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Dog ACL - What is it and how is it treated?

Many people are familiar with ACL injuries in athletes but did you know your dog can also tear their ACL? Read on to find out more from our Riverside County vets on what the differences are between ACL injuries in dogs and people, and how ACL injuries are treated in dogs.  

What is the ACL in dogs called?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin connective tissue in the middle of our knees which connects the lower leg bone to the upper leg bone.

In dogs we call this connective tissue is called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). As with a person's ACL, the CCL connects the dog's tibia (bone below the knee) to their femur (bone above the knee).

One of the primary differences between a person's ACL and a dog's CCL is that the dog's CCL is always load bearing when standing, walking, or running due to the angle of the dog's back legs.

What are the differences between ACL & CCL injuries?

ACL tears are especially common in athletes. These injuries are typically caused by an acute trauma caused by a sudden movement, such as a change of direction while running or jumping. 

Dog CCL injuries typically come on gradually rather than suddenly, and tend to become progressively worse with activity. 

What are the symptoms of an ACL injury in dogs?

It's important to note that, because people are accustomed to ACL injuries, it is common to refer to CCL injuries in dogs as an ACL injury. 

The most common signs of an ACL injury in dogs are:

  • Lameness and limping in the hind legs.
  • Stiffness, often most noticeable after rest, following exercise.
  • Difficulty rising up off the floor or jumping.

If your dog is suffering from a mild ACL injury, it is likely to become worse over time with symptoms becoming more pronounced. If left untreated a mild ACL injury will likely lead to a very painful tear.

Unfortunately, dogs with a single torn ACL tend to favor the non-injured leg during activity, which often results in the second leg becoming injured as well. It is estimated that 60% of dogs with a single ACL injury will later injure the other knee.

How are dog ACL injuries treated?

There are several effective treatments available for dogs with ACL injuries. Your vet will consider your dog's lifestyle and energy level, as well as his or her age, size, and weight, when determining the best treatment for your dog's injury.

Can a dog live with a torn ACL?

While dogs can live with a torn ACL, their quality of life is affected. Getting your pup to the vet immediately is important, as a torn ACL without treatment can require surgery.

What are the available ACL treatment options for dogs?

Knee Brace:

  • A knee brace is a non-surgical option for treating an ACL injury that may help to stabilize the knee joint and give the ligament time to scar over and repair itself. To be effective, a knee brace should be used in conjunction with significantly reduced activity levels, which can be difficult for many dogs. 

Extracapsular Repair - Lateral Suture

  • This type of ACL surgery is usually reserved for small to medium-sized dogs weighing less than 50 pounds, and it entails replacing the torn ligament with an artificial ligament on the outside of the joint. 

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy - TPLO

  • TPLO surgery eliminates the need for the CCL ligament by cutting and flattening the tibial plateau (the top section of the tibia), 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 with a stainless steel metal plate in its new position.

How long will it take for my dog to recover from ACL surgery?

Some dogs will recover faster than others after ACL surgery. However, recovery from ACL surgery is always a lengthy process! While your dog may be able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, full recovery and return to normal activities may take 16 weeks or longer.

It's important to pay attention to your dog's healing process and follow your vet's advice. Never force your dog to do exercises if they resist as this can lead to re-injuring the leg.

If your dog is showing signs of a torn or injured ACL contact your Riverside County vet to book an appointment.

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Banning Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients. Our experienced and compassionate vets care about the health of animals across Riverside County. Contact us today in order to book your first appointment.

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