Cranial Cruciate (Knee) Injury Symptoms in Dogs

Knee Injuries are Different Depending on the Size of the Dog

No two dogs are alike when it comes to knee injuries. Some dogs will display many of the knee injury symptoms listed below, while others will only have intermittent lameness. Lameness in canines can have many causes, some of which are not directly leg related, and it is important for your dog to be evaluated by a veterinarian for any cases of unexplained lameness in any limb. Examining the way in which your dog was injured, if it can be determined, will play an important role in diagnosing a possible canine cruciate ligament tear or rupture. Careful evaluation of the symptoms, along with any diagnostic testing done by your pet’s doctor, will determine whether conservative management or surgery is indicated.

Canine Cruicate (Knee) Injury Symptoms:

  1. Decreased range of motion.
  2. Hind leg extended when sitting – this is known as the sit sign.
  3. Crepitus – crackling noise of bones rubbing against each other.
  4. Pain – when stifle (knee) joint is touched.
  5. Unwilling or resistant to exercise.
  6. Restricted mobility or extension.
  7. Stiffness after exercise.
  8. Swelling of joint.
  9. Thick, firm feel to knee are, may be hot to touch.
  10. Weight shifted to one side of body when standing.
  11. Exhibits toe-touching while standing.

There are also a few other conditions with similar symptoms to a cruciate injury, which is why it is important to schedule an appointment to see your veterinarian if your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above.

Conditions with similar symptoms to cranial cruciate ligament tears/rupture:

  1. Acute arthritis – related to lyme disease or immune disorders
  2. Stifle (knee) joint sprain
  3. Meniscus (cartilage within the knee) injury
  4. Hip dysplasia
  5. Patellar (knee cap) fracture or luxation
  6. Myelopathies – diseases of the nervous system

11 thoughts on “Cranial Cruciate (Knee) Injury Symptoms in Dogs

  1. Hi.

    We have a male Tosa-inu (also known as Japanese mastiff) named Lennox. He’s only 16 months old and weighs about 140LBs.

    Last Friday evening, I noticed his right knee was making some odd noise. It was rather loud clicking sound. When I made him sit, it happened. The sound was so disturbing, I immediately thought something was not right. I checked his right knee and bend it and it made the clicking sound. It really made me worried although he didn’t show any abnormality other than the clicking sound. We waited until Monday and took him to the vet.

    He took two x-rays but could not determine what is causing this problem. (Looking back, The vet indicated that around the top of his tibia which was a bit worn so it might be a sign of arthritis) He thought it could be just a regular sprain but he also thought it could be CCL related injury. If the later is the case, he’ll need surgery, he said. He gave us anti inflammatory medication and a bottle of glucosamine to see how he does in next 2~3 weeks. He also said that then he’ll have me stop the medication in another 2~3 weeks to see how he does (while continuing glucosamine supplement)

    After I’ve got home, I started researching about canine knee injury and its related injuries. Then , I found this site. More I read the articles on this site, more I was convinced that Lennox’s problem might not just be ordinary sprain. I decided to ask my vet to give me some referral to some orthopedic specialists. It’s just my personality. I need to know what is really going on and I really want the accurate diagnosis. I feel even if it costs a lot more for just diagnosis but I believe correct diagnosis will lead to better and right treatment.

    It’s very hard to determine his actual problem by myself. Obviously I’m not a vet but I have tried few things to see if his knee actually has ACL or other ligament problem. The clicking sound his knee’s been making is the obvious symptom of injured ligament. He also doesn’t tuck his right knee under his body when he sits, instead, he moves his knee outward (sideway). Those two things are my main concern at this moment and the reason why I’m suspecting it as some type of ligament injury.
    However, I still can’t define what exactly it might be because the way Lennox moves now. He is not limping or favoring at all. He also walks fine and doesn’t bear weight or touch the ground on his toe. He is not hesitant to run or jump (which is the problem. It’s really hard to make him not run around.)
    Also I have tried “drawer” test by myself but could not see the problem. (His tibia didn’t slide forward) The vet didn’t do this test yesterday and I was not aware of this test at that time.

    Anyway, I continue to research this issue and by the mean time, I also plan on making an appointment to see the orthopedic specialist to get his opinion. If we could treat this matter without surgery, it’d be great and I’d definitely prefer that way but if the surgery is necessary, then we’ll have to decide which way of surgery we’d opt for.

