It is a normal day at the dog park, your dog leaps and bounds to catch a ball, lands a little funny and you notice your furry friend stands up to walk away with a slight limp. There is a high chance your pet has experienced a tear in the ACL. Torn ACL injuries are the most common musculoskeletal issues orthopedic veterinary clinics see in our canine friends. The cost of the corrective surgery for such a tear often has owners wondering if a dog can live with a torn ACL, or if surgery is absolutely necessary.
Our dogs are a source of great love and companionship, so when injury shows up in their bodies we want to make sure that we respond with love and compassion. If you observe a consistent limp in your dog, or a noticeable difference in your pet’s movement, it may be a compensatory measure as a result of an ACL tear. Understanding the nature of your furry friend’s knee joint and the variety of treatment options available will help you choose a healing path for your pet that is born from knowledge and compassion.
Explore the anatomy of a dog’s knee, the cause of ACL tears in dogs, and the wide variety of treatment options available. The more information you are able to obtain regarding ACL tears in your dog will help to inform your decision to choose a healing modality that is suitable for both you and your pet. In most cases, barring obesity and full ruptures, your dog will not only survive ACL tears, but will experience a full recovery without invasive surgery.
What Is An ACL Tear In A Dog: ACL VS CCL
The anatomical structure of the connective tissue in the human knee is called, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), in dogs however, this connective tissue is called cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). For the purpose of this article we will assume the colloquial term of ACL, even as we refer to the knee injury in dogs. This knee ligament in dogs connects the femur bone (the upper thigh bone) to the tibia (the bone below the knee) in their hind legs.
You have probably noticed that when your dog is standing, their knee is always slightly bent. The anatomical structure of the dog’s hind legs is quite different from their friendly bipedal owners. The ACL in a dog is always ‘load’ bearing and they are quick to spring into action in a moment’s notice, this makes the ligament susceptible to injury.
Typically, when ACL tears are observed in humans it is a result of a one-time blunt trauma, while participating in sports or activities. This is not so with dogs, often there is a minor tear that over time worsens with continued use. If a dog is experiencing a minor ACL tear, the dog will begin to bear more weight in the non-injured knee as a means of protection, this compensatory behavior will often lead to injury in both knees.
ACL tears in dogs generally begin as small, subtle injuries rather than a one-time trauma, it is therefore often possible to begin to attend to the injury early on and avoid invasive surgery. If you notice that your dog is limping slightly, it is worth investigating if the dog has incurred some trauma to the knee and is experiencing a slight ACL tear so that you can begin to take healing action in the early stage of injury.
The experience of a dog with a torn ACL is substantially different from the human one. So yes, a dog can live with a torn ACL, particularly if the owner of the dog is able to notice an adaptable limp in their dog in the early stages of injury. It is likely that the ACL tear in your dog will heal through alternative treatments easily performed at home without turning to invasive surgery. For most small dogs weighing less than 30 lbs., the injury will go away without interference within three to six weeks.
Contributing Factors Associated With Torn ACL In Dogs: Age, Activity, Breed, And Weight
ACL tears in dogs are the most common injury an orthopedic veterinarian will encounter. While ACL tears and ruptures are common for any dog breed, size, or age this injury affects certain breeds with greater frequency than others.
The following is a list of breeds that are more prone to ACL tears than others:
· Labrador Retrievers
· German Shepherds
· Golden Retrievers
If you are the owner of any of these breeds you will want to be particularly observant and mindful of ACL tears early on so that you might treat the injury before it escalates to affect the surrounding bone.
Obesity and excess weight are also contributing factors towards your dog experiencing an injury to the knee joint. For a variety of health reasons including heart conditions, diabetes, and proper circulation it is advised that your dog be kept in an ideal weight range for their individual bone structure through healthy diet and regular exercise.
Larger breeds weighing more than 30 lbs. are more likely to experience ACL tears regardless of whether they are obese or in the healthy weight range. The more weight that the knee joint bears, the greater the frequency of injury. It is crucial for your pet’s health that you are mindful to keep their body composition in a healthy range. Obese dogs are exponentially more likely to incur injury to the knee joint, as the musculoskeletal structure is unable to bear the additional weight. As a preventative measure be sure to keep your dog, regardless of breed, in a healthy weight range.
