gets awful. They both love the water so much, and it's great exercise because they actually swim laps in the pool. And it's dry and warm, which I'm not gonna lie sounds lovely, rather than putting on the rubber boots and slogging around in the rain.