Conservative Management Success – Finn the Chocolate Lab

conservative management success in large dog

After stumbling upon this website about a year ago, I thought it’d be good to share my own experiences with my dog and conservative management.

Taking it back a bit, it all started in February 2016. I have a pretty active 8 year old (7 yo at the time) 85 lb chocolate labrador named Finn. He spent most of his life chasing balls and frisbees, as most labs do. Lately I had noticed that after some rigorous activity like a game of fetch, he would often be stiff when rising, limp slightly for a day then be back to normal the following morning. I didn’t think much of it as he never yelped in pain or held a limp longer than 24hr.

I thought that maybe with his age, he’s beginning to get a bit stiff and I decided to pay a visit to my local hydro therapist to help sooth his aches and teach him how to swim. (Long story short, we grew up in an area with no bodies of water, so he never swam!)

I took him in for a consult and is where this all started. The therapist immediately pointed out that he most likely has a partly torn cruciate in his hind right, which was later confirmed by the vet using the drawer test method. Along with the drawer test he also showed other signs such as not fully weight bearing on the affected leg, had some muscle atrophy in his hamstring, and would limp after heavy activity.

I went home feeling sad and extremely guilty that I didn’t notice this sooner, and was unsure of what to do. The therapist seemed hopeful and confident that conservative management would serve him well and that with his very slight limping, it could possibly be a very slight tear instead of a full tear.

I began strict activity restriction for 6-8 weeks. Few short potty breaks throughout the day, and luckily he is just a couch potato at home, so I didn’t have to worry about him being too wound up. We did lots of brain games, so he was at least mentally tired. Paired with the activity restriction, we also did hydro therapy once a week for 4 months. I also worked to get his weight down a bit and adjusted his diet to include a good amount of joint supplements and anti-inflammatories.

These included:

– Green lipped mussel powder
– Turmeric paste
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
– Ester-C
– Other herbal anti-inflammatories such as bosweilia and devils claw

It showed some improvement, he no longer limped but he still wasn’t fully weight bearing on his hind right. I was stumped. I went back to the vet for another consult, and he suggested I try cold laser therapy. This is where things began improving a lot.

We started right away, doing 2 sessions a week on both knees and hips. After a couple sessions he was no longer stiff getting up and even the hydro therapist noticed an improvement on how he distributed his weight; it was even across all 4 legs! I was so happy.

It’s been almost a year now from when we began CM, and he’s doing better than ever. We can’t wait for summer to arrive so that we can swim a lot more outdoors, we enjoy longer walks now and hikes on occasion. No limping at all! I believe conservative management was very successful for us, him being a large breed dog I was skeptical but I think we did well considering it was only a partial tear and not a full tear. If it had been a full tear, I think maybe we would have considered doing TPLO.

We don’t do any off leash stuff still, as I still want to keep his activity somewhat under control. We still are continuing doing cold laser and hydro, but only a couple times a month compared to every week when we first started.

I hope this experience can help someone out there who might be dealing with a similar situation!

36 thoughts on “Conservative Management Success – Finn the Chocolate Lab

  1. I have a Bernese Mountain Dog who is about the same weight as your lab and this is very helpful, while we try to decide what’s best for her partial tear. The vets all think surgery is best (TPLO) but we know others whose similarly sized dogs have done well without it. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  2. Update on Finn:

    We’ve had a small relapse and are taking it back to square one again. We had a snow fall here and he got a bit too excited, and it was my fault for not keeping a better eye on him. I think there was too much hopping around on our walk one evening through the snow, and he is lame again on his leg. I’ve immediately decreased all activity and I will watch his leg and continue with caution. Frustrating having a set back, but I’m trying not to feel discouraged!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear!!! Please keep us all posted. When was your original post written? I just started conservative management on my 73lb lab mix, and though its only been a week, I’m growing impatient. I know i need to be patient. How did you feed Finn the supplements? My dog, Heisenberg won’t eat them. I’ve pureed apples, berries and mixed the powders in with them, but he won’t touch them. He ate his yogurt with his supplements mixed in, but threw them all up.

