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ACL in Dogs

Your dog tearing an ACL (CCL) can be a very stressful experience for both of you. Surgery may be required. In this post, our Perry vets discuss the ACL in dogs and how injuries can be treated.

A Dog's ACL

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is similar to a human's ACL. It is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg that connects the shin bone to the thigh bone and helps the knee move properly. 

The CCL/ACL can be torn or injured during exercise, although this can also often develop over some time and lead to knee pain. If your dog has an injured cruciate and continues to play, run and jump, the injury is likely to worsen and symptoms will become more painful and pronounced. 

CCL/ACL Injuries in Dogs

Ensuring your four-legged friend's knees remain healthy and pain-free is key to providing your dog with an active lifestyle. 

However, while you might find several high-quality dog foods and supplements that may help keep your dog's joints in good condition, cruciate injuries (sometimes referred to as ACL injuries) can occur without warning and can cause your dog a great deal of pain and discomfort. 

Cause of Pain Due to ACL Injuries in Dogs 

When your pooch is suffering from a torn ACL, pain arises from the knee's instability and a motion we call 'tibial thrust'. 

Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by weight being transmitted up your dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee. This causes the tibia to "thrust" forward about the dog's thigh bone (femur). This forward thrust movement happens due to the top of the tibia being sloped, and your dog's injured ACL being unable to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring. 

Signs of an ACL Injury in Dogs

When a dog is suffering from knee pain due to an injured ACL, they will not be able to walk or run normally. They'll likely also exhibit other symptoms, such as:

  • Stiffness following exercise 
  • Limping in their hind legs 
  • Difficulties rising off of the floor 

If you notice a distinct incident that causes your dog to appear injured immediately, contact our Perry vets to arrange emergency veterinary care right away. 

Treatment for Dogs With ACL Injuries

Many pet parents concerned about their pup's long-term prognosis have asked us, "Can a dog live with a torn ACL?"

Treating a dog's ACL, or more accurately, CCL injury, with a knee brace is one non-surgical option that may help to stabilize the knee joint for some dogs. The support a knee brace will provide may allow the ligament time to develop scar tissue and repair itself. Treating CCL injuries through the use of a knee brace may be successful for dogs when combined with restricted activity. 

That said, ACL injuries typically do not heal themselves. If your canine companion is showing signs of a torn ACL, it's important to see a vet and have the condition officially diagnosed so that treatment can start before symptoms become more severe and more painful. At that point, you'll have the opportunity to discuss whether surgery is right for your canine companion. 

Depending on the circumstances and your dog's breed, size, and age, your vet may recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog return to an active lifestyle. 

TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy

TPLO is more complicated than ELSS surgery but typically very successful in treating ACL injuries in dogs. This surgery option aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's ACL. The procedure involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (the tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau to change its angle. A metal plate is then added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Over several months, your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen.

TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement

TTA is similar to TPLO but tends not to be used as often to treat ACL injuries in dogs. This knee surgery involves surgically separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section up and forward. This helps to prevent much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front section of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the tibia) are excellent candidates for this type of ACL surgery.

ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization

This ACL surgery is typically used to treat dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing the tibial thrust with a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ACL has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is fairly quick and uncomplicated with an impressive success rate in smaller dogs.

Choosing an ACL Surgery

Following an examination of your dog's physical state by your vet, they will recommend the best option for your pup after considering their age, size, medical history, etc.

ACL Surgery Recovery Process

No matter which treatment option you decide upon, healing from ACL surgery is a long process. With TPLO surgery, many dogs can walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery however, a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or more. It is essential to follow your vet's post-operative instructions to help your dog to return to normal activities as quickly and safely as possible without risking re-injury. Allowing your dog to return to an active lifestyle too soon after surgery could lead to injuring the knee all over again.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of an ACL injury? Contact our Perry vets to have your four-legged friend diagnosed and treated.

New Patients Welcome

Looking for quality veterinary care in a warm and friendly atmosphere? Westmoreland & Slappey Animal Hospital in Perry, GA is accepting new patients! Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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