At the age of 4, my sweet Amy suddenly developed a small fluid-filled bump of the side of her belly, next to her ribs. It was barely visible but highly unusual.... I rushed her to the Vet and after investigations were inconclusive, my Vet suspected that she was reacting to a possible foxtail inside her body. She became very lame and could barely walk. I thought that we would lose her.... Her joints seemed puffy and she was in great pain. Two endoscopic operations ensued where the Vet attempted to locate a foxtail. There was x-ray evidence that a foxtail had followed a path through her lungs and diaphragm and perhaps into the muscles below her spine. If that had truly happened, we were lucky that she was still alive. Luckily, there was no sign of any infection. No foxtail was found but she was not doing well. Given the evidence of a foxtail path and the likely damage it could do, we monitored her closely for infections and since her condition did not improve, we elected for more invasive surgery to search for it. Again, no foxtail was found. A small dose of steroids seemed to keep her pain and puffiness at bay but she was still not her normal self. I must have read the UC Davis Veterinary manual from cover to cover in search of an answer, and became quite suspicious that we were dealing with an autoimmune problem. Her joints were still puffy and so we took her to an Internal Medicine Vet who specialized in autoimmune diseases. Sure enough, a joint tap revealed that she had an autoimmune problem. Whether this was triggered by the foxtail, we will never know. The cure about 50% of the time was to apply a large dose of steroids, and then diminish the dosage, while monitoring the condition via monthly joint taps and while making sure that there were no other bad side effects from the steroids. We were in the lucky 50% and the treatment got rid of the disease over a period of about 6 months. We were in the clear at last and Amy was a happy camper again, back to her normal tricks.
Just after her 6th birthday, Amy tore her ACL ligament in her left knee, diagnosed immediately by our Vet who is also an orthopedic surgeon. The tear was sudden and we're not sure what caused it but are thankful that it was a full tear (vs. partial tear) because diagnosis is a lot more definitive. Once you know you have this problem, it's important to take action so as to prevent wear and tear on the knee that will result in arthritis. The ACL ligament is what holds the 2 bones that meet at the knee in correct alignment so there is no chance that the ligament will repair on its own. For dogs over 50lbs. (Amy is about 65lbs.) the most tested and recommended approach is TPLO surgery that acts to reduce the angle where the bones meet at the joint from about 25 degrees to 5 degrees. The surgery actually involves cutting the bone and the insertion of a metal plate while the bone fuses back together.
The recovery was not without it's ups and downs. Your dog is on a restricted exercise regime for 8 weeks until you confirm via X-ray that the bone has fused and is only allowed outside on leash. Amy had several infections near the plate - this is quite common for this type of surgery.... but was something that you have to stay on top of. As soon as the bone was confirmed healed, we took Amy to physical therapy to restore the muscle tone and ensure that she recovered full range of motion. The leg had probably lost about 50% of the muscle tone due to atrophy. In the back of my mind was the fact that when a dog tears one ACL, the other leg has about a 50% risk of tearing some time in the dog's future. Exercises including water treadmill (which she loved - what water dog wouldn't?), walking over poles on the ground, gentle tug of war, walking slowly up hills in a zig zag path are all things that we did on a regular basis -- Her leg was strong in no time and she has great range of motion. It was then that decided that we needed to have a goal to get her back in better than perfect shape. We had been using agility equipment such as jump poles a few inches off the ground, weave polls, and tunnels to train Amy to shift her weight between back legs properly as she recovered. She loved this kind of work. I decided to give her a goal in life - that 1 year after her surgery she would compete in an agility trial at low jump heights, doing jumps, weaves and tunnels only. She loved to train... and was so proud of herself as she completed the obstacles correctly. On June 10th, 2006, almost 1 year to the day after her surgery, Amy made her debut in AKC Performance JWW agility. She completed the entire course staying focused for the entire round of 14 obstacles and best of all she had a blast! I was so proud of her. She had watched her sister Sierra compete in agility from the sidelines and at last she was the center of the action!