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ACL Injuries in Dogs

ACL injuries are not just a condition affecting human athletes–they can also occur in our beloved canine companions. Here, our Kingman vets share the common symptoms of an ACL (CCL) injury in dogs, the treatment options and what to expect during recovery.

What is the ACL (CCL)?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin connective tissue in the middle of a human's knee.

In dogs, this connective tissue is called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). The CCL connects the dog's tibia (bone below the knee) to their femur (bone above the knee), helping the knee to work properly.

Unlike the ACL in people, the CCL in your dog is always load-bearing because a dog's hind knee is always bent when standing. 

How are the ACL and CCL different?

ACL injuries in people are particularly common in athletes such as basketball and football players. ACL injuries typically occur due to an acute trauma stemming from a sudden movement, such as a change of direction or a jump.  

However, in dogs, CCL injuries tend to develop gradually and worsen with continued activity until a painful tear occurs. 

While these injuries are different, since most of us are familiar with the term ACL, we frequently refer to CCL injuries in dogs as ACL injuries.

Common Symptoms of ACL (CCL) Injuries in Dogs

The most common signs of CCL injuries in dogs are:

  • Hind leg lameness and limping
  • Stiffness (typically most noticeable after rest, following exercise)
  • Difficulty rising and jumping
  • Swelling on the inside of the knee

If the dog continues exercising on a mildly injured CCL, the injury will gradually worsen, and the symptoms will become more pronounced.

Dogs suffering from a single torn CCL will begin favoring the non-injured leg during activity, which often leads to injury to the second knee. It is estimated that about 60% of dogs with a single CCL injury will go on to injure the other knee.

CCL injuries can occur in dogs of any size but are particularly common in larger breeds of dogs.

Can a dog live with a torn ACL?

Treating a dog's ACL or, more accurately, CCL injury with a knee brace is a non-surgical option that may help stabilize the knee joint in some dogs. The support provided by a knee brace gives the ligament time to scar over and repair itself. Treating CCL injuries through a knee brace may be successful for dogs when combined with restricted activity.

Treatment Options for an ACL (Ccl) Injury in Dogs

Several treatment options are available if your dog has been diagnosed with a CCL injury. The best treatment for your dog will be determined by the severity of the injury, your dog's age, size, and weight, as well as your dog's lifestyle and energy level. Your vet may recommend one of the following treatments.

  • Knee Brace: Treating a CCL injury with a knee brace is a non-surgical option that may help stabilize the knee joint and give the ligament time to repair itself. When combined with reduced activity levels, treating CCL injuries through a knee brace may be successful in some dogs. 
  • Extracapsular Repair (Lateral Suture): This surgical treatment for a CCL injury involves replacing the torn ligament with an artificial ligament outside the joint. This surgery is generally recommended for smaller dogs weighing less than 50 lbs. 
  • Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO): This surgical technique eliminates the need for the cranial cruciate ligament by cutting and flattening the tibial plateau, then stabilizing the knee in the new position with a plate and screws.
  • Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): TTA surgery also eliminates the need for the CCL by cutting the top of the tibia, moving it forward, and then using a plate to stabilize it in its new position.

Recovery for Dogs after ACL (CCl) Surgery

Of course, every dog is different, and not all dogs will recover from CCL surgery at the same speed. Recovery from ACL surgery takes time. Following your veterinarian's advice and keeping your dog's activity level at a minimum during their recovery will help to speed up the process. Expect your dog to take 16 weeks or longer to complete the healing process and return to normal activity.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you are concerned that your dog has suffered an ACL injury, don't hesitate to contact our Kingman vets today to make an appointment. 

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