      1. Hi Candice

        Original post was written around December. I feel like I jinxed myself! I’ve reduced his activity again as he keeps becoming lame after our walks. Nothing super alarming but still, it’s lameness. I’m planning on seeing an ortho vet in the coming months for a second opinion

        Finn is raw fed and I make bone broth for him. I use this as a method to mix his supplements and he takes it that way no problem. Bone broth is great for any dog really as its full of glycosaminoglycans and collagen, so really beneficial for ligaments.

        I totally understand the impatience. With each set back we’ve faced I’ve felt discouraged and wanted to throw in the towel but before I knew it he’d get better again. But I am beginning to wonder what else I can do as he is still young and I want to enjoy as much as I can with him so seeing the ortho vet will probably give me a better idea on what to do.

        Dont give up!

        1. Thank you for your encouragement! I hope you are encouraged as well. I know how emotionally and physically involved this whole process is esp for the owners. How is Finn doing now? We are about 2 weeks in and my dog sprinted around the yard for 5-10 mins the other day. I almost had a heart attack. I think we had some setback due to it, so I’m definitely learning that patience is not my virtue, but definitely something I need to work on!

          1. He’s doing quite well, he is using the leg a lot more now and isnt as stiff or lame when he gets up from resting. We are doing two 20-30 min walks daily with hydro every other weekend. The hydro-therapist reassured me and said that he’s doing well.

            Oh no! Finn sprinted after some birds around Christmas time, gave me a heart attack too. Hopefully the setback isn’t major, but yes patience is definitely important during this! I hope it gets easier for you 🙂

        2. Natalie, may I ask what brand of GLM powder you give Flynn? There are so many brands to choose from, and I don’t know which one is high quality! Thank you.

          1. If you are in the US, there is a good brand called Super Snouts. I am in Canada and get one made by Fluid-X

  3. Thank you Natalie. My dog had been doing pretty well(just about the same, very mild symptoms), but he bolted out the door and jumped off the deck a couple of days ago, and now I think he tore his meniscus. :'(

  4. 1 we were dealing with a 39 pound Labradoodle who tore her left ACL we could conservative management for six to seven months and now she just tore the right one you just can’t win. We even spent $400 on red light therapy and I really can’t say whether I think it works or it doesn’t

    1. Not sure if light therapy and cold laser are the same? I can be wrong. the vet told us that it may not work for every dog. and usually works best if done twice a week or more then slowly weaned off. I saw a dramatic improvement when we began doing laser.

      Sorry to hear she tore her second one. You might want to look into stem cell, PRP and prolotherapy if you’re still considering CM over surgery

  5. Can I ask how Finn is currently doing? We have a 6 yr old female that we have been using CM for for just over 5 months and returned to full weight bearing according to performance mat. She got excited the other day and ran about 50 ft and is showing signs of lameness. We r restricting activity and curious about Finn’s progress to date. We are using an orthopet brace which is amazing ( she did not have it on during incident). Good luck and thanks!

    1. Hi Mike

      Finn bounced back quickly after his last set back however suffered another one this last weekend. His knee is stable so I think the issue might be something deeper like arthritis. He also lost a lot of muscle in the leg and I think that’s the issue too as there isn’t enough supporting the joint. I’m taking to my vet this weekend to talk about options such as injection therapies like prolo, PRP And stem cell as well as a brace. I’ve heard good things about braces so probably the next step. Hope it works well for your girl!

      1. I got my Brace from Orthopets and it is an amazing brace. I highly recommend! Thank you for your input. I have also been doing underwater treadmill and PT once per week and luckily she never lost muscle mass. I highly recommend this as well, but it is not cheap!

        Best of luck to Finn!!

    1. A good brace can help to stabilize the knee and keep the tibia from constantly slipping forward. This helps scar tissue to form. If the dog has full tears or keeps reinjuring the knee then it’s not a bad thing to consider. Yes tiggerpoz is a great website.

