Ensuring a successful TPLO recovery for your pooch requires a lot of effort on your part.
Once TPLO surgery has been performed, your pup will need a fair amount of care to ensure that its healing process goes as smoothly as possible.
You’ll be given ample information about TPLO recovery from your vet or your veterinary surgeon.
Be sure to follow that to a tee.
TPLO surgery isn’t cheap and puts your dog through pain and stress. Ensuring a successful recovery is the best way to prevent having to do it again.
The directions you receive from your veterinarian are gospel and must be followed closely. What we provide here are additional insights learned from going through this with a couple of our dogs. It’s also useful if you are considering TPLO surgery so you can make appropriate plans.
Prepare for your pet’s recovery
A few specific things to keep in mind:
- You’ll need to keep your pet’s wound clean and dry for the first few weeks following surgery.
- You’ll want to restrict your pet from running or jumping while they’re still in the recovery stage.
- You should also avoid hot water and bathing your dog during this time for the first couple of weeks.
- It’s important that you trim your pet’s hair around the incision site so that it doesn’t get matted or snagged on anything.
- Your dog will likely show less pain the first day than on subsequent days, as the anesthesia and painkillers used during the surgery are still masking the pain. So your dog will feel worse on day two than it did on day one.
Prepare your home
You’ll want to ensure your pup’s return is as safe as possible. Your dog will need ample time to rest in isolation without other dogs or children trying to play.
A crate is ideal and highly recommended. We’ve done this a couple of times, and I believe a crate is essential for success. The alternative is to have a room where your dog can be isolated and movement is restricted. Be sure there is nothing in that room the dog can jump up on, such as a bed.
We have had two large dogs with TPLO surgeries and learned much from the first one. The second was easier. We are on the brink of a third as I write this.
We placed the crate in the general area where other dogs and people commonly were so they could observe and interact while recovering. This worked well for us, but your situation may vary. Perhaps a quiet room where there is no traffic is better for you.
For our first dog’s TPLO, we tried keeping her in a room by herself, but that quickly became problematic. We couldn’t see what she was up to when we closed the door. The other dogs would go in and out when we opened the door. Neither was ideal
A crate in a common area was a great solution. A gate would have been a good compromise, but we opted for the crate.
We actually ended up with a couple of crates so we could move her around as the family moved from one area to another (living room, bedroom, deck, etc.).
This allowed her to “keep in touch” with us, which we feel helped her comfort level.
Prepare your dog’s space
Whether your dog will recover in a crate or in an isolated space such as a room with a gate, you’ll want to consider other precautions to ensure the recovery goes smoothly.
Stairs are obviously a no-no for the first couple of weeks after surgery, maybe even longer.
If you live in an apartment building and are taking the stairs for your health, you’ll get a break for a few weeks as you and your pooch take the elevator instead. Unless your dog is small and you elect to carry it up/down the stairs.
The same rules apply here if you live in a house with stairs.
Talk to your vet and/or surgeon about when is the right time to let your pup take the stairs.
Our dogs are large, and the two that have had TPLO surgeries are couch potatoes. Their natural inclination was to jump on the couch, which is not allowed after TPLO for at least a few weeks.
If you decide to put the dog on the couch with you, which is great(!), don’t leave it alone up there. We don’t want it jumping down. Almost like a toddler, right?
The best way you can help out a pet who just had surgery on their leg is to make sure that they don’t jump around too much.
This means you should avoid having them sprint up and down stairs or trying to play with them at all before the surgery site has healed completely.
You’ll most likely notice that your pet starts getting restless after a few days as well, and this is even more true if they’re still in pain from the surgery.
In fact, pets commonly feel worse on the second day coming out of anesthesia than when they first wake up after the surgery itself.
Caring for the surgical site
After TPLO surgery, it is critical to keep your pet’s bandages clean and dry until they’re ready to come off – usually about two weeks post-op. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid bathing your dog when they first come home too.
You should only give them a bath once their bandages are completely removed, and you see that their incisions have healed.
It’s also recommended that you avoid taking them outdoors while they’re still recovering as well, as the dirt may cause problems with their bandages. Of course, outdoors for potty breaks can’t be avoided, but watch them closely. If it’s raining, an umbrella is a good idea to help keep that leg dry.
In most cases, after a surgery like TPLO, it is advised to trim your dog’s hair on or around the incision site to prevent matting of the hair or it snagging on anything.
A small amount of baby powder can be used to alleviate chafing or itching around the bandaged or splinted area.