    It’s really hard for me to think about this. Lennox is only 16 months old and I never thought I’d have to deal with this type of issue. I regret many things I did with him (mainly wrestling with him and playing too rough on him and many long walking, etc.) but it’s too late. It was real hard this morning not to do regular walk and instead, just go around the block and let him pee and sniff things. (Which I don’t consider as “walk”.) It was also hard not to let him play with me. He always wants to play and he loves being chased. I could not do that last night. So, next few weeks (at least) we have to lower his activity level. We also decided to cut his food. He’s not over weight by any means (He’s in great shape) but since we have to cut his exercise level, he might gain his weight and that’s not good for the knee. So I decided to do that, just for precaution.

    Obviously, Lennox is a very important family member for me so just thinking about this issue makes me sad and depressed.


  2. Naoki: I have a 4 year old tosa who just had his second ACL surgery. Both kness have been operated on. He was two years old when his first one occurred and now he is four years old. It is a very debilitating process both pre-op and post-op recovery. Please let me know how your dog is doing. The surgery was performed in North Jersey using a fish-line technique. It worked well on the first knee. The second knee seems to take a longer rehab period. Since your post was made in Feb. 2009, you have probably already had surgery and Lennox has already recuperated. I hope so. Good Luck. Joe

  3. I too have a story on Tosa Knee injuries.

    I’m having some dog problems. Specifically related to my Tosa’s back legs.

    I just got back from the Ortho Surgens and she needs double corrective surgery on her hind legs.
    Prognosis is Patellar Luxation (knee cap’s keep slipping out of their groove inward).

    It’s happening quite often now, more over the last couple of weeks.
    The doctors are saying that it’s a gene thing and just bad luck I guess because Tosa’s aren’t known to have this problem.
    She started showing signs of trouble a month ago and I thought the problem was a result of an injury. Apparently it wasn’t an injury, but the knee cap popping out for the first time.
    I’m deathly afraid that she’s going to have some long term problems, and we love this dog so much, but I’m looking at a pretty large bill.

    The surgens commented on how straight her hind legs are….in the front as you look at the back leg. Normally they say, dogs will have a (dog legged crook to their hind legs). But neither do any of the other Tosa’s I’ve seen online, so I suspect that’s just an observation, and not attibuting to the problem.

    The more I research it, the more instances I see of Great Danes and some mastiff’s having this occur.
    Just thought I’d keep you in the loop, as I’m sure you’d like to hear of such things.

    I talked to her siblings owners and they haven’t had any problems, so I’m wondering how the gene thing is a possibility.
    I guess she’s just a little more prone than them, dunno.

    I’ve been taking great care to allow her to take it very easy on it, but still walking her (on lead only).
    She eats very well, but is not overweight by any means….90lbs today actually.

    Have you heard of this before, do you think it may correct itself, etc?

  4. Hi Joe and Gordon. I had not been on this site for a while.

    Lennox’s problem on his right knee last year was caused by slipping tendon. (Long digital extensor tendon) It was out of place and that caused the loud clicking sound. Our vet (orthopedic specialist who has a great reputation in this town and I actually went to see his lecture about CCL only few weeks ago.) told us to limit the daily activities and exercise for several weeks and see how he does. He didn’t prescribe any medication. (Lennox has a very sensitive stomach and anti-inflammatory medication always gave him a problem)
    So we followed his instruction and within few weeks, his clicking sound faded away. After we visited the vet’s office for follow-up, he was cleared.

    Then, until now, he was doing just fine. Now he’s almost 3 years old and weighs about 150LBs.
    When we were walking this past weekend, I noticed that the way he was walking didn’t look right. His right back leg was little off. After we got back home, he walked normal so I thought it was strange. Then the next day, he did the same while we were walking. Then later that night, he dragged his right back leg a bit and was not putting his weight on the leg. He walked just fine and didn’t show any strange movement in next 2 days but I was very concerned and decided to take him to the vet and made an appointment 2 days later.

