Did you know that the most common orthopedic injury in dogs is a torn ACL, or anterior (cranial) cruciate ligament? (1).
Blew my mind too.
I’ve had some friends whose dogs experienced an ACL tear and received reconstructive surgery, and I have to say that even with me just watching from afar, the recovery process can be quite arduous!
So when I learned that there are different options for treating a torn ACL in dogs, it only seemed fair to share.
Why is a torn ACL in dogs so common?
First of all, let’s set the record straight. 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). Potato, pota-toe. For the purposes of this article about dogs, I will refer to the CCL.
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. 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, so in dogs, a torn ACL is called cranial cruciate ligament disease (CCLD).
In humans, an ACL tear usually results from a 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 minor stresses to the joint, such as obesity, physical inactivity, old age, breed, etc.
How do you know if your dog has a torn ACL?
A dog’s torn ACL/CCL symptoms may not appear overnight because this is usually a slow process, occurring over time.
That being said, some telltale signs 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), pain, stiffness, muscle atrophy on the affected leg, decreased range of motion, unwillingness to play, a popping noise in the hind leg, and swelling on the inside of the shin bone. (2,3).
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 me when I say: 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!
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 ASAP.
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.
Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery is one common choice of surgeons, which involves changing the angle of the dog’s tibia bone to stabilize the joint. There are some other surgical options, but for the purposes of this article we are going to move on to other non-conventional treatments.
Joint Supplements for Dogs
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, canine-specific rehabilitation, and custom knee braces.
Using anti-inflammatory medications long-term is not ideal for other aspects of your dog’s health. You can read all about that here.
Keeping your dog comfortable and tending to their joint health is crucial if they have suffered an injury.
An uncommon treatment method involves the best dog joint supplement on the market, Canine Cush. We say this because the ingredients have been hand-selected based on novel research for their powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
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 sure to help your dog’s joints function optimally.