How to Prepare for TPLO Surgery to Fix a Dog’s Torn Cranial Cruciate Ligament

It pays to be prepared with the right gear, a plan for recovery and knowledge of what's to come.

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We got the call while in Athens on our summer family vacation. Our rescue dog, Scooby, was limping. I brushed it off because he has hurt himself before—being the clumsy and enthusiastic pitbull that he is.

I took him to the vet. I thought there must be something wrong with his hip but the second she felt his knee, she said it was his cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which is a dog’s version of a human ACL. An X-ray confirm a tear. We next saw a surgeon who confirmed the diagnosis.

By the time we made it to the surgeon, Scooby actually wasn’t limping very much. The surgeon said that he’s so strong that he was able to mask his inability to use his knee. We were told surgery was not urgent, so planned it several weeks out to give us time to think about the options, organize recovery and buy any necessary gear (some, but not all, gear links below are affiliate links).

I had trouble finding the right gear. I want to share what I bought that actually worked for us in addition to some other helpful resources for dog ACL surgery, including TPLO surgery which is what our dog had.

Sites I Read and a Helpful Group

Yahoo! Groups can be tough to navigate, but Orthodogs (you need to log into Yahoo! and search for the group) is incredibly helpful. You can read through people’s surgery choices, recovery stories and more here. Members are eager to answer questions you may have, too. is dedicated to (you guessed it) knee injuries. Find information here about surgical treatment, non-surgical treatment, surgery recovery and read owner stories.

Dog owner blogs have been so, so helpful. We’ve decided to cover his surgery in detail here as well. The owners of Maeby documented her TPLO surgery and recovery using video. It’s always helpful to see how a dog responds in real life. You can also read about Ivy, Mickey, Tenor and many more.

Preparing Children

I have a 9-year-old daughter who is very attached to our dog. I let her read owner stories about TPLO surgery so that she knew what to expect. She watched a few videos and looked at several incision photos. I did not want the incision to be a surprise.

I do think it helped but I was surprised by how uneasy she was after Scooby came home. She had been very prepared to help. However, looking at his incision scared her. His shaved leg really bothered her, too. This actually really made me sad but… she’s 9.

Planning TPLO Surgery (or any Dog CCL Surgery) Recovery

Before the TPLO surgery, I investigated local pet rehab facilities that were recommended by our surgeon. We have pet insurance to help offset both the TPLO surgery cost and some rehabilitation costs.

However, there is paperwork required. Our rehab started two weeks after surgery. Ideally, they would like to include a water treadmill. Our dog is terrified of water, so we’ll see how that goes. The plan was be determined by whether or not they can get him actually on the water treadmill (more details on this to come soon).

Many people are diligent about rehabbing dogs after TPLO surgery on their own, but I figured I’d seek out some professional help given that our insurance is chipping in. I’m glad this was lined up before my dog returned home from surgery so there was one less thing to think about.

The Best Dog Harness

Being a wiggly 80 lbs., I knew a lift or harness of some sort was going to be a must. A friend of mine told me about the Help ‘Em Up Dog Harness and I’ve read others sing it’s praises, too. There really isn’t a harness like it on the market that will enable owners to lift just the hips or entire dog, if necessary.

The hip lift is amazing and we’ve used it plenty pre-surgery to help him stand up and down. He needed to get used to it anyway. Be sure to watch their videos before ordering so that you can order the correct hip lift to fit around your dog’s penis. Order well in advance of the surgery in case you need to exchange sizes. The customer service I’ve experienced with this company has been incredible.

A 3-in-1 Crate, Gate and Playpen

I was prepared to buy a crate, use it for recovery and donate it after the fact. However, this Richell 3-in-1 Convertible Elite Pet Gate is a keeper. It disassembles to store flat (save the box it comes in). I can move it around the house by separating the panels from one another.

Our house has an open floor plan so the other day when I was having our carpets cleaned, I made a wall with four of the panels. It was surprisingly stable and our dog couldn’t pass through.

The system comes in small, medium and tall heights. I ordered the tall for my 80 lb. pitbull. You can also buy it in a four panel version. I like the way it looks. It often sits where I work in the kitchen and the wood matches my cabinets.

Richell makes what looks like an awesome octagonal playpen (with supervision) that I almost bought. But, I was most comfortable with a system that had a top. I would never be comfortable outside the house knowing that he’s strong enough to possibly jump out of the crate or playpen. So, we bought the wire top to place on the 3-in-1 when we’re away.

My dog is pretty strong so can lift and push through the 3-in-1’s gate. I solved this problem by taking a collar he doesn’t wear any more and clipping it around the gate and panel next to it to secure it closed.

You will also need a crate pad. They do not make one exactly the size of this crate but I found that one a few inches larger on each side will smush into it just fine. In all honesty, this crate set-up is an investment. I like its flexibility and will be able to use it in various ways throughout the rest of Scooby’s life.

Our surgeon said crate recovery depends on the dog. We were told that if our dog was content to sit in one spot outside of the crate while we’re home—a little walking from room to room is O.K.—we could keep him outside the crate. However, a crate is best for when you need to leave the house. If a dog is already crate trained, more time in the crate minimizes risk of further injury. Your surgeon may have a different recommendation based on your dog.

Flooring is the biggest concern: A reason to keep a dog in the crate is if you have hardwood floors or slippery tile. They are very, very worried about dogs slipping post-surgery. You could also purchase cheap carpet runners and non-skid mats to create a walking trail. We have a textured lava rock kitchen floor that normally presents no issue for him. I was surprised by how unsteady he was while walking on our floors after surgery. Be very cautious about your floors!

