The Bionic Mastiff: TPLO Surgery

I never miss an annual vet visit. I joke (but it’s not really a joke) that veterinarians must think I’m crazy because I ask for full explanations of every. single. medical term they say. Finding a vet that gets you is a challenge which is why it’s important to question your vets and ask lots of questions because you may find something they don’t suspect! A particular annual for Fiona two years ago turned out to be life altering because I decided to push my vet to do something that he typically didn’t in annual exams. I also should say I’m by no means have any medical training and am a normal girl sharing my experiences. Always talk to your vet before making any medical decisions for your dogs!


Discovering Something Was Wrong

When we moved back to Austin from Los Angeles, I had to find a different vet because the one we went to prior to moving to LA was no longer in practice. Due to the fabulous care of my LA vet (shout out to Dr. Pavlina Burpee at Burbank Veterinary Center), she educated me on general mastiff care and aging mastiffs specifically. On my first visit to the Austin vet, I kept asking if he’d check her hips, joints, bones, muscles, etc. as part of her annual exam. Upon my request, we found out that Fiona had ruptured her cranial cruciate ligament (equivalent to a human’s ACL) which is one pretty major reason why my aging girl was slower on walks.

Fiona must have known something was up. Here she is during that vet visit.

She never showed signs, symptoms, or that she was hurting. Admittedly her pain thrush hold has always been quite high so I never know that something’s going on with her. It’s a somewhat common injury in giant and large breeds due to the amount of weight on their joints. Some of the symptoms for this type of injury include:

  • Lameness or limping on hind leg
  • Swelling of the knee
  • Decreased speed on walks (this is the only one I ever saw)

What Does it all Mean?

Immediately I took her to a specialist in town who is apparently “the doctor” for Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery. Dr. Stephen Kerpsack at Central Texas Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital quickly agreed on the diagnosis and gave me multiple options. He indicated that smaller dogs who have this type of injury can sometimes just “heal” or let their bodies take care of the injury itself however with the big dogs, surgery was almost always needed. Previously Fiona had been on all sorts of medications for joint maintenance and he indicated that this would also help eliminate that need. For mastiffs, he explained that they’d insert a metal plate that acts as a support as the ruptured area doesn’t regenerate itself. The metal plate would add additional support to help with the load bearing weight and stabilizing her knee.

Very nervous Fiona.

I couldn’t find too much information online about this surgery in mastiffs so I talked to others in my community about it. Multiple people gave me glowing reviews of how much their dog had benefited from it and specifically Dr. Kerpsack’s surgery. Upon hearing all the positives about going through with the surgery, I decided to move forward with it for Fiona. Refusing to believe she’d have a poor (or even painful) quality of life, I selfishly put everything I have to get her the surgery… and at whatever cost… thank you family too.


Day of the Surgery

Morning of her surgery. 3/30/17

The morning on Fiona’s surgery, I loaded her into my car and we drove to the vet with her head out the window. She is always so calm and didn’t indicate that she was scared but rather displayed confidence. She’s my hero. I was a mess and wanted nothing more than for her to be healed without having to go through such an ordeal. I dropped her off, told her I loved her so much, and wished her good luck!


I’ll tell you what… that experience was amazing! Dr. Kerpsack and his crew were AMAZING! In a matter of time, they made her the bionic mastiff by inserting the plate in her leg! They were very honest about the process and kept me looped in! Even going so far to post on their social media with a technician holding Fiona post surgery while she woke up to recovery. It’s the level of care and love I would hope all clinics provide and it was just very comforting to see!


Driving down there I was a bit nervous to see what kind of state Fiona was in mainly because I thought “how am I (a 115 lbs girl) going to take care of her (a 120 lbs mastiff)”. Luckily the staff helped me get her in the car and she was mobile enough to get from point A to point B when we got home. I was very surprised how she was able to walk after a day like she had!


Why I Chose TPLO Surgery

I got her home safe and sound and just let her rest. She was still pretty medicated and that was very helpful to getting her comfortable. I remember sitting there and just watching her rest and asking myself, why did you do this to her?! Ultimately there were a lot of positive factors involved with making this decision:

  • Cost. As costly as it seems upfront, I guarantee you that the medication regiment I was on, I would be well beyond the cost of the surgery by now. Fiona was (and still is in peak health) so I was not fearful about the return on my investment. Again, thank you family!
  • Good results. I only heard good things about this surgery and the nonsurgical options seemed fine but they wouldn’t fix the problem. Rather it’s be a management situation rather than a fix.
  • Quality of Life. After my numerous conversations with people I knew that had the procedure for their dogs as well as my vet specialist, her quality of life would just be better. She’d be more active than she was and she’d be able to get up and down easier.

I’m tremendously happy she went through the surgery and more to about her recovery and the process of getting her back on our regular walks in our next post!!

Let’s Go on a Walk

Recently, we’ve moved into a house with a sizable yard (yay!)! As convenient as it is to open the back door and know they are safely outside doing their thing, it takes a toll on physical activity for both the pups and me! During the winter months, the cold mornings make it doubly challenging. While some find the brisk, crisp air invigorating, we find cold mornings harder to maintain our routine of hitting the streets for an exercising walk. Rather than surrender to our cozy beds, here are a couple of things we’ve tried to help get us up and out!


A Few Ways to Get Motivated and Move:

Dress appropriately – seems obvious, right? In cold weather months, coats for both pups and humans help a lot! Fiona has a coat that doesn’t cover all over her body but keeps her fairly warm. Bruce on the other hand has nothing. I can’t find anything that will fit him outside of equine apparel… giddy up! Bruce’s internal temperature registers so hot, I’m not really all that concerned with him.

Hot months require a Kool Collar or something comparable. I’ve found the Kool Collars work with the size of their necks (larger than my waist!) and I’m able to use both indoor and outdoor with the gel inserts provided. I really like this product!


Find a new time to hit the streets! Another obvious way to combat the freezing mornings and go later in the day. Recently we had a random weekday off so we walked to the park at 3:00 pm. The much warmer temperature made it more enjoyable for me (selfish? yes.) and also increased my desire to be outdoors!


Explore! Take a new path or go down a new street outside of your regular walk. Luckily, if you’re like me and walk with 300+ lbs of dog no one will bother you! Who knows what adventure or cool finding you’ll have.


Pop in those earbuds! Listen to that album you love or the podcast you’ve been putting off! What I’m listening to depends on the day I’m having or had but usually anything gets me in the mood to move. For morning walks, it’s pretty uplifting, good feeling music that wakes me up nice and slow.


With the new move into a home from apartment living, the convenience factor is definitely trumping that quality time. At the end of the day, it’s the time spent with the dogs doing something I know they love and know is keeping them healthy that keeps me going!