Lily’s Prognosis

A dog’s hind leg has a joint much like our knee. It’s held together with a cruciate ligament. Lily tore hers. This causes pain and lameness. When this happens to little dogs, all it takes is rest to heal it. Big dogs require surgery, which has become a rather standard procedure. The difficulty comes in the rehab. That requires total rest for months.

As with so many things that our animals go through, it’s up to us to make the decisions. It’s rarely any longer a question of Can I fix it? but Should I?

Cruciate repair is major surgery and in order for it to work, the dog must stay off that leg – almost no movement – for a couple of months. This means being confined to a crate and hand-walking outside to do her business. Lily doesn’t understand rest. She believes in work and rules. Her job is to make sure that the UPS truck drives away (she is always successful), to watch for predators, and to chase things that should not be on the property, like vermin and great blue herons. Most importantly, according to Lily, her main task is to always, always know where I am. I work at home. My office is on the second floor. Lily’s job is to be where I am. That entails stairs, multiple times a day. I tried confining her to an x-pen, and providing bones to keep her occupied. She ignored them. I tried keeping her in the office when I left. Not a happy dog. I tried carrying her up and down the stairs. She weighs 50 pounds. My back ached and she was miserable.

I gave up.

Lily says that she is fine on three legs. She can do the stairs. She can go outside to pee, on her own, thank you very much. Lily has figured out how to conserve her energy and to rest. On her own terms. On the porch.

Lily on porch



And under my desk.

Lily under desk


We’ve reached a compromise. If I’m going down the stairs for only a few minutes, I close her in the office. She knows I’ll be right back. She’s no longer allowed to jump on the bed because that’s too hard on her hind legs. She has adjusted to sleeping on her pad on the floor. She uses a ramp instead of the steps outside. On my part, I accept that she needs to walk around the yard, sniffing at scent trails, and that she would prefer to do her business on her own and not on a leash.

Lily is twelve. I can’t see putting her through surgery and months of rehab. My vet, Dr. Craig, understands Lily. He says that the only way she could have success with the surgery is if he sedated her for three months. That’s dangerous to do to a dog, and besides, is that the life we want for her? Dr. Craig and I agree that it is not.

Lily was slowing down before this injury. She figured out how to be Lily despite old-age aches and pains. Now she’s figured out how to be Lily despite one damaged leg.

What do you need Lily? I’m listening.

DNA update: The swab test didn’t get enough material for the lab to work with, so I had Dr. Craig pull a blood sample. We’ll have results in a couple of weeks.


  1. You made the right decision. I did the surgery on a younger dog and she never did have normal use in that leg anyway and kept re-injuring it.

  2. Terry, I think you made the right decision. If she was young, that might be different. However, it seems she has made the adjustments necessary to have a good quality of life on her terms.

  3. Poor Lily and poor you. Just like humans — one has to balance “quality of life” issues versus what could be done. Fortunately for you, Lily has made it very clear as to the manner in which she wants to deal with it. And, fortunately for her, Lily resides with an Animal Whisperer.

  4. Thank you for this posting, Terry. My greyhound is almost twelve, and he is also slowing down and showing signs of arthritis and hind-end weakness. He loves his walks and his rides in the car (he weighs 80 pounds and needs to jump in the back of the car — I couldn’t lift him) — it would be very difficult for me to curtail his daily activities and still expect him to be happy. When the time comes, I do hope that I have the wisdom to consider his quality of life as more important than the quantity. Your Lily is a very lucky dog.

  5. My Boston terrier is going through almost the same thing. He has a partial tear. He is 10, and is also very active and needs to rid the yard of any rabbits, moles, etc. I work at home, too, and he feels the need to follow me from room to room. If I go downstairs for anything, I tell him to stay so as to avoid his going up and down too much. He is crate trained, so that’s where he spends his time when I’m away from the house. So we are fortunate in that regard. I’m curious if you have Lily on any meds. We had Ferris on Metacam for a little while.

    • Lily is also crate-trained, but she let me know that her arthritis kept her from being comfortable in there – she needs to get up and move and stretch. Easier with a little terrier! She’s on a joint supplement – I honestly don’t think it does anything for her but it makes me feel like I’m doing something.

  6. Good for you! You have to do what is right for your particular animal. Confinement makes some animals nuts and they wind up hurting themselves worse than they were in the beginning. It’s not worth it.

  7. I think you made the right choice too. Lily would be miserable. Our dog, who has a similar temperament to Lily, went through a similar injury a number of years back, except that it was his hip. Our vet referred him to a specialist, who put him on a new drug treatment series that required we give him an injection once a day for a week, and if there was a definite improvement he would need another series of shots in about months. After the first set of shots, he did seem to improve a little but the vet determined that the improvement wasn’t enough to warrant putting him through another regimen. Given our dog’s age, he suggested a “wait and see” approach for a few months before resorting to surgery. He continued to limp for a few weeks, and we did keep his activity level low to moderate. Then we noticed that he was limping a little less every day. A few months later he no longer had a limp and was back to normal. All that to say, dogs can be very resilient. I hope that Lily has a positive outcome too.

    • I do like hearing about veterinarians who don’t push treatments. Nice to hear the outcome of your story! Lily can’t heal like your dog did, but she can figure out how to live with it.

  8. teri we had a dog that benefitted from canine acupuncture. now, i can’t tell you any details – happened about ten years ago. his dad (my husband) thought of it first and we called around, found an animal acupuncture expert and took him there. he walked in limping, and came out, so happy he ran down to the country road she lived on and screeched to a stop just before he would have gotten hit with a passing car. after that. we took him when the need presented itself. i wish i could tell you why he limped – it’s been too long ago. i do remember we had big pills he should take to help and they never did but over the next four or five years, the acupuncturist kept ringo on his feet and happy.

  9. Our bichon/shihtzu mix tore her miniscus in her left hind leg. Vet suggest 3 options: first was orthopedic (board certified) vet surgeon for $3K. Second was surgical vet – non board certified but good – for $1500. Third was wait and see for free. We waited and saw and after about 8 -10 weeks (the same recovery time as the surgery) she was almost back to normal. She is fine now…. Every dog is different and you do have to weigh all the concerns. It sounds like you have done that and can rest easy knowing that. (I have also spent $$$ getting a hen looked at by a bird vet, only to find out my suspicion was correct as was my treatment plan…. Sometimes you have to trust yourself -and the great hen blogs you happen to frequent…..)

    • Too often we’re pressured to do treatments that we just shouldn’t. Long story short, years ago I spent more than $1000 on a guinea pig, only to have it die. I was more concerned about doing what the vet hospital said than what I knew was right by the animal. Never again.

  10. As I mentioned last time, our Labrador had his cruciate done and developed arthritis so no better of for having it done (wish we hadn’t). Lily will learn to cope in her own way, far better than surgery, all the best Lily. How is Scotter coping with no playmate to jump on and annoy?……:)

  11. You did the right thing. If Lily was 5 or so years younger it might have been worth a try.

    I got a chuckle out of the ALWAYS successful in driving off the UPS truck.

    I live near the airport and the small prop planes use to fly over the house. I had a Scottie named Sadie that would hear them coming. She would run to the corner of the yard, stand and wait in anticipation and as soon as they appeared over the trees she would take off (no pun intended) and would bark and chase that plane away.

    She would come trotting back to the house, head held high and tail a wagging a mile a minute. She was so proud of herself that she kept that plane from landing in her yard. She always got an “that a girl’ for her accomplishment… because it was so darn cute.