Dog Injury or Surgery Recovery: Mishaps versus Setbacks

What is the difference between a mishap and a setback? And are they unavoidable during your dog’s recovery from surgery or injury?

A mishap is an unfortunate event or accident that might happen while your dog is healing from a surgery or injury. Your dog’s activity level, mobility challenges, and their environment can be contributing factors that can end up with a mishap.

When they happen, mishaps and setbacks look the same. The difference is in the outcome. A terribly-looking accident might cause no lasting damage. At the same time, the tiniest slip and stumble might. With a major incident, you might see that something bad happened right away. Sometimes, though, you might not know until later in the day or the next morning.

What to do if your dog has a mishap during their recovery?

Do your best to manage your dog’s environment and circumstances. When a mishap happens, try not to panic. Facing a setback, learn from it and work with your veterinarian on getting things back on track.

Dog Injury or Surgery Recovery: Mishaps versus Setbacks

Minimizing the risk of setbacks

I am one of the most paranoid dog mom’s out there. With Jasmine, and now with Cookie’s health challenges, I watch her every move. There are many things that make my hair stand on end. As far as the eye can see, there are dangers to smooth recovery lurking everywhere. Slippery floors. Wet grass or mud. Ice. Squirrels and bunnies. Holes. Loose rocks. Tempting furniture. Doorbells …

You need to see the risks before you can avoid them

To me, it comes naturally. All I see everywhere are potential ways of my dog getting hurt. That is useful when trying to prevent accidents but kind of ruins my life. And I have to work hard not to let it ruin my dog’s life as well.

Hubby, on the other hand, thinks everything is just fine and safe. The ideal place to be is likely somewhere in between.

If your dog got injured or had surgery, your veterinarian should give you detail instructions on how to manage the recovery period.

You can check out an example cruciate ligament surgery post-op recovery plan here.

Evaluate your dog’s environment

The main risks to avoid during recovery include:

  • unprotected incision
  • unrestricted activity
  • jumping off and on furniture, in and out of a vehicle
  • slippery surfaces
Unprotected incision

An unprotected incision is an open gate to infections. There is a good reason why any dog after surgery ought to wear the cone of shame or other means that allow the incision to heal properly.

You can read more about incision care here.

Unrestricted activity

Activity restriction is crucial to allow damaged tissues to heal properly. How restricted your dog’s activity needs to be depends on what they are recovering from. It might include:

  • crating (at least during initial days)
  • leash walks only
  • no running or rough play
  • no stairs
  • isolation from other pets

With a young, active dog, you might need to consider additional measures, such as chemical restraint–we used Trazodone with great success.

No jumping off and on furniture, in and out of a vehicle

Any jumping is one of the highest-risk activities. If your dog likes to get on the furniture with you, use a ramp or steps so they can do it safely. Use a ramp to get in and out of a car.

Slippery surfaces

Slippery surfaces, in- and outdoor, are a bit contributor to recovery mishaps and setbacks. That includes hardwood floors. You can use rugs, non-slip booties, or other devices such as ToeGrips.

The beauty of ToeGrips is that they:

  • don’t interfere with proprioception
  • provide continuous protection from slipping no matter where you go

Our strategies

Since I see all these things, I try hard to minimize the risks.

We use ramps and cover floors with rugs. ToeGrips are one of our tools of choice. We adhere to leash-only activity and avoiding challenging terrain. Our furniture is low or easily accessible. We make sure visitors call before showing up …

Be realistic

You cannot control every move your dog makes however hard you try. However, I realize that knowing that and accepting it isn’t the same thing.

Fortunately, not every mishap results in a setback.

I have friends freaking out because their dog, recovering from knee surgery, jumped on the couch and many such things all the time. Yes, they shouldn’t be jumping on and off the furniture. Particularly not off it, Jumping off is actually more dangerous than jumping on. Yes, one should do everything in their power to prevent that. But it can still happen.

Dogs will be dogs

Dogs are dogs and they will jump on the couch when nobody’s looking, they will lunge after a squirrel … Yes, you can try blocking the couch off so the dog cannot get on it. Depending on the dog, though, that may or may not be a good idea. I’ve had a dog barge through or over barriers when they really wanted to get someplace. So the question is whether blocking things off makes the situation safer or even more dangerous.

I think the best thing is to allow them access to the places they want to be but make it as safe as possible. You can put a ramp to the couch or bed and teach your dog to use it. You can make a “step” to it, such as we did with Jasmine. We’ve put a mattress in front of it so it was easy to step on and off.

As it seems, though, no matter how hard you try and how many precautions you take, something will happen that should not. Given my experience, I can almost guarantee it.

Not every mishap equals a setback

Yes, one unfortunate jump off a couch can bust a TPLO plate. Fortunately, this will not happen EVERY time.