A Ramp for the Car

It is very difficult to look at dog ramps in person. So, I would up ordering three online. Two were terrible but Scooby took to one right away.

Beware of ramps that say skid-resistant or similar without a further explanation of the material. This could mean that the surface is, basically, sandpaper. I bought a trifold PetGear ramp with a “slip-resistant” surface. It looks like rubber in the photos. However, my trainer and I were horrified when my nervous, strong dog (who had never walked up a ramp in his life) ripped up all four of his feet on the sandpaper while trying to get the hang of the ramp.

The second ramp I bought was the Solvit Deluxe Telescoping ramp. It gets great reviews for its high-traction walking surface which also looks like rubber in the photos. I opened the box, saw sandpaper and left it there. I can’t speak to its use because I wasn’t going to go down that road again.

The third ramp, the PETStep Folding Pet Ramp, is not quite as long or wide (typical of pet ramps though) as I would like. But the surface is a ridged rubber and he took to right away. It folds in half and stays secure on my car bumper as he uses is. I am very happy with it though it is sort of a pain to fold up and put back in the car every time we use it.

Our dog trainer has a client who bought a fantastic carpeted dog car ramp at Costco but I can’t seem to find it in our local stores. Have a look if you’re a Costco shopper.

A Bed Ramp

My main regret about pet ownership is that we let Scooby chill with us in the bed. It is a habit we are struggling to break.

Jumping on and off the bed is a terrible idea for dogs with knee and hip problems. Bed ramps for large dogs are, truthfully, not easy to come by. They are often quite steep, which causes our dog to want to make a running start. This looks like it puts stress on the legs/joints which defeats the purpose.

We bought the Snoozer Scalloped Pet Ramp. I think it’s the best ramp for big dogs like Scooby, given what’s on the market, but it is not perfect. Its pros are that it’s easy to move around the house, soft and for dogs up to 100 lbs. It does mush down when he steps on it.

After we bought it, I saw a seller on Etsy who makes all sorts of carpeted ramps including several for big dogs that have a gentle incline (60″). They’re called HamptonBayPetSteps. Again, I haven’t purchased a ramp from them but indoor ramps for big dogs are hard to come by.

Kongs for Slow Food Release

A sedentary dog can be a bored one. Kong has recipes that you can stuff into a Kong that will take time to lick out. This is great for stimulating a sedentary dog. Here’s a list of easy snacks you can stuff into a Kong and an entire website dedicated to Kong stuffing.

If you’re having trouble getting keeping your dog hydrated, I’ve read that people seal the small Kong hole with peanut butter, fill it low sodium chicken broth and water mix, and freeze it. Kongsicles (is that a word?) and more ideas are found here.

A Floor Mattress

Truth be told, I bought this queen-sized tri-fold floor mattress for my daughter’s sleepovers but it has been incredibly handy for times my dog is not crated and wants to lay freely with us. My daughter, husband, dog and I are all more comfortable spending floor time together on this mattress versus the carpet or tile. It’s been a surprise help and only 4″ thick.

Cone of Shame and Alternatives

I looked into this a little too late. Your dog doesn’t have to wear the traditional cone of shame (Elizabethan collar). You may want to check out these possibly more comfortable options. However, I did read that vets prefer the e-collar (cone of shame) so we’re sticking with it.

He, like most dogs, hates the cone but is used to it.

Reusable Hot and Cold Pad

I bought this reusable hot and cold pad. While convenient, it’s not necessary. Our instructions are to ice our dog’s leg for the first 24 hours using a bag of peas or similar on top of a towel. The following heat application can be made by a warm (not hot) washcloth. We have also had to ice his leg many times throughout rehab. If you have a large dog, it helps to have an ice pack to cover well above and below the knee.

TPLO Surgery Cost

Our total for TPLO surgery at one of the best veterinary hospitals in San Diego, an overnight stay and various medications totaled about $5000. Our insurance will pay about 70%. I would say that I spent about $800 on the gear mentioned above, though these things are not all mandatory. We will have a follow up visit and X-rays that are included in the cost of the surgery. I will pay some out-of-pocket for rehabilitation but insurance will cover the majority of that, too.

Ask About Medications and Procedures

You should be giving an estimate which breaks down cost, something our hospital is extremely sensitive to. Ask whether certain medications (human antibiotics and sedatives, in our case) are less expensive to pick up at a regular pharmacy like CVS. Ask whether blood tests and X-rays are less expensive when done at the vet instead of a hospital. Tell them which medications your dog is already on so that they do not fill unnecessary prescriptions. For example, our vet had already prescribed the anti-inflammatory and pain killers our dog would need after surgery so there was no need to order more.

Final Thoughts

We did strongly consider conservative management. Our dog’s anxious temperament would have made it difficult. While we were waiting for our surgery date, I found it next to impossible to restrict his activity without crating him. He’s very needy and the type to follow us from room to room. He gets stir crazy when not walked. I felt that TPLO surgery was the only chance we had to get him back to a regular life as a happy, active dog. TPLO surgery was also strongly advised by out vet and surgeon so that’s what we decided on.

I’ve chronicled his recovery to date and will continue to post updates as they are relevant. I am relieved to say that it was rough in the beginning, but the surgery has (so far) been the right decision.

Detailed tips for dog TPLO surgery (torn ACL) preparation from gear to helpful websites.
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1 Comment

  1. Sherry
    September 17, 2017 at 6:53 pm — Reply

    Thank for all the information. I learned a lot and what to expect. What insurance do you have? I have two Shepherds. One is having TPLO surgery this week. To late for insurance for her but was thinking about it for the other one.

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