Long Term ACL Tearing In Dogs: Catch The Injury Early For Best Results

When that ‘pop’ sound of a sudden CCL tear in a dog’s knee happens, it is pretty obvious to the owner that an injury has occurred. But what happens when a dog’s knee ligaments experience a slow decline into lameness?

For most dogs who suffer from an ACL tear, it is actually more of a tearing that occurs over a period of time rather than a one time trauma. In fact, if your dog’s knee ruptures suddenly while playing at the dog park or on a run, you are much more likely to tend to the injury. For many dogs, day after day they experience a slow and steady decline of the health of the ligaments in their hind knee. 

In order to prevent a full rupture or many painful months or years of a slow decline, it is important for the owner to closely monitor the knees of their dogs. 

Smaller dogs have less knee injuries, dogs that maintain a healthy weight for their size, and dogs that are able to get plenty of exercise on terrain such as dirt, a forest floor, or the beach, and off leash have less knee injuries in general. So, if you have a dog that is carrying more weight than is healthy for their size, it is definitely time to trim down. 

How To Determine If Your Dog Has An Injured Hind Knee Even If There Was Not A Singular Trauma To The Knee?

Most dog knee injuries do not occur in a single moment, but rather slowly wither away and become less and less stable. If you notice that your dog has developed a slight limp or change in their gate, they may be experiencing a knee injury, even if subtle. Given how common ACL tears are in dogs, it is worth getting your dog’s knees checked out by a qualified veterinarian. 

You may notice a slight ‘decline’ in your dog’s mood or willingness to partake in activities they once found enjoyable. Or perhaps your dog is not able to jump up into the car the way they once could. A slow decline of the function of the hind knees in your dog can happen so slowly that you may not notice. 

If there is anything unusual about how your dog walks, runs, or jumps be sure to consult your veterinarian and begin a preventative plan to halt further damage to your dog’s knee. 

Depending on the age and breed of your dog, you may decide that  either surgery or conservative management will be the best option.

Regardless of your choice, your dog needs to be a healthy weight to prevent further damage to the hind knees. If your dog has slight tears to the CCL, it is best to begin a recovery plan immediately. Full ruptures are much more difficult to manage than small sprains and tears. 

Surgery Options To Prevent Further Tearing of Your Dog’s CCL

If you know that your dog’s hind knees are experiencing a slow decline in health, you may want to consider preventative surgery. What surgery might be best as a preventative type of care?

Surgery always poses some risk, but if you decide you would like to go this route to stop further damage to your dog’s CCL, most likely the traditional Extracapsular Repair will be the best option as a preventative means.

For the record, here are the three primary forms of dog knee surgery, although the first is likely the best option as a preventative protocol, and also the least expensive.

  • Extracapsular Repair: This surgery uses a heavy nylon suture across the outer part of the joint. This type of surgery is the most widespread and carries the longest history. It may be an option to prevent more tearing by offering additional support to the knee. 
  • Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO): This surgery is far more complex and is likely better reserved for an acute rupture of the knee. TPLO surgery seeks to change the very nature of how the knee joint functions, and involves the shaving off of the knee cap itself and changing its longitudinal degree in reference to the femur bone, and the ‘sheen’ of the dog. TPLO surgery is not a great preventative surgery, and should be reserved for severe traumas to the dog’s ACL.
  •  Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): Similar to TPLO surgery, this particular procedure changes the location of the fundamental structure of the dog’s knee. The object of this surgery is to eliminate any sliding movements and stabilizes the joint. The top of the tibia is cut off, and the bones surrounding the knee joint are realigned, but again this surgery requires significant recovery time, and should be reserved for instances of severe ruptures, rather than preventing further tearing of the CCL. 

Understanding your surgical options will help the owner make the best decision for you and your dog. Once tearing of the hind knee ligaments begins, eventually your dog’s discomfort will increase, as their mobility decreases. If you are not comfortable with surgery, then perhaps Conservative Management may be a better option. 

How To Stop The Slow Decline Of The Function Of Your Dog’s Hind Knees Without Surgery If Tearing Has Already Begun?

Once you have established that your dog is experiencing a slow decline of the function of their hind knees, you must take some action, even if that action is not surgery.

The first step is to ensure that your dog is maintaining a healthy weight. A leading cause of knee injuries in dogs is obesity. 

You can begin a conservative management program that can include wearing a dog knee brace, more swimming (if possible) and less walking and running. Acupuncture and physical therapies are excellent options to prevent further tearing of the dog’s knee ligaments. 

You are also able to massage, ice, and apply heat packs to your dog’s sprained knee area, as well as encourage rest, slower walks on terrain that is absorbent. Avoid concrete sidewalks and asphalt when possible. It is best to have your dog walk on the sand, grass, or a forest floor to help your dog heal minor tears to the CCL.

Some level of confinement in the home is also helpful. Blocking off stairways, and furniture that can be jumped on is also helpful in creating a restful space and environment for your dog. 

If You Know That Your Dog Has Minor Tears To The CCL Begin A Healing Program Immediately

Minor tears to your dog’s CCL may not be apparent at first, if the same habits continue, the tears will worsen with time. Be sure to take action as soon as possible. 

You and your vet may decide that surgery is a good preventative action, particularly if your dog is young and of a larger breed. This, however, is not the only action step you can take. 

If you decide to begin a healing program using alternative methods here is a checklist for you to follow:

  • Help your dog to lose excess weight and maintain a healthy fitness level.
  • Explore dog knee brace options
  • Walk your dog on forgiving surfaces such as grass, sand, or a forest floor
  • Acupuncture and physical therapy
  • Improved nutrition and vitamins that support ligament health
  • Rest and confinement
  • More swimming (if possible) and less aggressive exercise
  • Limit play time with other dogs
  • Massage, hot, and cold compresses

Whichever methods you choose to explore as the owner, understand that a slow decline in the health of the hind knee ligaments does not magically get better, but rather involves an active participation between you, your dog, and your primary veterinarian. 

Most CCL ruptures do not occur in a single trauma, but rather over time. If you know your dog is showing signs of a decline in hind knee function, begin a healing program today!

Sources Cited:

  1. https://www.ctvsh.com/resources/education/dog/acl-injuries-dogs
  2. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cruciate-ligament-rupture-in-dogs
  3. https://www.reedanimalhospital.com/blog/the-importance-of-treating-your-dogs-acl-tear/
  4. https://orthodog.com/article/dog-acl-tear-no-surgery/

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