  6. Yet he highly recommends against a brace
    If you were considering stem-cell why didn’t you just have the surgery. We didn’t because Lexie was 39 pounds and we were told that she would recover and after seven months she’s finally walking but then hurt the other one because she leaned on that one’s again on the other one so now the poor thing has one leg that’s not so good and one leg that’s completely blown

    1. Im confused at what this is directed to? Are you the same as Lynn posting above? Every dog is different and CM can work for most dogs. The other knee is already at risk of tearing after the first one tears.

      Some people say the brace works for them others are against it, its up to you to determine whats best for your dog. Ive read the website and the writer states that no braces are not necessary however if reinjury keeps happening then it may be something to consider:

      “When dealing with a high-energy dog, I would also consider getting a brace. I usually suggest waiting a few weeks after starting proper restriction to see how things go before ordering a brace. In most cases a brace is not necessary. But for high-energy, very active dogs who are difficult to restrict, I think a brace is often a good idea” from under FAQ

      I don’t quite get your “if you were considering stem cell why didnt you just have the surgery.” Are you saying its because both require dog to be sedated? I wasn’t considering stem cell, I only learned about it recently. I am faced with a dog with Arthritis now in his joints (he is turning 9 this year and weighs over 80lbs), and Stem Cell and PRP can help. I dont know if I would ever do it, but its nice to learn about different therapies on the market. Surgery has lots of complications, especially when the dog is at risk at tearing their other knee.

  7. Annalee I agree I just don’t know what to do I mean this poor dog has been idle for 10 months I elected not to have the surgery cuz I didn’t want to have her cut open but then she went and reinjure the other one and sometimes I wonder if I should have just had the surgery and now I’m wondering if I should on this leg because it’s going to be another six months of restricted activity and that’s a year-and-a-half out of her life and that really upsets me

    1. I understand. But unfortunately restriction is a must either way. We are going on 1.5 years with complete restriction. He’s not allowed off leash can’t play with other dogs. We keep busy with training, swimming, hydro therapy. these injuries require a lot of patience. I thought we would be fine 6 months in and I made the mistake of letting him run around and that set us back even more. It saddened me at the beginning knowing he could never run after a ball anymore but we’ve grown to adapt.

      1. Hi Natalie,
        I have an 8 year old Golden Retriever(Flynn) who has always believed life is to be lived to the fullest, rarely naps, and because, fortunately, he has always lived within 5 minutes of long trails and bodies of water he seems to think growing up is for the birds, until one day. Without an MRI, vet thinks partial CL tear, so we tried CM with rest, weekly Pentasen(sp?) injections and gradual doses of easy swimming. Several months with very little improvement and I have never seen a more depressed dog. I had TPLO done on my Doberman(extreme athlete according to her surgeon), wasn’t easy but healed well and resumed her active life. Every surgery has its risks but watching Flynn in pain every day, unable to do what he loves is like a slow death. I would opt for the surgery for myself as lifelong crippling arthritis can result without the stability of the CL. My daughter had a complete ACL rupture playing volleyball, had the surgery and went on to crew for 4 years at OSU. I admire everyone’s dedication and love for their dogs in giving CM a chance but if injuries keep reoccurring, maybe a surgery consult will help them live a normal life. Even at 8 Flynn isn’t ready to give up what he loves. I’ll keep you posted on my decision. Good luck to everyone.

        1. Sorry to hear about Flynn. Quality of life is first and foremost. You may want to read into something like PRP. I am seeing a vet next weekend for a consult. It not only can help speed the healing of torn ligaments and other soft tissues, it can drastically help with crippling osteoarthritis. I just cannot fathom going through with something as invasive as TPLO. this is a personal choice. I know many people have had success with it but to me it seems like too much for a partial tear. While our activities with Finn have shortened to leashed walks and occasional swimming he is still a happy dog. I put a lot of time and effort into making sure he is comfortable. I am hoping PRP will be the answer into keeping him comfortable long term. Best of luck.

