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 certainly 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, so be sure to closely follow the recovery guidance so it’s successful.
What is below can augment that, or give you read-ahead information, but what they give you is the gospel and should be followed closely. We like the idea of sharing this ahead of the surgery so you can make appropriate plans.
How to prepare for your pet’s recovery after the procedure
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 pain killers 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 and there is ample time to rest in isolation, without other dogs or children trying to play
A crate is ideal and highly recommended.
We have had two large dogs with TPLO surgeries and we learned a lot from the first one so the second was easier.
We placed the crate in the general area where other dogs and people commonly were so they could observe and interact while recovering
For our first dog’s TPLO, we tried keeping her in a room by herself but that quickly became problematic. Close the door and we couldn’t see what she was up to. Open the door and other dogs would go in and out. Neither is ideal
A crate in a common area was a great solution
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 considerably
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.
If you live in a house with stairs, the same rules apply here.
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, of course, 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 2 weeks post-op. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid giving your dog a bath 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.
You should keep your pet as calm as possible during the recovery process, so it’s important to limit their physical activity. This means no running, jumping, or playing for at least three months following TPLO surgery.
After TPLO surgery, you should try your best to 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.
While this isn’t an actual rule of thumb, most people would recommend keeping your pet from doing these activities for at least two weeks.
Your surgeon will give you more exact timeframes to work with to ensure your dog’s best recovery
When you can allow your pet 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
Difference vets and surgeons will prescribe different medications, but a fairly standard treatment of pain killers 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 2 weeks.
This is pretty standard but the specific medicines for your dog may be different.
Our surgeon was very specific that no other medicines were to be given, not even aspirin or anything else. 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 that just let their dogs heal themselves after TPLO surgery. Invariably, this results in less than desirable results and. Not to mention it also shows a good bit of abuse, in my not-so-humble opinion, when a dog owner can’t 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:
Ice, inspection, PROM, and activity.
You can use crushed ice but a 1 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 each time.
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 2 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 but, by all means, talk with your vet if it is concerning. Icing that area as well 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, when not on potty breaks, should be in a closely confined space.
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 2 weeks, you can start taking your dog out for short 5 minute walks once or twice each day.
After 3 weeks or so, you can increase the time by about 5 minutes every two weeks and up the frequency to 3 or 4 times each day.
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. It’s a common thought process 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 ok to allow a bit more activity but even at this point, you want to be careful to not let it get out of control.
Our dogs like to take off across the yard and crash into each other. We call it dog bowling and it terrifies us but it happens too quickly to stop. Obviously, dog bowling is not something you want your new TPLO patient engaging in. I can say, Blitz is about 2 years out of her TPLO and dog bowls with the best of them.
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.