Willow was only 2 months old when the first signs of weakness began to show. A beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, she came from parents that were orthopaedically sound and gave every indication that she would enjoy good orthopaedic health as well. But Megan Coppola, Willow’s owner, couldn’t help but notice the symptoms. Willow’s elbows began to turn out, her front legs trembled, she had instability and shaking, an awkward posture, and a limping gait. At 5 months, now with a consistent limp, it was very apparent that Willow was showing signs of dysplasia in her front elbows.
“Willow was the pick of the litter, based on breed standards, bone mass and markings, and my mom was the breeder, so I knew Willow’s mom, grandmother and father were all very sound,” said Coppola. “This was supposed to be a different experience.”
Coppola brought Willow to the Brighton Animal Clinic in October 2009, where veterinarians took X-rays, and Dr. Sheri Beattie first suspected elbow dysplasia. Dr. Neal Sliker at East Springs Animal Hospital provided a second opinion on the X-rays and gave Coppola his best advice. Bring Willow to Colorado State University.
“He told me I had to go to CSU; CSU is the best,” said Coppola.
Willow first saw Dr. Nick Cabano at CSU who took additional X-rays, did a physical evaluation and suggested an MRI and surgery. Willow then became a patient of Dr. Ross Palmer
, a specialist in Small Animal Orthopaedics
and a Diplomate with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. The MRI gave Willow’s veterinary team a better idea of the treatment that would give her the best outcome, particularly considering the fact that she had a major period of growth ahead of her. The MRI showed that Willow’s elbow joints, which should be shaped like a wide open C, were more like squished C’s, and the ulnas were being chipped by the radius.
“With Willow, we basically had three choices: we could wait and see what happens as she grows, begin therapy to improve her function and movement; or go for surgery to correct the underlying problem,” said Dr. Palmer. “Surgery could give Willow a whole new lease on life, but we knew her rehabilitation would be critical to a successful recovery. We also knew that Megan would be 100 percent dedicated to helping Willow have the best life she could have.”
Hydrotherapy strengthened Willow’s muscles
“Her road to recovery was long and hard,” said Coppola. “She couldn’t play, rough house, or even twist her body the wrong way. We had some setbacks because her surgery was in the winter and ice was a big obstacle for us. We tried to keep her as stable on her front legs as possible. We started rehab at home with short walks on a leash and passive range of motion exercises. After a few months, we started swimming. Her first swim was one minute and 30 seconds, but eventually she worked up to being a member of the 30-minute club and really started to enjoy her swimming routine! She did hydrotherapy for a year and a half, until I was absolutely sure she was fully rehabilitated.”
Willow had her final appointment with Dr. Palmer in March, when she got a full release to be a puppy. Since then, said Coppola, Willow is like a new dog. Playful and energetic, she can get in and out of the car by herself, she can run and play without limitations or hesitation, and just be a dog.
“I can really see her new sense of independence and confidence,” said Coppola. “Before, because she was always in pain, she was very wary, and would just look at me trying to understand why she couldn’t walk without pain, or run without pain – emotionally, it was very taxing. Now we really get to see what she can do and how she can be as a dog. I can’t thank Dr. Palmer enough.”