As dogs age, muscle density is reduced and bones become more fragile. As years pass the likelihood of your dog experiencing an ACL tear increases. You may want to consider giving your dog vitamins that will support the longevity of their bone and muscular strength.
Most important, ACL tears affect dogs that experience inconsistent activity. Often referred to as the weekend warrior, these are dogs that get little exercise during the week, as their owners are busy at work. When the weekend comes around they are given the opportunity to run around in dog parks, beaches, and trails without having the supportive regular training throughout the week. This abrupt exposure to activity can have lethal results on the knee joint.
As a pet owner, it can be challenging to be consistent with exercise routines for your special furry friend. Work commitments and responsibilities can get in the way. If you do plan on giving your dog ample exercise on the weekends, be sure that at least two-three times during the week they are also able to run around to the point that full flexion of the knee joint occurs. Dogs that regularly express the full range of motion will be well adjusted for the rigors of weekend fun at dog parks, beaches, and trails.
What To Do When Your Dog Experiences An ACL Tear Or Rupture
Often it is impossible to prevent an ACL tear in a dog even when weight is healthy and exercise is regular.
If your small dog experiences a minor ACL tear, you can expect the tear to heal on its own after 3-6 weeks. Limit rigorous exercise and encourage rest through more cuddling and loving words. Dogs respond to the energy field of their owner. Be supportive of your injured dog by creating a nice nest for them to rest in and touch them often and use encouraging tone in your voice.
Consider bringing your small dog to a vet and couple their treatment with an anti-inflammatory medication that will aid in their recovery and prevent bone spurs and arthritis.
If you are the owner of a larger dog, treatment will be somewhat different for their ACL tears. Bearing more weight on their knee joint increases recovery time and the potential for further injury to the non-injured knee.
After visiting your veterinarian a course of action will be recommended to you for the treatment of your dog’s torn ACL. If the ACL has been completely ruptured it may be recommended that your dog undergo surgery. Remember that this is often not a necessary treatment option and that you should investigate the full range of alternative options for you and your pet.
If you do decide to undergo surgery plan to take some time off of work so that you can be available to ice your dog’s knee and engage in a mild range of motion exercises with them. It will be about three months before they will be able to bear weight on the injured leg and engage in normal activity.
Surgery can be expensive and often an unnecessary invasive procedure with a long recovery time. Consider providing a knee brace for your dog, anti-inflammatory medication, ice, and plenty of rest. If there is not a full rupture it is generally advisable not to perform surgery on your dog for an ACL tear. With the assistance of a knee brace, healthy foods, vitamin supplements, weight control (if obesity is an issue), and anti-inflammatory medication your dog will recover from an ACL tear.
Living With An Injured Pet: The Road To Recovery
The love that an owner has for its pet is unconditional; witnessing injury in your beloved dog is an emotional experience. If your dog does experience an injury to its knee be sure to respond lovingly and from the vantage point of a broad spectrum of knowledge.
In an attempt to want to fix the problem, it can be tempting to jump into orthopedic surgery, even when it is not necessary. If your dog weighs in at less than 30 lbs. you will not need surgery. If your dog has experienced a minor tear and is a bigger dog you will most likely not need surgery. If there is a complete rupture to your large dog’s ACL and you decide that surgery is the best course of action be prepared for a long road to recovery but remember your dog will survive the injury with your love and support.
An ACL tear for your dog is treatable through alternative treatments using knee braces, rest, and supportive vitamins. An ACL tear for your dog is far from lethal. If you are uncertain of the state of your dog’s health, visit your veterinarian and get an in-person examination with a professional.
Remember: the dog’s owner is the center of their world and how you interact with your dog during injury is crucial for its recovery. They are responding to your every communication. The health and wellness of your dog are in your hands. Be sure to familiarize yourself with many treatment options should your dog face an ACL tear and choose the best path to recovery for you and your furry friend to foster the longevity of your relationship and the quality of your dog’s life.