Prevention Protocol To Keep Your Dog’s CCL Protected: Obesity, Early Neutering, and Personal Fitness

The number one leading cause of injury for canines is a torn ACL in their hind legs. This can lead to ongoing and painful problems for your dog if left untreated. While there are many treatment options ranging from a variety of surgeries, as well as non surgical solutions,ultimately  prevention is the best protocol.

So, how can you prevent injury in your dog’s hind knees?

Dog’s are born to run, and they need to be given the opportunity to do so on surfaces or terrain that is supportive to their joints as well as areas where they do not need to be on a leash. This may be more challenging for city dwelling dogs who do a lot of walking on pavement and while on a leash; however, it is critical to give your dog opportunities to exercise and run freely. 

Not all dog knee injuries can be prevented. However there are a few basic steps that any pet owner can take to help increase the chances of healthy knees.

Genetic disposition, and breed types are factors that may lead to increased risk of hind knee injuries in dogs. These factors are also difficult to mediate or control, but here is what any dog owner can do to help prevent dog knee injuries:

  • Help Your Dog To Stay Active and Fit 
  • Help Your Dog To Maintain a Healthy Weight 
  • Avoid Early Neutering

Encourage Your Dog To Reach High Level of Fitness and Maintain A Healthy Exercise Regime

Dogs, particularly larger ones with long legs, are evolutionarily geared towards running, both for physical and mental well being. In a paper published in The Journal of Experimental Biology a group of researchers describe how they measured neurotransmitter levels in people, dogs, and ferrets. (1) The results suggest that those species who relied on running for survival historically, should keep on running, even if their next meal does not rely on it. 

While, it may be true that your dog’s next meal is always promised from a store bought bag of dog food, it is still important that your dog is going on regular running excursions, not just leashed walks. 

Dogs are part of a group of animals called cursorial, which means that they have legs and lungs meant for running. Research has found that not only does consistent free running help dogs maintain physical fitness, but also improves ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain after a run based on blood samples taken from the dogs during the research. (1)

So, how does regular running help to prevent knee injuries in dogs?  Understanding that dogs are born to run, means that when given the chance, they will run, in short they are hard wired to do so. Many ACL tears happen in dogs, who are unaccustomed to off leash running. Without proper training dogs will suddenly have the chance, perhaps at a dog park on the weekend, to sprint ahead joyfully, only to be met with that ‘popping’ sound of a CCL tear. Yikes!

By giving your dog ample opportunity to ‘train’ for running, their bodies, including their hind knees, will be used to this form of exercise and will be less likely to tear their ACL. 

In addition to providing opportunities for your dog, particularly larger dogs, to run consistently and frequently, it is important to find areas such as beaches, parks, or forests, where the ground will help to absorb some of the shock to the joints. 

Although it may take some time to find the right spot for your dog to run, it is well worth it in the prevention of dog knee injuries.

Be Vigilant With Maintaining A Healthy Weight For Your Dog: Obese Dogs Are More Likely To Experience Hind Knee Injuries

Did you know that an overweight dog is 4 times more likely to tear to their ACL than a dog who maintains a healthy weight? (3) The author of Canine Medical Massage goes on to suggest that while the type and quantity of food matters in maintaining a healthy weight for your dog, it is also important to support your pet in long distance aerobic fitness.

Long runs on proper terrain help to avoid sudden pivot motions that may put more strain on the stifle, and will help to improve overall joint function. 

Excess weight will put an enormous amount of stress on your dog’s joints, so it is critical that you help maintain a healthy weight for your dog in order to avoid knee injuries. 

A healthy diet, consistent and regular exercise is all that your dog needs. By doing this you are able to minimize the chances of a full ACL rupture or tear in your dog. 

Avoid Early Neutering: Give Your Dog Ample Time To Fully Maturate Their Joints Before Being Neutered

Having your dog spayed or neutered early may affect the health of joint development, particularly in larger dogs according to PETMD in their article on stunted growth in dogs:

“Studies show that early spay/neuter does affect the growth plate delaying its closure and causing dogs to grow taller than they should have. This can predispose the dog to later joint problems. This is an excellent topic to discuss with your veterinarian. For small or medium sized dogs, the standard recommendation is still to spay/neuter the dogs between 6-8 months of age. For large breed dogs, however, the recommendation is to hold off until the dog is older to lower the risk of joint disease. For females, spaying should wait until after the first heat cycle, and for males, neutering can be scheduled when the dog is around two years old.” (4)

Given how frequently ACL tears occur in dogs it is important for owners to take whatever precautions possible to prevent knee injuries in their dogs. There may be a variety of factors determining your decision on when to neuter or spay your dog, one of these considerations may be the healthy development of your dog’s joints.

Not All ACL Tears In Dogs Can Be Avoided, But As An Owner There Are A Few Simple Things You Can Do To Help Prevent Knee Injury In Your Furry Friend

The relationship between dogs and their owners is unique and special, which is why an ACL tear, particularly a complicated one, can be so stressful and distressing for both. Although, there are many factors outside the control of the owner, such as genetics, and accidents, there are three things every dog owner can do to help reduce the risk of an ACL tear in their dog:

  • Help Your Dog To Stay Active and Fit 
  • Help Your Dog To Maintain a Healthy Weight 
  • Avoid Early Neutering

As always, if you do have questions about the suitability of an exercise regime for your dog, or when to have your dog neutered be sure to consult your veterinarian.

Remember, dogs were born to run, so make sure you create space and time for them to do so, this will help their physical health as well as their emotional  health!

Sources Cited:

  1. https://phys.org/news/2013-05-dogs-runner-high-similar-humans.html
  2. https://vetsoftherockies.com/education/intro-to-dog-acl-surgery/
  3. https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2016-06/obese-dogs-are-four-times-more-likely-to-rupture-a-cruciate-than-non-obese-dogs/
  4. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/what-causes-puppy-stop-growing

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