That doesn’t mean you should be cavalier and let your dog do whatever they please. But it means that should something like that happen, your dog can still be perfectly fine.

On the other hand, sometimes your dog might not have done much at all and not be fine.

After Jasmine got surgery on her left knee, we were watching out not only for the knee that was operating on but also for the other one which wasn’t great either and we were trying to keep it healthy enough to get her through the recovery so it too could be operated on later.

Our setbacks

We took all the above precautions and then some.

And then, a Jack Russel came at Jasmine from behind a corner, barking and lunging in her face. She gave only a small lunge and bark to tell the little dog his behavior was not acceptable. And her knee was done. That’s all it took.

While rehabbing from her iliopsoas injury and right after she was diagnosed with a partial tear, Cookie had a major mishap. We are using a ramp for getting in and out of the truck. She normally waits nicely until the ramp is in place and uses it gladly. This time, though, too much was happening and she was trying to jump out before the ramp was in. She was verbally corrected so she tried to not jump but her body was already on the way. So she kind off fell out instead. My heart was in my throat. It looked terrible. And yet, nothing bad came of it. She was fine. Everything was fine.

Two days later she suddenly was limping on the left leg without anything weird or crazy happening that day at all. What happened? We’ll never know. Fortunately, as it seems it was just back muscle spasms and it resolved quickly.

At the beginning of the year, all I did was take Cookie potty. She decided she really had to have some zoomies. And even though on the leash, and in spite of my trying to calm her down, she did a few crazy jumps around me. That night she was limping heavily and the lameness remained for a long time.

When Jasmine’s neck went bad, she hasn’t done anything that day or the day before. And yet woke up in the middle of the day with her neck out of whack.

You never know what might happen and what might come of it.

Sometimes the worst looking mishap doesn’t result in any damage. Sometimes it does. And sometimes nothing happens and things go wrong anyway.

Not all bad things always happen. Though our girls might beg to differ. I don’t think they got the memo.

Related articles:
Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery
Surviving The Post-Op: After Your Dog’s ACL/CCL Surgery

Further reading:
Owning an Active IVDD Dog: There Will Be Setbacks

Categories: ComplicationsInjuriesPost-opSurgery recovery

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

  1. We are putting in a dog door on our back porch and have decided to put in a ramp instead of stairs. I’m already thinking about side rails to discourage our dogs from taking a shortcut that might cause an injury.

  2. Paroma Chakravarty

    Babu went through surgery this year and heaven alone knows how much we had to keep an eye on him. It broke my heart to restrict his movements but his stitches needed to heal! The ramp is not only a great idea for those recovering from surgery but also for senior dogs with arthritis.

  3. Marjorie Dawson

    With our cats I give a limp overnight to clear, if it doesn’t they are down at the vet so fast they don’t know what’s hit them (metaphorically speaking!).

    There is so much wisdom in what you write here. We can anticipate, and take care but slip ups will happen, you just need to BE AWARE!!!!

  4. I sure understand your concerns because I’ve been there. My husband tends to let things be while I’m over cautious. I once had a dog who had a bone graft in her back leg.There were many mishaps and only a few small setbacks. But like you say, things can happen anytime for no real reason. Once Buffy, my 10-year-old cocker went out to the backyard to pee and came back hobbling on three legs. Her limp lasted for weeks – go figure!

  5. I hate the words restricted activity! Restraining an animal that wants to be back up and at it is hard. I recently had 4 cats spayed and the vet said restrict them, keep them from jumping and playing. Oh – did I say these were young cats? 3 of really older kittens. Slow and don’t run and play is not a thing they do. They pretty much did everything wrong because I couldn’t crate them – they freaked out. (Mocha even thought leaping off my bed to catch a fly would be a grand time and ended up rolled in fly paper. So she got oiled, bathed and a partial haircut. At least her scar was mostly closed by that point)

  6. Nice Post! After reading a lot on IVDD for Dachshunds, I have been on guard with my dachshund puppy to help prevent him from future back injuries. As stated above in you post, keeping them from jumping on and off furniture, and avoiding steep stairs helps prevent injury.
    Unrestricted activity can also become a hazard for young pups as well. I really do need to invest in some good ramps for the bed and the couches. (From Ava Jaine, Dachshund Station)

  7. This past summer my older dog pulled a muscle in his shoulder and pinched a nerve in his neck. Luckily he didn’t need surgery, just meds and lots of TLC. He’s almost 11, but don’t try to tell him he’s a senior because he’s still as playful as a puppy. It was hard work keeping him calm and restricting activity while he was healing. He was doing really well, making progress, then I think overdid it one day and got worse again. It sucked, and meant more vet visits, but at least eventually he did heal up and now he’s doing really well.

  8. Louie is good about using a ramp to get ON the bed, but insists on jumping to get off. I’ve tried stairs and different ramps and the result is always the same. I always worry that he will get hurt but am not sure how else to stop him.

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