ABlogAbout Dexter: Puppus Gigantus Has Surgery

Let’s be honest: I should have gotten pet insurance.

All told, Dexter and I probably spent almost a third of his life living in a recovery room. He had his first surgery at 7 months. Propensity for destroying things aside, Dex wasn’t like other pups. We had noticed that he wasn’t as spry as our other dog had been as a puppy. He sat funny, he didn’t like the stairs and he couldn’t jump up on to the couch, or the bed. Then, he stopped playing, which for a puppy – a LAB puppy – was very odd. So, we knew something was not right. It was time to take him to the vet… again.

Dexter had already had his share of vet trauma. In an early show of his future character, he once ate a bone – apparently whole. In fact, he made every effort to eat most things whole. Never one to savor the finer things, our Dexter. {This next part is TMI, but really when you live with Dexter long enough, you lose all sense of decorum} So, he swallowed the bone in at most three bites. This is hard on a puppy’s digestive system. But he never let on if there was any discomfort. In fact we only really found out about the bone because his attempt to pass it was clearly evident. He passed MOST of the bone, but not all of it. It was half in, half out. That was when we heard the whining. There was no way we could get that out ourselves. He had to have that removed by the vet. I don’t know exactly how they did it, but I can’t imagine it felt very good. Didn’t stop him from swallowing bones and other treats whole in the future, but it did introduce him to painful vet visits.

Our first look at Dexter's hips. Not a pretty sight.
Our first look at Dexter’s hips. Not a pretty sight.

Back to our story. Our trip to the vet confirmed our fears: hip problems. Labs are notorious for having hip dysplasia, but normally this shows up when they are seniors. It seemed totally improbable that this young, densely-packed puppy could have hip problems already. But there is no arguing with x-rays: My baby had acute dysplasia in both hips. Not a good situation, and one that we knew was causing him great discomfort.

When I adopted Dexter, I had to sign a form saying that I would not put him down for any medical condition without giving the breeder (and I use that term very loosely) the option to take him back. It was a great sentiment. It may have been a red flag. But mostly, it was a pointless promise.  Pets are not disposable. I have always been of the mind that this is your “kid,” and you have a responsibility to help them. You don’t just throw them away when they get sick. There was absolutely no question at all – we would treat this. We would fix his hips.

Dexter at 3 months. Yes, 3 months.
Puppus Gigantus: Dexter at 3 months. Yes, 3 months.

At seven months, Dex was already a very large dog. While he looked like a full grown Lab, he actually hadn’t grown to his full height and length. The fact was, Dexter grew very fast, and his bones just never caught up. So physically he was “interesting.” But “interesting” often means medical problems, and one of those was the hip dysplasia. His paws faced in four different directions, giving the impression that he was ready to bolt in any direction at any moment – or maybe that he just couldn’t make up his mind. Having paws facing all kittywumpus put additional strain on his hips. Being knock-kneed and pigeon-toed myself, I can understand a bit about how he felt. But this was much, much worse than being knock-kneed – though he was knock-kneed as well. His hips were completely out, floating around in the socket. It looked, and I’m sure it WAS terribly painful.

We got the name of the “hip guy” in town. Dr. Scott Lozier at Northwest Veterinary Specialists is not just an orthopedic surgeon, he specializes in hips – even his own dog’s hips. He took more x-rays and conducted a physical examination. The news was devastating. Our poor pup needed total hip replacement in BOTH hips. At seven months.

Dr. Lozier is very experienced. He’s very kind and clearly cares a ton about his patients. He’s also very detailed, and extremely thorough in his explanations. This last part is both good and bad. I’m a big believer in information, and he provides a ton of detail. However…. the intricate description of what’s involved in replacing a hip almost made Dexter’s mother faint. But I dropped my head between my knees and continued listening to the plan of action.

In addition to being thorough, Dr. Lozier was very direct about what we were facing. This wasn’t going to be easy, but it would make his life tons better. Eventually. Eventually, he’d live life like any other dog. We’d have to keep him away from slippery or uneven surfaces (like wet floors and river rocks), but overall he’d be solid. We saw photos of his dog bounding through a field, happy as a clam, and felt incredibly hopeful. Soon, he’d be a normal, happy dog.

But first, we had to go through two surgeries. One hip first, along with re-positioning one of his leg bones to address the knock-knees. Then just two months later, we’d do the second hip. In total, we’d be in recovery about 6 months, with four of those being in total isolation.

This is where we had to make a decision about crates. Look…. Our current dogs are fully crate trained. They love their little caves and willingly bound in. Is it because treats and dinner are often involved? Possibly. Anyway, I’ve come around to the idea of crates. I probably could have come around to having Dexter in a crate but for one key reason – those hips. Finding a crate big enough for a Great Dane (our closest approximation) is not easy, and anything smaller would cause Dex a great deal of pain. Imagine having to negotiate a small crate with bad hips, not to mention doing it post-surgery. It just didn’t seem like a good plan. Plus, he was already showing signs of separation anxiety, so he was sure to ratchet up the crazy and really hurt himself flailing around in there.

Ah, the separation anxiety. It truly ruled our lives. But at this point, we were just getting started, and it hadn’t fully bloomed.

From the moment Dexter arrived at NW Veterinary Specialists that morning, he was terrified. Based on his previous vet experiences and the pain he felt during Dr. Lozier’s examination, he was on to us. This was not going to be a fun trip. Then he figured out that we’d be leaving him there and they had to practically drag him back to the surgery area. It was just gut-wrenching to leave him there. Mommy cried a little. Certainly not the last time I’d cry over Dexter.

But we managed to let go and go home. Of course, we worried and paced our living room floor waiting for word. After many hours, we finally got the call that Dexter had made it through surgery and was in recovery. Great news! Oh, but they’d had to sedate him heavily in order to keep him quiet. He was not a happy camper.

For later surgeries, I think we had to take him home the same day (or at least they wanted us to). He was so vocal and anxious that he was stressing the other animals (and the people I’m sure) out. Often if they called from the surgery area, I could hear him howling and moaning in the background. But ideally – and for the first couple of surgeries – he stayed overnight to come out of the sedation and get him stable. As soon as he was clear, we picked him up, grabbed his pile of meds and hoisted him into the back of the SUV. Mommy rode home laying at his side. We were all happy he was home.

And so, the long recovery began.

Dexter and I, mid-recovery from surgery #1.
Dexter and I, mid-recovery from surgery #1.
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