Conservative management, abbreviated CM, is a non-surgical option for dealing with cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries in dogs. CM is a very general term which includes the use of rest, supplementation, anti inflammatories, weight control, physical therapy, bracing/assistance devices and “alternative”/non-invasive treatments as a method of addressing a torn cruciate ligament in your dog.
Whether or not you choose to pursue Conservative Management will depend on a variety of factors including:
Your Dog’s Size – Some evidence shows that CM is more successful with dogs that weigh less than 25 pounds.
Presence of Other Damage – Meniscal tears, congenital defects or other structural issues may dictate whether CM is an option.
Duration of Time Since Injury – How long your dog has had the tear (or symptoms) can help you to decide whether to choose CM.
Typically, most veterinary resources define Conservative Management as a period of 6-8 weeks of limited activity and the use of anti inflammatory medications, supplements, weight control measures, etc.
Personally, having been through a successful round of Conservative Management with Tucker, I feel that the 6-8 week period should be more of a guideline for evaluation than a strict standard of care. Throughout the CM process you should be noting your dog’s progression – if for any reason it appears your dog is worsening or not improving, it is time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to re-evaluate.
Read More: Successful Conservative Management
Rest – Your dog will need to be confined during the CM period – carpeted areas are best (even if this means buying a carpet square to place where they will be spending most of their time). Avoidance of steps, steep hills, jumping, running, rough play, hopping into the car or anything that may jar the knee is off limits. Rest means rest.
Weight Management – Begin cutting out treats and snacks. Transition to higher quality food, and once your dog adjusts, cut the portion size down by 1/3 – feeding more frequently throughout the day can help to curb hunger. Frozen green beans are a great treat during this time! Less weight on the injured leg means a better shot at recovery.
Inflammation Control – Depending on your dog’s condition, you may want to go with a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) prescribed by your veterinarian. There are a number of risks associated with the use of NSAIDs, and I urge you to read more about their use. Your dog will also need frequent lab work done as long as they stay on NSAID products. There are more natural, holistic anti-inflammatories available including Omega 3’s, Green Lipped Mussel and Yucca. Again, this is where open communication with your veterinarian is paramount as it will ensure your dog is receiving safe, effective treatment.
Supplements – Glucosamine and Chondrointin containing supplements can help support joint health. Many people believe different brands of supplements show different results, so plan on experimenting with a number of different brands to see what works best for your dog.
Exercise/Physical Therapy – Find a balance. Exercise and movement during this time should be kept to a minimum, with all bathroom breaks and changes of location being done on a leash in a controlled manner. However, you will want to take care to avoid muscle atrophy. Leash walking, starting off with short segments a few times per day and gradually increasing, is a good way to make sure your dog maintains range of motion without further injuring the knee.
Alternative Treatments – Consider trying canine acupuncture or chiropractic during this time (as long as the practitioner is willing to come into your home and/or you can make arrangements to see them without much effort from your pet). Purchase a harness so you may assist your pet when walking, or think about the use of a knee brace.
Listen to Your Dog! – Keep close tabs on your best friend throughout this process. They’ll let you know how they are feeling. Go at their pace, and if you don’t see any noticeable improvement in their lameness in a few weeks it’s time to re-evaluate CM.
Read More: How To Do Conservative Management
The upfront cost for Conservative Management is not as apparent as a surgical repair. Don’t be fooled by this. When you calculate the time commitment, cost of supplements, medications, braces, hydrotherapy sessions and other non-surgical modalities, you will quickly see that the cost of CM rivals that of most surgical repair options. Of course, this amount is not paid at one time, but over a period of months as your dog recovers.
Also remember – Conservative Management does not always prevent the need for surgery. There are some circumstances in which a dog is not able to fully recover using solely CM methodology and eventually ends up needing surgical intervention.