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3 Easy Ways to Support the Canine Stifle Joint

Published: October 2020 | Updated: December 2022

The canine stifle joint consists of three bones in the hind limb, where the upper and lower bones of the leg and the patella meet. 

The stifle is considered to be the knee of the canine hindlimb; however, it looks a little different from the human knee. 

The dog’s “knee” is a little higher up in the leg than in humans and will appear to be just below a dog’s torso when they are standing. Similarly to the human knee, the stifle is a complex system of many bones, ligaments, and tendons that all must work together properly. 

This complex joint is important when it comes to your dog’s mobility, and injuries at this location can cause pain and difficulty moving around. 

Canine Stifle Anatomy

The stifle joint consists of three bones: femur, patella, and tibia, which are connected by two lateral ligaments: cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) and caudal cruciate ligament (CCL). 

  • The CCL is important in providing stability to the knee joint while it bends and straightens during exercise or activity. A rupture or tear in this ligament can cause instability in the knee joint, which may result in lameness or pain when exercising.
  • The femur is a long bone that makes up most of your dog's upper leg. It connects with the hip joint, which connects with the pelvis. 
  • The patella is a small sesamoid bone located on the front of your dog's hock joint. 
  • The tibia runs down the center of your dog's lower leg and connects with the foot pads through tendons. 
  • A collateral ligament attaches each side of your dog's stifle joint to its respective femur, preventing dislocation during movement.

The CCL is important in maintaining stability in the stifle joint, however, over time, the cranial cruciate ligament can degenerate and become weak, eventually stretching, tearing, or even completely rupturing. 

When the weakening of this ligament occurs, the bones can begin to grind together, damaging the cartilage and leading to osteoarthritis. 

Canine Arthritis

Arthritis is a common cause of lameness in dogs, but there are many others, including hip dysplasia, joint infection, muscle strains and ruptures, ligament tears, and nerve damage. 

The signs of arthritis in dogs can be hard to tell apart from those of other conditions. It’s important for you to know what the signs are so that you can seek medical attention for your pet early on.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs, and it can lead to extreme pain for your dog. 

Canine arthritis affects all breeds, but some are more susceptible than others. German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers are among the most likely to develop this condition. Older dogs are also more likely to experience canine arthritis, but dogs of any age can show signs. 

When ligaments fail and joints don’t operate properly, the grinding of bone on bone leads to degradation of the cartilage, reduced lubrication, and eventual damage to the bone.

When these painful results occur, an arthritic dog will likely begin to show symptoms such as limping, being slow to get up and down, and being reluctant to exercise. If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, take him to your veterinarian right away. 

Your veterinarian may want to do some tests to make sure that your pet does not have any other conditions like hip dysplasia, spinal disk disease, or joint problems. 

Once a dog has osteoarthritis, treatments may include pain relievers, rehabilitation therapy, and even tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgery. However, these are mainly for the management of pain and to improve quality of life. 

Once cartilage has been severely damaged, it cannot be completely repaired. Therefore, it is important to help support your dog’s joints throughout their lives to lower their chances of developing osteoarthritis.

3 Tips for Preventing Stifle Arthritis in Dogs

  1. Each dog should be fed a well-balanced diet that is formulated for their stage of life in order to promote proper bone and joint development, especially for large breeds. It is critical to keep your dog lean and at the proper body condition because obesity can place undue stress on the joints.  

    A diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids helps maintain healthy skin and coat, which helps prevent infection and promote healing from injuries like cuts or scrapes. Also consider adding whole, small oily fishes like anchovies or sardines to their food for additional support for their joints!

  2. Proper exercise (without too much concussion on the joints) can actually promote range of motion and decrease stiffness. A daily walk is a great way to keep your pup active while strengthening muscles around this important joint!

  3. Joint supplements, like RocketDog’s Canine Cush, can be fed throughout the life of the dog to promote health and wellbeing. Ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid support joint health and cartilage regeneration, while CBD can reduce inflammation. 

Take Home Messages:

  • The stifle of the dog is comparable to the human knee and is one of the most important joints for locomotion.
  • If the cranial cruciate ligament in the “knee” begins to degrade, it can lead to osteoarthritis, which may cause pain and difficulty moving. 
  • By providing the proper food, exercise, and maintaining your dog’s weight you can help prevent osteoarthritis. 
  • If your dog has a history of trauma or joint disease, it is important to treat these conditions before starting any treatment for osteoarthritis.
  • Providing your dog with a bed with support will help keep their joints aligned properly so that they don’t have to put too much pressure on them when they get up or lie down.
  • Going one step further, providing a supplement like Canine Cush can help promote healthy joints and lead to a long and healthy life for your furry friend.

Read More:

What is the Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL)and Why Does it Rupture?

Activity Modifications for Dogs with Arthritis

Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Risk Factors for Canine Osteoarthritis and Its Predisposing Arthropathies