Confessions
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A Set of Puppy Stairs Broke My Dog's Leg -- And My Wallet

How dog steps ended up costing me nearly $500 in vet bills (and more than a few nights' sleep).

 |  Dec 27th 2012  |   11 Contributions


At 14 weeks of age, my puppy Dusty was doing all the things a puppy does: pulling magazines out of the magazine rack and running around the house with them, pulling leaves off the fern in the kitchen, running at lightning speed around the family room, and promptly getting under your feet when you enter a room to greet you excitedly.

She mastered most of the tasks that required her to think, too. She learned how to “sit” and “stay." She also learned to ring a bell attached to the back door to inform us that she needed to go outside to potty. She enjoyed taking long naps and sleeping through the night in her crate. So, we thought we would step up the training because she was grasping everything quickly.

Or, should I say, she mastered the tasks that she was interested in mastering.

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"I am down here. I would like to be up there."

One day my longtime friend, Duane, had come to town for a conference. As usual, he came to town early to visit with us for a couple of days and provide me with my annual humiliation on the golf course. Dusty, being the ever-present social butterfly, was all over Duane. She wanted to follow him around the house, check out his suitcase and laptop, and play fetch with him. Naturally, when Duane sat on the couch to watch some television, she wanted to sit next to him. However, Dusty was, and still is, too small to jump on the couch. We could tell that this was frustrating for her.

About a week before Duane’s arrival, we’d purchased some puppy steps and had begun teaching her to use them. They’re very nice steps, sturdy and carpeted, and the top step met perfectly at the top of the couch cushion. Dusty was grasping the concept of using the steps very well. We would place a small treat on each rung of the step to entice her to use each step on her way up to the couch and back down.

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The stairs in question.

On the night Duane had come to visit, my wife Kim decided to set the steps against the couch so that Dusty could join us on the couch while we watched television. As Kim placed the steps next to the couch, she called for Dusty to come. Dusty came running toward the steps more quickly than usual, and as she reached the top step, she slipped off of the steps and fell to the carpeted floor. Thankfully, the steps aren’t that high. And, because the carpet is relatively thick, it shouldn’t have hurt her at all.

However, when she fell, her back leg temporarily stayed on the top step while the rest of her body fell to the floor. She let out an excruciatingly loud yelp, followed by a series of cries and squeals. It was the kind of yell that pierces a puppy parent right through the heart. I ran over to pick Dusty up from the floor and provide her comfort. My wife Kim shouted, “Oh no, I’ve broken my puppy!”

We immediately took her to our vet, only five minutes down the road. Fortunately, he has evening and weekend hours. He examined Dusty and felt sure that it was a sprain and would heal in a week or less. He gave us some pain medication for Dusty and sent us on our way.

The next day, Dusty still wasn’t putting any pressure on her leg. So we returned to our vet for some X-rays. He said it might be a small fracture, but that it might still be a bad sprain. However, after five days had passed and Dusty didn’t show any signs of improvement, he referred us to an orthopedic specialist.

The specialist examined on Dusty and took another set of X-rays -- comparing a digital X-ray to the originals. It didn’t take him long to diagnose the situation. Dusty did have a hairline fracture slightly below her back left knee.

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Broken puppy.

He outfitted her with a hard splint around her leg. Because she seemed like she was still uncomfortable, we gave her some of her pain medication to help her rest. A few hours into a peaceful night’s sleep, Dusty awakened and began to vomit. Each time, I cleaned up the mess while Kim comforted her. We tried six times over a two-hour period to doze off, only to be awakened by Dusty vomiting again. So we headed to the emergency animal hospital. The good news? The orthopedic specialist worked at the animal emergency center, so it had all of Dusty’s records. The bad news? It was 3 a.m. and we were exhausted.

They examined Dusty and, finding nothing else wrong with her, gave her an injection for nausea. 

The specialist said it would take a few weeks for the leg to heal. He felt confident the healing would be quick. We scheduled a follow-up appointment for three weeks out. In the meantime, the splint never slowed our puppy down. She would lift it slightly while running through the house. She would stand in a pirouette pose, making every ballerina envious, while eating her meals. I joked that she looked like a pirate with a peg leg. (My wife failed to see the humor.)

After three weeks, we were all eager to get the positive news and have the splint removed. Kim and I waited in the lobby while they removed it and X-rayed Dusty’s leg. The wait seemed to take forever, and we gasped when we heard our little puppy yelp from the back room in disapproval of the vet examining her leg.

We were escorted into the exam room. The orthopedic specialist entered. However, Dusty wasn’t with him. We knew it wasn’t the good news we were anticipating. He said that he was very surprised at what he saw in the X-ray, because the fracture had not healed. Rather than doing anything drastic (like surgery), he suggested putting the hard splint back on her leg and he’d examine it again in a month.

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Try telling a puppy she needs to cool it on the playing in order to heal.

We managed for another four weeks without much incident. We survived the 20 family members who visited over the Thanksgiving holiday. We also survived placing a plastic baggie -- we called it her “boot" -- over the splint to keep it dry outside. We even survived the constant tapping sound as Dusty ran across the floors with the hard splint hitting the surface.

Finally, the four weeks passed. We were confident that her leg had healed. The specialist took off the splint, X-rayed the leg and ... it was 100 percent healed. What a relief to all of us.

Dusty is doing well now and has no pain. She still lifts the leg slightly when she walks, because it’s not up to full strength yet. But she’s using it more each day. Eight weeks from the original incident of falling off the puppy steps, this ordeal was finally over. Our $25 puppy steps ended up costing us $499.53, thanks to vet bills. 

Note to self: Picking up a four-pound puppy and placing her on the couch with us to watch television would’ve been so much easier. It got me thinking that puppy steps should come equipped with guard rails.

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