Keep your pet as calm as possible during recovery, so limiting their physical activity is important. This means no running, jumping, or playing for at least three months following TPLO surgery.
After TPLO surgery, avoid having your dog jump on anything or run around for the first few weeks following the procedure. Any stress put on their leg is going to increase the risk of an unsuccessful recovery.
Your surgeon will give you more exact timeframes to work with to ensure your dog’s recovery.
When your dog is allowed to resume normal activities will depend on how well they recover from the procedure.
Your veterinarian will be able to give you a better estimate of when this will be, but in general, you’ll need to wait about six months before letting them resume high-intensity activities like jogging or a good game of Frisbee.
It’s always advisable that if there’s any doubt about what your pet can handle, then you should play it safe and keep them relatively sedentary.
Medication for TPLO recovery
Different vets and surgeons will prescribe different medications, but a fairly standard treatment of painkillers and antibiotics for a couple of weeks following the surgery is standard.
When we had ours done, there was really no choice offered.
NSAIDs and Tramadol were given for pain, and antibiotics were given to prevent infection. These will be given for about two weeks.
This is pretty standard, but your dog’s specific medicines may differ.
Our surgeon was very specific that no other medicines were to be given, not even aspirin. The intent here is to prevent any complications and ensure that you and the vet know exactly what is in your dog’s system.
TPLO post-operative rehabilitation and therapy
We have known dog owners who just let their dogs heal themselves after TPLO surgery. Invariably, this results in less than desirable results. In my not-so-humble opinion, a dog owner should be able to spare the time (only an hour or so each day) to help their dog recover.
There are four distinct approaches to ensuring your dog’s successful TPLO recovery process:
You can use crushed ice, but a one or 2-pound bag of frozen peas works pretty well too. For a smaller dog, opt for the 1-pound bag.
You’ll want to pack up the incision site a few times each day for about 15-20 minutes.
Remember to keep the site dry, so you’ll want to use a towel to wrap the ice, peas, or whatever you are using.
You’ll want to do the icing of the leg for about two weeks after the surgery to ensure the best recovery.
While you are doing the above icing, it’s also a perfect time to inspect the incision and surrounding area.
What you want to look for is drainage or increased swelling or redness of the incision area.
Swelling of the knee itself is fairly common and not a cause for alarm; by all means, talk with your vet if it is concerning.
Icing that area can reduce the swelling.
No, you’re not taking your dog to a high school dance.
PROM is an acronym for “passive range of motion“, which is where you move your dog’s legs to flex and extend to the point of resistance, and no further. Do this two or three times each day, starting about a week after surgery.
A video is worth a couple of thousand words, so here’s a couple to use as examples:
This is tricky but also probably the most crucial aspect of your dog’s recovery.
By movement, we largely mean “lack of movement,” as in your dog should not move around much. The intent here is to move the leg for your dog, to keep it mobile and keep the blood flowing. Don’t confuse this with letting the dog run around, which is not a good idea this soon after surgery.
Your dog should get zero exercise – literally going outside only for potty breaks, and that’s it – for the first week. Movement should be in a closely confined space when not on potty breaks.
As mentioned earlier, a crate is the best approach.
You may want to consider a sling to help with your dog’s movement during the first week or two. Slung under its hips, you are able to help bear the weight and keep it off of the leg.
After about two weeks, you can start taking your dog for short 5-minute walks once or twice daily.
After three weeks or so, you can increase the time by about 5 minutes every two weeks and increase the frequency to 3 or 4 times daily.
At some point, your dog will simply decide he’s back in charge of his action plan, and you’ll have to be the moderator.
Many people will advocate that the dog will know its own limitations and won’t do anything to hurt itself.
But isn’t that how we got here to begin with?
So don’t let the dog decide. Hold firm to the plan given to you by your vet, even if your dog seems to think he’s ready for a game of fetch.
At a later time, which could be between 10-16 weeks after the surgery, your vet will confirm that bone healing has taken place and it’s now okay to allow a bit more activity, but even at this point, you want to be careful to not let it get out of control.
The Early Stage of TPLO Recovery
In the first week following a TPLO surgery, you must closely monitor your pets and make them as comfortable as possible.
They will likely experience some pain, swelling, and inflammation. You should follow the veterinarian’s instructions regarding pain medications and dosage and watch for potential side effects.
During this initial stage, providing a calm and quiet environment for your pets to rest is essential. Proper bedding and elevated food and water dishes can help minimize their movements and reduce the risk of injury.