      2. Hi,

        Just wondering has your dog ever able to run after the recovery process? My golden retriever has improved after 4 months recovery ,but there’s setback as long as he runs, I’m wondering how long it will take to let him back to the park..Thank you

  8. Well that’s the only reason I’m thinking of going through with the surgery on this leg I have had two friends of mine with bigger dogs again Lexie’s only thirty-nine pounds and they’ve had double surgeries on both their legs and they’re running around and playing so my feeling is as I’m trying to save her time with conservative management or not time pain but if it’s taking away from the quality of her life and we all know dogs don’t have a lot then it seems counterproductive for me to wait another 6 months and then what letter off deletion play and sheer and your it these friends of mine that have had their dog surgery done their dogs play run jump no problem

  9. That was text to speech did not come out well bottom line is I know several people that have going through with the surgeries and their dogs run and play with no restrictions if we’re all trying to do conservative management and our dogs keep having relapses a year year-and-a-half later I’m just beginning to think from my dog it’s counterproductive for what I’m trying to do

    1. I have had these same battles with myself and my girl. I guess it all depends on what you want for your dog in the end. If you can get your dog to a point she can walk for miles with a leash (and a brace maybe?) is that a good enough life? Or is it more important to allow your dog to romp, roll, run, jump with others? It’s a personal choice that we have been struggling with.

      There are a lot of professionals that believe hard activity like dog parks lead to many issues later in life – spinal stenosis, degenerative arthritis, etc. Others believe “let the dogs be dogs”. No one right answer, it’s dog/owner dependent.

      I had a minor set back the other day when she got off lead and ran without brace – did a little limp (24 hrs later which was weird) and next day she seems fine but I am resting her for several days and gonna put her on the performance mat next week to see if she had an objective set back. Point is, immediately after this, I kept questioning, should I just let her have surgery? Surgery is complicated with multiple issues, of course, including contralateral injury (TPLO will cause limbs to be slightly imbalanced potentially increasing likelihood of injury to other limb which is already threatened even without surgery), wound infection, surgical failure, small incidence of osteosarcoma, etc etc etc etc. Plus, 3-4 months of restriction to allow proper healing per side IF all goes well, 6-8 months if they blow the other side. Within 4 months of CM and PT and brace, we were doing 2-5 miles per day on lead without issues. This makes her/us happier than the hr at the dog park she has to give up. But that is OUR situation. Everyone’s dog/injury/human-dog bond is different.

      These are the issues that have lead most of us to CM and to this page. Unfortunately none of us know if our dogs will ever NEED surgery – one step at a time. I am glad I found this page bc it helps organize thoughts! Good luck everyone.

      Warmest Regards,

  10. Update on Finn’s progress:

    Back in June, Finn had X-Rays done which showed severe hip dysplasia and arthritis forming in his knees. In August, I decided to try PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma therapy). Almost immediately after, 1 or 2 days, he was like a new dog. The pain relief was quite rapid, and after a month he continues to progress. We are including other modalities such as acupuncture and laser therapy, as well as PT and Hydro therapy. We are hoping for a positive recovery for Finn.

  11. we have been doing the red light therapy on the second knee now and three months she still is lame and hops around. I guess I can look into it because to be honest this recovery is taking too long for her. She is loosing quality of life. We take her for two block walks and she is sore and lifts her leg, this is three months later, she probably tore the meniscus because there is a knocking sound in her knee getting extremely frustrated. I put ice on ice, heat on it plus the red laser. I have never tried the brace as I have read some night mare stories, maybe it is time to find some therapist, but where I live which is a small island town, there arent any close to us

    1. Meniscal tear usually requires surgery. If thats the case then I would look into getting a consult with an orthopedic surgeon. Good luck.

