It's now been 7 months since my senior pug Lily underwent a 6 hour procedure in January to repair a disc herniation and to secure 2 plates along her vertebrae to prevent further damage. Without this procedure Lily's mobility challenges would have continued to worsen, leading to eventual paralysis.
To recap a little for those that may not have read her story along the way, her spinal issues were the result of a congenital malformation referred to as caudal vertebral articular process dysplasia. Basically this malformation meant that one of her vertebrae did not form correctly and over time this created too much movement along her spine leading to the disc herniation and her resulting mobility and incontinence issues. (For a full description of her condition please see: Part 1 - Symptoms & Diagnosis and for more details on the surgery: Part 2 - Surgery). I wanted to share with you Lily's recovery and amazing results.
After her surgery Lily had range of motion exercises that we did at home several times a day. I also iced her back using a cold pack as often as possible. It was important that Lily be on restricted activity for the first few weeks. She did not need to be crate rested, but no jumping or running. After the first two weeks Lily was allowed on short walks with a leash making sure not to overdo it. Dr. Sharp had told me that the plates were very strong even before the bone has a chance to remodel, but I was so worried that they would somehow move or come undone.
To make my fears even more intense, on our first night home my French Bulldog Winnie knocked Lily right off my bed. My heart was in my throat, but thankfully my bed is very low and she fell onto a padded area and in true Lily fashion she seemed unfazed by what I am sure did hurt given it was so soon after surgery. Despite her seeming fine I was haunted by the fear that her fall in some way moved things around and I was nauseous thinking that she went through all of this only to have it ruined the first night she was back in my care. To avoid any further incidents, for the next 8 weeks we (myself and my dogs) all slept on the floor!
I took Lily back for her recheck in April with the express purpose of having X-rays done so we could check on her plates. Much to my relief they were exactly where they were supposed to be, they were perfect. I could breathe again. I should mention that her plates are actually quite tiny with only a 2.7mm diameter and 12mm screws - they just look huge in the X-rays. The other strange looking object higher up in her X-ray I later found out is an ID tag.
After the successful surgery Dr. Sharp told me that it couldn't have gone any better so now it was up to Lily. We weren't sure how much she would improve, but at the very least the goal was to stop further progression of her condition.
Over the past 7 months Lily has made me so proud and has truly exceeded my expectations. She still walks a bit funny, her right leg in particular, but she can walk at a much faster pace and even runs now. Her fecal incontinence did not improve, but they warned be about that and it's fine. I just use a diaper at night for that, but her urinary incontinence is a million times better. We used to go through at least 3 diapers a day with accidents and now she typically goes weeks without a single bladder incident.
While her once curly tail is still droopy, it has a lot more movement than prior to the procedure, especially when she is excited and can actually get it wagging.
Lily's back legs have become so much stronger and she can even work her way up our stairs now when I take too long to come and get her. Check out her determination in this video I took a few weeks ago. She hasn't been able to get up these stairs for at least a year, but now look at her! I still carry her up most times, but this shows that she continues to improve even after so many months.
The other surprise was her appetite. For months prior to her surgery Lily had gone from being a food monster to being a very finicky eater, sometimes refusing to eat altogether. I suspected it was related to her back, perhaps a response to being in pain, but none of the doctors could confirm that there was any relationship. The proof in my mind would be seen after she had recovered from surgery. And once she was a month or so into recovery sure enough her appetite returned and it appears to be here to stay.
Overall I am so pleased with Lily's results. She seems very happy and so much stronger now. She is often the one out in front on our walks and though she still takes breaks in the Dogger, she is able to walk much further than she used to walk prior to surgery.
While I am sure the pain must have been overwhelming at times during her recovery she never complained, she was always so positive and spirited, she blew me away. I think her great attitude is a big reason she made major back surgery seem like a routine procedure. Lily is the definition of trooper and I am thrilled that her trust in me was not misplaced. This surgery really has given her a second chance and we are going to embrace every moment we have together to enjoy it.
I would also like to say thank you to everyone who supported Lily throughout this entire process. She never felt alone and neither did I.
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.