Avoid using stairs and limit their activity to short, leashed bathroom breaks.
Here are some important aspects to consider during the first week of TPLO recovery:
- Medications: Keep up with pain medications as prescribed by your veterinarian. Never administer human medications unless otherwise directed.
- Ice and Elevation: Wrapping ice to the surgical site in a thin towel can help reduce swelling. Elevating the affected limb can also minimize inflammation.
- Mobility Assistance: Using a sling or harness provides the necessary support, which allows your pet to walk safely during bathroom breaks.
- Wound Care: Keep the surgical site clean and dry by checking it daily for signs of infection, such as redness, discharge, or a foul odor.
Throughout this first week, it’s important to communicate any concerns or significant changes in your pet’s condition with the veterinarian. They’ll be able to guide you on how to best support your pet’s healing process. Remember, being patient and providing plenty of care during this early stage of TPLO recovery is crucial for helping your pets get back on their feet.
The Intermediate Stage of TPLO Recovery
During the intermediate stage of TPLO recovery, typically from weeks 2 to 4, you’ll notice significant progress in your pet’s healing journey. At this point, your furry friend will gradually regain mobility and start to put weight on the operated limb.
Monitoring their progress and providing support to promote proper healing is essential. Some activities that you can incorporate during this stage are:
- Short leash walks: As your pet begins to regain strength, your can introduce them to short, controlled walks on a leash. These walks should be limited to 5-10 minutes and must be slow to prevent injury.
- Range-of-motion exercises: These exercises help maintain joint flexibility and can benefit overall mobility. Gently flex and extend your pet’s knee joint in a slow, controlled manner without causing any discomfort.
- Weight shifting exercises: Encouraging your pets to shift their body weight evenly onto all four limbs can help improve their balance and restore normal movement patterns.
- Ice therapy: Applying ice packs to the surgical site can aid in reducing swelling and provide some pain relief. Always wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid direct contact with the skin.
Remember that during this intermediate stage of recovery, you must ensure your pet is on their prescribed pain medication and follow up with the veterinarian for progress checks.
Most importantly, be patient and stay positive. Your furry friend’s progress might be slow, but on the right track toward a successful TPLO recovery!
The Advanced Stage of TPLO Recovery
You should see significant improvements by the fifth week of your pet’s TPLO recovery.
You can gradually begin introducing more activities to their routine at this stage. It’s essential to remain cautious and patient while monitoring their progress.
During weeks 5 to 8, start increasing your pets’ supervised walks. Aim for a 10-minute walk at a comfortable pace, gradually extending the duration as your pet’s stamina improves. Remember to keep the leash short and maintain control to prevent sudden movements that could compromise the healing process.
In addition to walk sessions, it’s time to introduce gentle passive range of motion (PROM) exercises to help maintain joint flexibility and encourage proper healing. It’s important to perform these exercises slowly and avoid causing discomfort or pain. If your pet is in pain, consult your veterinarian for guidance.
As you reach the eighth week, your pets should demonstrate significant progress in mobility and overall comfort. Depending on your pet’s unique healing process, some may require additional weeks to recover. Your veterinarian will be able to provide an accurate assessment of your pet’s progress and give you further instructions.
Through this period, continue adhering to medication schedules and monitoring for potential complications, such as infection or inflammation. Communicating concerns promptly with your veterinarian is essential to ensure your pet’s recovery stays on track.
Weeks 5-8 of TPLO recovery are exciting as you witness your pet’s strength and mobility return. By diligently observing their progress and adhering to post-surgery guidelines, you give your furry friends the best chance to recover successfully.
After week 8, you pooch most likely get some more X-rays. If everything looks good, it’s generally time to allow a bit of closely supervised off-leash activity. As always, consult your veterinarian.
Below is a 16-week TPLO Recovery plan to hang on your fridge.
TPLO surgery: 16-week recovery plan
Here’s a breakdown of what the recovery process will look like on a weekly basis. All of the topics in this list are discussed above.
Role of Diet and Exercise in TPLO Recovery
One of the critical aspects of the TPLO recovery process lies in the proper diet and exercise routine for your pet.
The role of diet cannot be underestimated in your dog’s recovery.
A diet enriched with omega-3 fatty acids and protein has shown positive clinical effects in supporting TPLO recovery. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation, while protein is essential for tissue repair and overall health. Be sure to consult your pet’s veterinarian to receive recommendations tailored to your dog’s specific needs.
