ACL Injuries & Your Dog's Knees
Keeping your canine companion's knees healthy and pain-free is essential to providing your dog with an active lifestyle.
However, while there are a number of high-quality dog foods and supplements that may help keep your dog's joints in good condition, cruciate injuries (or ACL injuries as they are sometimes called) can happen without warning and can cause your dog a great deal of discomfort.
What is the cranial cruciate ligament in dogs?
The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL, or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg that works to connect the shin bone to the thigh bone and allow for proper movement of the knee.
Knee pain caused by a torn ACL can occur suddenly during exercise, but it is more likely to develop gradually over time. If your dog has an injured cruciate and continues to jump, run, and play, the injury will likely worsen and the symptoms will become more painful and pronounced.
What causes the dog's knee pain?
When your pup is suffering from a torn ACL, the pain arises from the knee's instability and a motion called 'tibial thrust'.
Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by weight transmission up and across your dog's shin bone (tibia), causing the tibia to "thrust" forward in relation to the dog's thigh bone (femur). This forward thrust movement occurs because the tibia's top is sloped, and your pup's injured ACL is unable to prevent the unwanted movement.
What are the signs and symptoms of ACL injuries in dogs
If your dog is suffering from knee pain due to an injured ALC they will not be able to run or walk normally and will likely display other symptoms such as:
- Difficulties rising up off of the floor
- Limping in their hind legs
- Stiffness following exercise
What treatment is available for ACL injuries in dogs?
ACL injuries rarely heal on their own. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of a torn ACL, you should take him or her to the vet to have the condition diagnosed so that treatment can begin before the symptoms worsen and become more painful.
If your dog has a torn ACL your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog to return to an active lifestyle.
ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization
This ACL surgery is typically used to treat dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing the tibial thrust with a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ACL has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is fairly quick and uncomplicated with a good success rate in smaller dogs.
TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
TPLO is more complicated than ELSS surgery but typically very successful in treating ACL injuries in dogs. This surgery option aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's ACL. The procedure involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (the tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. A metal plate is then added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Over the course of several months, your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen.
TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
TTA is similar to TPLO but is less commonly used to treat ACL injuries in dogs. The front part of the tibia is surgically separated from the rest of the bone, and then a spacer is added between the two sections to move the front section up and forward. This helps to prevent the majority of the tibia thrust movement. A bone plate will be attached to keep the front section of the tibia in place until the bone has healed sufficiently. This type of ACL surgery is ideal for dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the tibia).
Which type of ACL surgery is right for my dog?
Following a thorough examination of your dog's knee movement, and geometry, your vet will consider your pup's age, weight, size, and lifestyle, then recommend the best treatment for your dog.
How long will it take for my dog to recover from ACL surgery?
Healing from ACL surgery is a lengthy process regardless of which treatment option you choose. Many dogs can walk as soon as 24 hours after TPLO surgery, but full recovery and return to normal activities can take 12 - 16 weeks or longer. Following your veterinarian's post-operative instructions is critical in assisting your dog in returning to normal activities as quickly and safely as possible without risking re-injury. Allowing your dog to return to an active lifestyle too soon after surgery may result in re-injury of the knee.
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.