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Dog ACL Surgery Alternatives In 2021

Invasive and expensive surgery options for torn CCLs in dogs may not be available or appealing to many dog owners.  Luckily there are both older and emerging alternatives to surgery that are available to this demographic.

If you are looking for alternative care for your dog’s torn ACL, then it will not take long to realize that 2021 has more to offer in the way of effective surgery alternatives than has ever been recorded in modern history.

The exciting news about surgery alternatives is that the majority of these treatment options have been well researched by reputable institutions such as NIH, who have in more recent years taken the health care of our canine friends very seriously. NIH states the following as reasons for taking a greater interest in surgery alternatives to fully ruptured or torn ACL’s in dogs:

“Primary reasons for seeking a stifle orthosis consultation were surgical concerns, advanced age, and surgery cost.” (1)

The frequency at which dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds tear their ACL ligament is remarkable. Because the injury is so common there are many options to treat this unfortunate, yet all too common occurrence. 

This article will examine the emerging alternative care options such as cryotherapy for dogs, stem cell therapy, stifle orthosis, acupuncture, as well as a brief mention of Conservative Management (physical therapy, braces, and rest).

Cryotherapy For Dogs: An Alternative Treatment For Dogs With Torn ACL

You may have heard of cryotherapy before for humans, but what exactly is it, and how did it come to be used on dogs?

Cryotherapy is the use of extreme cold in therapeutic contexts.  Its use ranges from oncological care, to muscle recovery in athletes, but more recently  NIH has performed studies on dogs preparing for TPLO surgery. It was found that cryotherapy was so effective that over half of the dogs who underwent the treatment no longer required surgery.

Cryotherapy is more than an ice bath or a cold compress, from oncological studies performed by NIH, here is how it is defined:

“A cryoprobe is cooled with substances such as liquid nitrogen, liquid nitrous oxide, or compressed argon gas. Cryotherapy may be used to treat certain types of cancer and some conditions that may become cancer.” (2)

As is often the case with scientific discovery, cryotherapy was happened upon. Initially researchers believed that the use of cryotherapy prior to surgery would mitigate the post surgery pain, but found that in fact dogs who were using cryotherapy in the weeks leading up to surgery (3-4 times per week), did not necessarily go on to require surgery as the extreme cold was able to heal the torn ligaments. (3)

Some of the dogs with extreme ruptures did still need surgery, but the recovery time post-operation was much less than their counterparts who did not use cryotherapy at all. 

Now, the real issue is where to find a facility that offers cryotherapy for dogs? In some progressive cities you may be able to find clinics that offer this service for dogs; however for the most part, this therapy is still in its initial stages of research. Cryotherapy is yet to be approved by the FDA for humans, so finding a place that offers it for your furry friend may be a challenge. In the coming years this therapy is sure to become more prevalent, affordable, and available. 

Stem Cell Therapy For Dogs With Torn ACL

For a variety of reasons stem cell therapy has not received the best reputation, but despite this it is an excellent means of treating joint injuries in humans and animals.

Stem cells are essentially a blank canvas upon which any genetic coding can be used. For example skin cells have the correct coding to be skin cells, whereas stem cells can become many different types of cells, including cells for connective tissues. 

“Stem cells are being used to treat illness and heal injuries in pets. They are injected into the body to repair muscles, joints, and ligaments that have been damaged by arthritis or injury.” (4)

If you are able to find a veterinarian willing to work with stem cells, research suggests that in most cases this is an excellent alternative to invasive surgery to rehabilitate the torn knee ligaments in dogs. 

Research from NIH states the following about stem cell use in animals:

“The literature supports that the process is safe and brings considerable benefits to animal health. Knowledge about how adult stem cells modulate the molecular signals to activate cell homing has also been increasingly determined, evidencing the mechanisms which enable cells to repair and regenerate injured tissues.” (5)

While it is still early in the game, stem cell therapy for dogs is and will continue to become a great alternative to invasive surgery, although the cost will likely be high.

Stifle Osteosis, Acupuncture, Conservative Management, Diet, And Vitamins As Surgery Alternatives For Torn ACL In Dogs

There remain readily available alternatives to surgery for dogs with partial or complete tears to the CCL, these of course are not new to 2021, but remain safe and effective tools to keep your dog out of surgery. 

More and more veterinary clinics are offering acupuncture for dogs, this particular therapy is excellent for sprains and strains, or for post operative care. When a complete rupture occurs, acupuncture may be too soft an approach. If your dog is small, or has a sprain (minor tear) to the ACL, acupuncture is a safe and effective alternative to surgery.

You may also want to consider Stifle Osteosis (a fancy brace), here is what the experts say on the subject of its use:

“Stifle orthoses are most commonly used to manage cranial cruciate ligament injuries, but can also be used to support against medial and lateral collateral ligament laxity.

This type of orthotic device may be used in place of surgery, when surgical repair is not a possible or desired option, or it may be used at some distance after surgery if the procedure did not create the desired level of stability. It is important to note that while a stifle orthosis is not equivalent to surgery, a properly designed, well-made device can offer significant support to the joint.” (6)

Similar to acupuncture, the correct dog knee brace may be an excellent option for older dogs, minor tears, or any dog or owner unwilling to go through with surgery, or potential as a post-operative means of protecting the knee joint. 

There are a wide selection of dog braces available, but be sure to have your dog fitted by a professional, and be sure that the brace is high end and effective.

It is also important to support connective tissue health in dogs with proper diet and vitamins, as well as plenty of mobility exercises, this can help prevent dog knee injury, or help to ensure that the knee is not re-injured. 

2021 Alternatives To Dog Knee Surgery: Plenty Of New Explorations On The Horizon

While stem cell research in the treatment of dog knee injuries as well as cryotherapy are fresh off the research table, they do present promising alternatives for owners who would prefer that their dog not go under the knife. The downside is that these treatments are not widely available, and in the case of stem cell therapy may be quite costly.

Traditional alternative therapies remain available for those looking for options that do not include surgery including: Acupuncture, physical therapy, knee braces, and vitamins. 

The landscape of dog knee injury and their treatment is changing rapidly, however you still may need to wait before clinics across the nation have cryotherapy tanks and stem cells widely available!

Sources Cited:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29525232/
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cryotherapy
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7350525/
  4. https://pets.webmd.com/stem-cell-therapy-for-pets
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917716/
  6. https://www.pawsability.ca/products-orthotics-stifle.php
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