As for exercise, following a structured physical rehabilitation program for your dog is crucial.
The primary focus should be on gradually re-introducing activity, allowing the surgical site to heal without causing further damage.
In a study, a dog with delayed recovery after TPLO surgery showed significant improvements in lameness, strength, and range of motion following a guided rehabilitation program.
Typically, your pet’s surgeon or a rehabilitation specialist will provide you with guidelines to ensure your dog’s safe return to activity.
Entering the recovery stage, it’s crucial to properly manage your pet’s activity levels. Some helpful tips include:
- Avoiding off-leash activity and limiting the use of long leashes for the first few weeks post-surgery
- Monitoring your dog’s activity closely, preventing jumping or excessive running
- Introducing short, controlled leash walks, gradually increasing the duration as recommended by your veterinarian
Remember, each dog’s recovery journey is unique, and it’s crucial to listen to your veterinarian’s advice and closely observe your pet’s progress. By focusing on a well-balanced diet and a structured exercise plan, you’ll set up your four-legged friend for a successful TPLO recovery.
Importance of Follow-Up Veterinary Visits
During your pooch’s TPLO recovery, scheduling and attending follow-up veterinary visits are crucial. These appointments ensure that your furry friend is recovering properly and help identify any potential complications early on.
Around two weeks after the surgery, it’s time for the first follow-up visit.
During this appointment, the veterinarian will evaluate your dog’s progress, remove the sutures, and recommend any adjustments to their rehabilitation plan. This may include changes in pain management, physical therapy, and exercise restrictions.
As your dog continues to heal, the follow-up visits gradually become less frequent.
However, each visit remains essential for assessing their healing process.
For example, ten weeks post-TPLO surgery, you’ll notice significant improvements in your pet’s mobility and overall comfort.
Remember that the recovery period can last up to six months, and various factors influence it, such as age, weight, and general health.
Therefore, it’s crucial that we stay diligent in attending all follow-up visits and closely follow the veterinarian’s recommendations. Remember, your dog’s well-being and successful recovery depend on your commitment and attention to their healing process.
After the 16-week recovery period
How’s your dog doing?
Showing a bit of a limp still? That’s OK. Keep an eye on it, and it should go away over time. If not, talk to your vet.
Showing a severe limp?
Still dragging that leg?
Those are all signs of a problem and could indicate a problem with the TPLO itself or a different, although possibly connected, situation. Talk with your vet if you see these signs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long is the full recovery process?
The entire recovery process for TPLO surgery typically takes about 12-16 weeks. During this time, it is essential to closely monitor your dog and follow the veterinarian’s instructions to ensure a successful recovery.
What restrictions should be followed after surgery?
After the surgery, limiting your dog’s activity is crucial to avoid complications. We recommend no running, jumping, or playing during the initial recovery phase. Instead, please keep your dog in a restricted area or use a crate to help control their movement.
How long will a dog be in pain after the procedure?
Pain levels vary by individual, but most dogs experience discomfort for several days to a few weeks after the surgery. Your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication to help manage your dog’s discomfort.
Can my dog lay on the operated leg?
Yes, most dogs can comfortably lay on their operated leg, but it might take them a few days to find a comfortable position. Encourage your dog to rest and provide them with a comfortable bed to aid in their healing process.
What exercises are recommended during recovery?
We recommend starting with short, controlled leash walks during recovery to maintain your dog’s muscle strength without burdening the healing leg. As your dog heals and your veterinarian clears it for more activity, you can gradually introduce more exercises, such as joint mobility exercises and controlled swimming.
Are stairs allowed during the recovery process?
It’s best to avoid stairs until your veterinarian has given the approval. If you cannot avoid stairs at home, monitor your dog closely and provide support by holding their harness or using a towel as a sling under their belly. This will help prevent stress on the healing leg and reduce the risk of complications.
TPLO Recovery – wrapping it up
TPLO recovery for your beloved furry friend may seem daunting at times, but with patience, proper care, and the guidance of your veterinarian, you can help them get back on their paws stronger than ever.
Remember, each dog’s recovery is unique, so don’t rush the process.
Be diligent in following post-operative instructions, ensure a comfortable environment, and offer all the love and support your canine companion needs during this time. Soon enough, you’ll both enjoy the boundless joy of an active, pain-free life together again.
- National Institute of Health:
- New England Veterinary Center
- Veterinary Specialty Center
- Sept 2021 – first published
- Sept 2023 – updated