You've likely heard of human athletes suffering from a torn ACL. Due to their anatomy, dogs can also suffer from a similar—often quite painful—knee injury. Today, our Argyle vets explain what happens when a dog tears their "ACL" and why for dogs with a torn ACL, surgery is often the recommended treatment.
The ACL in Humans & The CCL in Dogs
In people, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin connective tissue in the middle of our knees.
In dogs, this connective tissue is called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) and it connects your pet's tibia (bone below the knee) to their femur (bone above the knee). So, although there are differences, the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) could be considered your dog's ACL.
That said, one main difference between a person's ACL and your pup's CCL is that for dog's this ligament is load-bearing because their knee is always bent when they are standing.
Differences Between ACL Injuries in People and CCL Injuries in Dogs
ACL injuries in people are very common in athletes such as basketball and soccer players. These injuries tend to occur in humans due to an acute trauma resulting from a sudden movement such as a jump or change of direction.
In dogs, CCL injuries can be considered partial tears or complete tears. Partial tears occur gradually as the ligament becomes progressively worn down with activity. Complete tears happen when a dog makes a sudden movement or lands a jump incorrectly. Complete tears are often the result of partial tears that have not received any treatment.
Signs That Your Dog May Have an ACL Injury
The most common signs of a CCL injury in dogs include:
- Stiffness (typically most noticeable after rest, following exercise).
- Difficulty rising and jumping.
- Hind leg lameness and limping.
Continued activity on a mildly injured leg will cause the injury to worsen and symptoms to become more pronounced.
If your dog is suffering from a single torn CCL you may notice that they begin favoring the non-injured leg during activity. This often leads to the injury of the second knee. Approximately 30-50% of dogs with a single CCL injury will tear their other CCL within a few years.
Treatment For ACL Injuries in Dogs
If your dog has been diagnosed with a cruciate injury, there are a number of treatment options available from knee braces to surgery. When determining the best treatment for your pup's injury, your veterinarian will take your dog's age, size, and weight into consideration as well as your pup's lifestyle and energy level.
Types of Treatments & ACL Surgery For Dogs
Treatment options for dogs depend on many factors including the size and weight of the dog and the severity of the injury. Often surgery is required to stabilize the knee joint, restore mobility, and prevent further injury. Your vet will be able to recommend the best treatment option for your dog's situation. Some treatment options are:
- Treating a CCL injury with a knee brace is a non-surgical option that may help to stabilize the knee joint in some dogs. The support provided by a knee brace gives the ligament time to scar over and repair itself. Treating CCL injuries through the use of a knee brace may be successful in some dogs when combined with restricted activity. Non-surgical options tend to work better for smaller dogs who do not have as much weight resting on the injured leg.
Extracapsular Repair - Lateral Suture
- This surgery involves replacing the torn cruciate ligament with an artificial ligament on the outside of the joint. This ACL surgery for dogs is typically recommended for small to medium-sized breeds weighing less than 50lbs.
Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy - TPLO
- TPLO is a popular and very successful orthopedic surgery that works to eliminate the need for the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) by cutting and flattening the tibial plateau, then stabilizing it in a new position with a plate and screws.
Tibial Tuberosity Advancement - TTA
- TTA surgery also eliminates the need for the CCL ligament by cutting the top of the tibia, moving it forward, and then stabilizing it in its new position with a stainless steel metal plate.
Recovery from ACL Surgery
Whichever treatment you choose for your dog, recovery from an ACL injury is a long process. Complete recovery usually takes about 6 months and it's important to not push your dog during their recovery process. Your dog will require ample amounts of rest and physical therapy may be recommended to help them heal.
To avoid re-injury following surgery be sure to follow your vet's instructions closely and attend regular follow-up appointments so that your vet can monitor your pup's recovery.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.