    The vet who saw him was not the same orthopedic specialist we saw the last time. (Unfortunately, he was on vacation and we were told that he’d not be back until the second week of November. I didn’t wanna wait that long so I decided to see the other doctor within the same facility)

    So she asked me to walk him a bit so that she could observe the way he walks. Then she checked his right knee, hip, etc. Feeling with her hand. She said that it seems that his knee has some inflammation and she could feel that there is some fluid in it. She told me that he might have some soft tissue injury which should be heal by itself over the course of time. However, considering the history of his right leg, he might also have inner ligament injury which could lead to CCL or arthritis. She said he’d not need any medication for now and but restrict his activities for next 2 weeks to see how he does. Then come back to get checked out again by the other vet (our regular one who diagnosed his knee clicking sound before). If the condition improves, he’ll not need any special treatment but if it doesn’t, she said they might have to see his knee under the scope. I can’t remember the name of the procedure but it’s basically stick the micro scope in his knee and see inside. That’ll cost about $3000 and if they see CCL damage, it can turn out to be TPLO or TTA which will cost even more. I know they would not do traditional repair since Lennox weight more than 100LBs.

    Right now, he walks fine and his movement is normal. No favoring the leg or dragging the leg. He has not shown any sign of discomfort or pain. (Well, it’s really hard to see if he’s in pain because of this breed’s trait, as you guys know)

    Anyway, I just got back from the vet’s office and not feeling so good about it. We just have to watch him closely and restrict his activities for next 2 weeks and hope his condition improve.
    I’ll post the follow up when we go see the vet in 2 weeks.


  5. The vet suspected that my dog had torn her cruciate ligament. But I don’t know if that is what it is anymore. She is doing good walking around but it is getting up that is the issue. She has trouble getting up especially when she is on the sofa. It takes her a couple of times to get up and then she slowly gets down and then has to stand there a while to get sturdy. But then she is quick to move and wants to walk around and play.

    Does anyone have any ideas what else it could be?


    1. Hi Allison – There are a number of conditions that may have similar symptoms to an ACL injury. Has your dog been checked for arthritis or lyme disease??

  6. I just got a maltipoo or cockatoo type puppy from a rescue group. At the first vet visit, he noticed her knees were thickened, crackling, and would not fully extend. She’s under 7 pounds and has no signs of problems. I’m worried and not sure what to do. Would any of you recommend buying insurance? Can this be a big problem that will require surgery or affect her as she gets older?

  7. I’d like to know what the vet said when he found this problem. She’s still a pup, especially small breed but already having a knee problem, that’d definitely concern me. I don’t know the pup’s background but I suspect that she might be from a backyard breeder. if that’s the case, this problem might be a result of horrible breeding practice and therefore, this can be a genetic problem. Does she able to walk fine? Does she able to sit? Did you check her gait? If you notice any of odd movement, then I think you should take her an orthopedic for further examination. Hope they can find what’s wrong with her knee.

  8. I do plan on taking her to an ortho specialist. The vet was surprised with the find and that’s all he said. He also recommended glucosamine for her. He asked if she jumps or take stairs okay. She doesn’t jump on or off the bed or couch. I thought it was just because she was timid and small. He said she should be able to do that fine. She plays well. Running, jumping ( not too high though), sitting with no apparent abnormalities. I am wondering if this will be considered a preexisting condition or if I would be able to get insurance for her. What should I do next? So far I have had her 3 weeks and just took her to the vet for that one check- up. I want to decide about insurance before going to the specialist and getting a diagnosis.

  9. Hi Tina. I think it depends on which insurance company you choose but regardless it’s pre-existing condition or not, many pet insurance companies don’t cover orthopedic related issues, let alone CCL. We have VPI and so far we are fine with them. I think you should call and ask pet insurance companies you might go with about your dog’s condition first to make sure.

    It’s a bit strange to hear that your vet didn’t suggest anything to help your dog’s condition. Anyway, giving her glucosamine doesn’t harm your dog but at the same time, you can’t expect her to get better either. My vet, orthopedic specialist and he’s got a great reputation in this area told me that there is no scientific evidence that glucosamine actually help animal’s joints. It definitely help dog owner’s mentally though because that gives you a sense of comfort and security regardless if it’s effective or not.

    Obviously I’m not a vet but I don’t think she has CCL. If she does, she would not be able to walk and having trouble getting up , period. I just feel like it’s something else because she can’t extend her leg. When our dog was still a puppy, one morning he woke up and started walking with one of his hind legs not touching on the floor. He walked that way for few minutes. I was so alarmed what i saw and took him to the animal emergency. They could not figure out but very next day, I took him to our regular bet and found out that was caused by “growling pain”. It’s very common in giant breed pups. So within few days, he was back tom normal.

    Your dog is not a giant breed so I can’t say it might just be a growing pain but it’s a possibility.

    Anyway, hope you’ll get an answer from the orthopedic specialist and her leg get better. I know it’s hard to see your dog not behaving or moving the way she should.

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