Today we interview Phoebe Baker on the rough start she had with her Furbaby, Lola at only 12 weeks old. Lola broke her leg which resulted in a long road to recovery which was very difficult for Lola and difficult for Phoebe to watch. Here is their story.
1. Firstly, how would you describe Lola?
Lola is a 10-month-old Shih tzu cross Toy Poodle. She’s a great cross with the cuddly, lap-dog nature of a Shih tzu, and the intelligent, independent qualities of a poodle.
Lola is at times extremely cheeky and stubborn, and loves getting her own way. She is always up for a game of “watch me run around and around the lounge room,” which my boyfriend James and I think is hilarious. I love coming home to her, always so happy to see me. She is very active and playful, and loves her daily walks at the local dog park, morning and evening. What I love most about her is that she loves a cuddle and is so affectionate, always wanting to be close to us.
2. When Lola was only 12 weeks old, she broke her leg. How did that happen?
I was at home with my tiny 12-week-old puppy on a Thursday night, while James was at work. We were having a lovely time playing together. She was in one of her hyperactive moods, dashing around the house so excitedly showing off her newfound speed and agility. She started to run up and down the stairs carrying her toys. It was so hilarious and cute to watch.
It all came to a crashing end when she ran down to me and skipped the last 3 stairs, falling awkwardly on the carpet floor. I heard a definite “crack,” and Lola started screaming in pain. It wasn’t yelping, but a high-pitched screaming. It has to be the worst noise I’ve heard her make, and one that I struggled to get out of my head for a long time. After around 5 minutes she began to settle, however she was still in obvious pain and unable to move. I felt like a failure, this little puppy that I had promised to care for and love, was looking at me so helplessly and obviously in so much pain.
I waited until James returned home from work before taking her to the vet. The vet knew immediately that the injury was severe, explaining that puppies normally bounce back very quickly when they have a tumble. An x-ray confirmed that Lola had sustained a full transverse fracture below the knee. In other words, a bad break straight through the bone. When I told the vet I heard it crack, she agreed that a break of this nature would have made a loud crack as the bone broke. As you can imagine, James and I were devastated. We felt sick. We were so sad for little Lola, and that this was the way her life with us was starting. I was particularly worried that this would change her personality and make her timid and nervous as they say that everything that happens in the first few months of a puppy’s life imprints on them forever.
3. What did the road to recovery involve?
Lola left the vet that evening with a bulky white cast on her tiny leg. The cast looked ridiculous on her, so out of proportion to the rest of her body. The cast was so heavy and long, stretching from her hip to below her paw. The cast had to remain on her leg for a total of 4 weeks, and was changed half way through. This was to allow room for the leg to grow, as she was a growing at such a fast rate. The last 2 weeks of having the cast on, Lola had to be crated because she was becoming too active, and the vet was worried that she would hurt herself further. Every time Lola ran on the floorboards or tiles, the cast would slip out from underneath her and she would start yelping. This was a terribly stressful time for me, constantly being worried about her and forever trying to keep her still – which is a difficult task for an energetic puppy! She was miserable being kept in her crate, always crying and wanting to play. I gave her treat after treat to occupy her, but she was only interested in playing.
As you can imagine, when the time came to remove her cast, I was so excited and so ready to say goodbye to that part of our lives. However, it turned out that removing the cast only lead to more heartache! Because Lola’s leg was immobile for a month when she was growing rapidly, her broken leg was unable to grow at the same speed and develop muscle. Another complication was that the growth plate closest to the fracture was prematurely closed up, resulting in the leg being slightly shorter than the others. The vet told us that she would always have a limp. When the cast was taken off, it revealed a skinny, weak and stiff leg. The fur was also shaved which exaggerated the muscle wastage, and she had pressure sores where the cast had been rubbing. Once again, we were devastated! We had underestimated how awful her leg would look after the cast was removed, and how much work we had ahead of us for her rehabilitation.
We took our sad little puppy home, feeling helpless as we watched her try to walk on her thin, weak leg continually falling in pain. To my dismay, we were instructed to keep her crated until her leg gained some strength. I felt like I couldn’t take any more. I hated not being able to take her for walks or play. I felt like I wasn’t able to enjoy her as a puppy and I was constantly wishing the time away.
Gradually, day-by-day, Lola started looking brighter and gaining more confidence on her feet. We began taking her for 5-minute walks to ease her back into it. We also did a lot of massage and physiotherapy to regain proper movement in her leg. As improvements were made, we started to take her swimming and to the beach for sand walking to build up strength through resistance.
4. Will Lola have problems with her leg later in life?
Today, 7 months on, Lola is a strong, healthy girl that loves not only long walks twice a day, but weekly runs with James. She is confident on her feet and you wouldn’t be able to tell that she has ever had any problems with her leg. She only walks with a slight limp when she is very tired (and sometimes I think she’s only doing it for sympathy). We are very happy with her recovery. Later in life, Lola may suffer from arthritis in her knee as a long-term effect from her fracture. Due to her leg being slightly shorter, we have been told that she may also develop problems in her back and pelvis.
However, James and I are confident that she has had a perfect recovery and she will be a part of our little family for many happy, pain free years to come. The biggest blessing is that Lola is so light on her feet. If she were a bigger breed, a fracture of this nature would have most definitely required surgery and the recovery would not have been as successful.
I am still very over-protective of Lola, and I feel that it has changed the way I am with her. However, it has only made me love her more and appreciate her beautiful company and addition to our lives. She is an absolute delight, even though she can be so cheeky.
5. What activities should puppies avoid to prevent injuries such as the one Lola received?
If we had our puppy time over, we would have made the stairs an out-of-bounds area for the first few months of Lola’s life. As soon as we got her home from the vet, we purchased a small gate for the stairs to keep her from running up and down when she’s in a “watch me run” mood, or when we aren’t home.
I know that Lola’s break resulted from a freak accident that is very uncommon with puppies. Our vet was shocked that it was such a bad break in a young puppy, but explained to us how fragile their bones are until they reach adulthood. It was a challenging case for our vet, being the first full transverse fracture in a young puppy that they had dealt with.
My advice to new puppy parents would be to make sure that they treat their new addition with extra special care. It is important to puppy-proof your house before you bring your little one home, and think outside the box in terms of what mischief they could get up to.
I was shocked when I walked into a clothing store a few weeks ago to see an unsupervised puppy standing on the counter while the owner was at the back of the shop browsing at clothes. Having been through this ordeal with Lola, in my mind I was yelling, “Danger!” Never think that your puppy is invincible. They are at their most vulnerable when their bones are still developing, and their high energy levels further enhance this vulnerability.
^ Lola in her cast
^ Lola demonstrating where the accident happened.
^ A happier Lola with mum, Phoebe at one of Lola’s favorite places, the beach.
^ A happy, healthy Lola, today.