We've all been there — one wrong step and your knee is tweaked, your ankle is twisted, or you don't quite know what happened, but you're limping for days. When it comes to knees, it's just as easy for your dog to come up lame when they are running, jumping, or just playing in the backyard. Whenever you think your dog may be injured or in pain, your first step should be taking a trip to the veterinarian.
After an examination, x-ray, and maybe other testing, your vet may diagnose your dog with a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tear. They may also call it an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. In dogs, the CCL is the same thing as the ACL, but some vets use the term ACL because most people have heard of it. In both the human and the dog knee, the ligament attaches from the back of the femur, and crosses through to the front of the tibia.
What causes a torn ACL in dogs?
While certain breeds may be more susceptible to tearing knee ligaments (including Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and golden retrievers), other risk factors include:
- gender (tears tend to occur more often among spayed females)
- size of dog (typically more common among larger dogs)
When a dog has these risk factors, they can tear a knee ligament. Unlike in humans, the ligament has probably been deteriorating for some period of time.
What are the symptoms of a torn ACL in dogs?
It depends on the severity of the tear, but your dog could just limp a bit or not be able to put any weight on their leg. Your dog may also have swelling on the inside of their knee.
How can I treat or provide relief for a torn ACL? Can it heal on its own?
If your dog hurts their knee, they're going to put more weight on the remaining three legs, so rest is important. If you live in a two-story house, set up a ramp or restrict your dog to the downstairs for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, the best treatment for a torn ACL is surgery. Without surgically repairing the ligament, long-term instability and degenerative issues will likely occur. Your vet will prescribe a non-steroidal drug (NSAID) and a rehabilitation program to help your dog get back on its feet. NSAIDs are an important component of recovering from surgeries because they help with pain and inflammation. They can come in a couple of different forms, either tablets or soft chews.
What does post-operative care for a torn ACL look like?
Your veterinarian will provide you with a detailed instruction sheet for post-operative care, as well as rehab. The rehabilitation component of recovering from the ACL tear is just as important as the surgery, so you will want to establish clear goals and expectations with your veterinarian from the start.