  12. Actually it does not I already took her to Red Bank Hospital and consulted with one. It gives you the same choice, conservative or not

  13. Over the Labor Day weekend, my 4-year-old 53-lb mixed breed dog tore her ligament. It was really hard since it brought back all of the heartache memories with our fist dog, M who was hit by a car (had hip surgery) and tore her ligament two years later. M had TPLO surgery for her torn ACL/CCL. She sadly died two years later to bone cancer. We did not confirm that the cancer biopsy at the time since she was already refusing food and water. 15 years later, we are facing with the same issue with K. We rushed K to the same surgeon who seemed to have done miracle to save our M 17 years ago. I expected the same recommendation, TPLO surgery since that was his experties. It will be hard, but we are willing to pay $6,000 for our beloved dog to be able to have a normal life again. Logs story short, I had researched the bone cancer issue after M had to be put downy. There was reported cases of dogs had cancer after TPLO surgery. This time, I looked into it more. There are more information on the internet this time. Although, nobody will confirm that there is definite link between TPLO surgery and bone cancer, it has been listed as possible rare complication of the TPLO surgery. The surgery is very invasive. I asked the surgeon during the consultation about cancer. He had actually went back to M’s file before our appointment and told us that his note indicated Molly had bone cancer. He told us that the cancer usually happen to breeds that are predisposed to bone cancer. Well, M was a mutt. From what we know, M was not one of those breeds. Well, when it is said that it is very low possibility of developing cancer, but when it happened to your love one, it seemed 100%. We have a friend’s son’s dog had the same condition a couple of years ago. His uncle who is a medical doctor/pet lover had advised against surgery we the subject came up. So, I researched more on the internet and came across a website that is dedicated against rushing to surgery, especially the TPLO surgery. As I have been reading it, it made a lot of sense. It prompts conservative management (very restricted activities) first for 8 weeks to see if the dog will show sign of healing, then decide if surgery is necessary. Our friend’s dog eventually formed scar tissue of the knee and eventually was able to walk and live a normal life without excessive stress to the knee. It has not been easy since K is an active 4-year-old dog. She also does not sleep through the night. Luckily, my husband works from home, so he could let her out few times a day. The recovery time after the surgery is very long as well. I was so desperate to get K back to normal and fearing of her tearing her other knee, I was ready to send her in surgery next week. I prayed and cried a lot the first few days when it happened. K seemed have sensed my emotions and surprisingly cooperative so far, probably some pain in her injured leg. Though, she does rest comfortably that I can tell. They say pain is Mother Nature’s way of telling us “don’t over do it”. This website believes our bodies has ways of healing and believed a dog can possibly heal given the chance with controlled environment. The person started the website has his own experience and stated a lot of people have written to him with the same result without surgery. I just pray that I can hang in the next few months and make the right decision.

  14. Hi Natalie,
    Thank you for sharing Finn’s story. I have a similar story with my dog Koa, but we are at the point where we just found out, and he is quickly worsening. You can feel the arthritis on his knee but his spirits are still up and he still seems to be living a good life at almost 4 years old. I want to do everything I can do help him get better and avoid surgery. I know there is probably a small chance since he already has arthritis, but I am hopeful. Especially after reading all of these amazing stories of conservative management. I do have a few questions for you, I hope you don’t mind.
    1. The last update I read was in 2017. Was the PRP successful in the long run?
    2. Did you use an at home cold laser device? If so, what brand?
    3. What brand of supplements did you use?
    Thank you!
    – Kaitlyn and Koa <3

    1. Hi there. Sorry to hear about the struggles with Koa! Finn unfortunately passed away unrelated to his injury in 2018 (cancer). The PRP seemed to help but we did not continue treatment. When I did do it I did notice an improvement. Would I try it again? Maybe. But I think Finn Was too far gone with his CCL to have it made a difference. For his hip dysplasia though, I definitely think it helped with pain.

      I did cold laser at our vet, I didn’t get a home device but could be a good investment.

      Joint supplements back then I did glucosamine, msm, golden paste, green lipped mussel powder. I probably would’ve looked into a proven joint supplement like Antinol or something if I were to do it over again.

      Hope that helps somewhat and I hope you find some relief for your dog! Best of luck.

      1. Aw I’m so sorry to hear that he had cancer after all that. RIP to your sweet baby Finn.

        Thank you so much for answering your questions.

        I’ll update with what I am doing if it helps maybe it’ll help someone else since this is so common.

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