Published: September 2020 | Updated: October 2022
Did you know that the most common orthopedic injury in dogs is a torn ACL, or anterior (cranial) cruciate ligament?
In humans, the ligament in question is called the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). In dogs, the same ligament is called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL).
This ligament is a thin piece of connective tissue in the middle of our knee (our dog’s stifle joint) and it tends to receive lots of press, especially among active people.
So why is this such a common injury in our dogs too?
First, let’s learn a bit more about this ligament and the dog’s leg anatomy.
Why is a Torn ACL in Dogs So Common?
A dog’s hind leg has 3 large joints: the hip, stifle, and hock. The CCL is one of the most important stabilizing structures in the stifle joint of the dog (the middle joint in the back leg).
The dog’s stifle joint is under constant stress because of its physiological angle, which causes the joint to always carry load.
In humans, an ACL injury is usually due to ligament rupture, often resulting from trauma. You know the story.
“I stepped off the flight of stairs wrong.”
“I was in a ski wreck.”
“I was playing football.”
But in dogs, an injured CCL is typically a result of degenerative processes, which occur due to accumulated, repetitive, minor stresses to the joint.
Risk factors for a torn CCL in dogs include:
- Physical inactivity
- Old age
In dogs, the amount of damage to the ligament varies based on the injury. Long term, a torn CCL in dogs almost always results in the development of arthritis. Veterinary medicine refers to this process as cranial cruciate ligament disease (CCLD).
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has a Torn ACL?
A dog’s torn ACL symptoms may not appear overnight because this is usually a slow process, occurring over time.
That being said, some telltale signs that you should visit the veterinarian include:
- Hind end lameness that varies day to day
- Trouble jumping onto the couch, bed or into the car
- Less activity
- Sitting with one leg out to the side (vs. sitting square on both legs)
- Muscle atrophy on the affected leg
- Decreased range of motion
- Unwillingness to play
- A popping noise in the hind leg
- Swelling on the inside of the shin bone
If the dog’s CCL was only partially torn and then completely ruptures one day, you will likely see serious symptoms, such as your dog hopping on 3 legs, quickly.
While certain dog breeds seem to be more affected by CCLD, the most important risk factors are obesity and lack of exercise.
If there is one thing you remember from this article, please hear this: Food is not love. Feed your dog high quality food at a healthy level for their age, weight, breed, and activity level and make sure that exercise is a part of their daily routine.
If you are unsure which diet is best for your dog, consult a canine nutritionist or holistic veterinarian to determine what’s best. They can provide you with foods that offer anti-inflammatory properties to top off your dog’s kibble dish or guide you through feeding raw foods. Whichever you decide, they can lead you down the right path.
TPLO Surgery for Dogs
If your dog is experiencing lameness for more than a day or two and is clearly in pain, it is a good idea to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
If your dog is diagnosed with a torn CCL (through an x-ray, MRI, gait analysis, etc.), there are a few options.
The first decision is typically whether or not to perform surgery. This decision and others to follow will depend heavily on the degree to which your dog’s CCL is injured, so it is critical to have an open discussion with your veterinarian.
Surgical treatment of CCLD has a very good track record for recovery, however, the major concern, with or without surgery, in a dog with a damaged CCL, is the development of arthritis. This means that although the surgery may make some aspects better, there are other areas that may worsen.
Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery is one common choice of veterinarians, which involves changing the angle of the dog’s tibia bone to stabilize the joint, eliminating the need for the cranial cruciate ligament.
Other surgical options include a lateral suture technique which replaces the torn ligament with a synthetic alternative on the outside of the joint. The Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA) surgery also manipulates the angles of the knee through the use of a metal plate.
With all surgeries, there are of course, pros, cons and risks, but a key consideration is the length of time needed for recovery post-operation. In many cases, dogs are required to remain inactive for 8 to 12 weeks, which can be mentally arduous for both dog and dog owner.
Alternative Treatments for Dogs With a Torn ACL
Whether you and your vet decide that your dog requires surgery or not, there are some long-term considerations for you to implement in order to slow down the progression of arthritis.
Again, treatment of CCLD depends heavily on your dog’s degree of injury. However, if you decide against surgery, some common home treatments for CCLD include:
- Limiting activity
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (not sustainable in the long-term, but could be used for short-term relief)
- Canine-specific rehabilitation
- Custom knee braces
Keeping your dog comfortable and tending to their joint health is crucial if they have suffered an injury.
An uncommon, but highly effective joint supplement for dogs, Canine Cush, is also something to consider as part of your recovery protocol.
The ingredients in this dog joint supplement have been hand-selected based on novel research for their powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
There are four critical ingredients in Canine Cush, including:
Hemp powder: The hemp powder (CBD) in Canine Cush is THC-free and acts as a natural pain reliever.
Eggshell membrane: Eggshell membrane contains glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen and hyaluronic acid, which are all necessary building blocks for connective tissue, cartilage, and synovial fluid (the fluid that lubricates and cushions the joints).
Boswellia: Boswellia aids in joint movement and helps to maintain the cartilage.
- Curcumin: Curcumin reduces inflammation, aids in muscle recovery, and improves joint function.
CBD to Aid in Joint Health
Whether or not your dog has surgery, CBD can help with your dog’s joint health. The benefits of CBD include:
Pain relief: CBD reduces pain and discomfort in joints by blocking the receptors that are responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. It also reduces inflammation, which is one of the main causes of joint pain.
Anti-inflammatory properties: CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce swelling, redness and pain in joints caused by arthritis or other inflammatory diseases.
- Anti-spasmodic properties: CBD can also be used to treat muscle spasms because it relaxes muscles without causing sedation or drowsiness like other medications do.
To protect your dog from the development of arthritis (before or after a torn CCL) and regardless of whether or not surgery is performed, Canine Cush is key for helping your dog’s joints function optimally.