Torn Cranial Cruciate Ligament in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

All pet owners wish for a healthy and happy life for their dogs. But sometimes, injuries can’t be avoided. That’s why it is important to act quickly and decisively to nurse your four-legged friend back to health.

One of the most common orthopedic injuries for dogs is a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). This is a similar injury to an ACL tear in humans. CCL repair in dogs has increased throughout the past few years. CCL surgeries are required most often in large breed, female dogs.

Cruciate ligament injuries don’t come out of thin air. Your dog may be dealing with issues in his legs leading up to a tear. Owners should be meeting with veterinary specialists who can keep you informed about your dog’s health and the latest advances in technology to aid in any potential surgical procedures later.

Below is more information about how to treat dog knee injuries.

What is the cranial cruciate ligament?

The CCL is a connecting piece of tissue in the knee. It connects the dog’s tibia – the bone beneath the knee – to the femur, the bone above the knee. The ligament helps stabilize the lower and the upper leg.

Do dogs have ACLs in their front legs?

Technically, dogs only have knees in their rear legs. A dog’s front legs have more in common with the elbow of a human. Some people do use the terms ACL and CCL interchangeably.

What kind of dogs get CCL injuries?

While an injury could occur to any dog’s hind leg ligaments, there are certain breeds in which the risk increases. Labradors, Rottweilers and German shepherds are among the larger, active dogs in which these injuries are more common. In smaller dogs, Bichon Frises, poodles and cocker spaniels are among the breeds more susceptible to this injury.

What are the symptoms of a CCL injury?

There are several things to keep an eye out for if you suspect your pet has an issue with its cruciate ligament. Dog symptoms may appear gradually, but often include:

  • Stiffness: In the aftermath of exercise, your dog may seem stiff after a rest period.
  • Difficulty in movement: Your dog may struggle to lay down or get up.
  • Swelling: Your dog may experience swelling around the knee or pain to the touch.
  • Lameness: Your dog may limp or not be able to put its full weight on the leg.

Will my dog need an X-ray?

There are several methods utilized by experienced veterinary professionals to determine the extent of an injury to the cruciate ligament in dogs. X-rays are one potential option to explore the extent of damage inside the knee and to find out if there is any fluid or arthritis within.

In addition to X-rays, your doctor may perform what is known as a “drawer sign.” As they hold your dog’s femur in place, they will move the tibia out. If it “slides” in a way similar to opening a drawer, it’s a good sign your pet is suffering from a CCL injury.

What are the treatment options?

While you may initially worry about the problems with a cruciate ligament tear for dogs, treatment options are plentiful and safe. If you have a smaller or more sedentary dog, your vet may recommend a knee brace. In more active dogs or ones that weigh more than 25 pounds, surgery is often considered best. The choices include:

  • Lateral suture: Replacing the torn CCL with an artificial ligament.
  • Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO): This procedure cuts and levels the tibial plateau, eliminating the need for the ligament.
  • Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): A procedure where the top of the tibia is cut, moved forward, and stabilized with a metal plate.

What is my dog’s knee surgery recovery period?

Each dog reacts differently to surgery. Discuss with your vet a post-surgery strategy to ensure your dog’s leg heals properly. Generally, it takes 2-3 weeks for your dog to be able to bear weight on its injured leg. Normal activity returns 2-3 months after surgery, though you will likely have a check-in after six weeks to check your pet’s status.

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