Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Dogs

What to Know About Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Dogs _ ASPCA Pet Health Insurance _ two dogs on a walk

Cranial cruciate ligament injuries (CCL, or “cruciate injuries”) are a common issue for dogs. Fortunately, they can be treated, but they usually require surgical intervention, which can be costly for dog parents.

Causes

The cruciate ligaments help stabilize the knee joint. Injuries to these ligaments can begin as partial tears that eventually rupture completely. These tears then cause the knee to be very unstable with lameness and pain. The complete rupture of the ligament is often the result of gradual degeneration.

This can take place over months or years and can be influenced by a number of factors, for instance:

Breeds at Risk

While any dog can suffer a cruciate ligament injury, certain breeds are predisposed to this condition. These include:

Other breeds seem to be affected by cruciate ligament injuries less often. For instance, it’s not seen as often in Bassett Hounds, Dachshunds, Greyhounds, and Old English Sheepdogs. Cruciate ligament injuries are rarely seen in cats.

symptoms of cruciate ligament tears in dogs _ border collie playing tug of war with a multi-colored rope

Symptoms

CCL injuries are painful for dogs and result in decreased mobility. Other symptoms vary depending on the severity of the injury, but can include:

Symptoms of cruciate ligament injuries in dogs can come on gradually as the ligament endures more damage over time. You might not even notice any symptoms until the cruciate ligament ruptures completely.

When to see Your Veterinarian

If your dog is in pain and has noticeable, persistent lameness, you should consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible. These are frequent signs of a cruciate ligament injury that requires diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

In any case, please remember: never give your dog any medication without talking to your veterinarian first. Aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, and other pain relievers can be harmful to your dog.


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Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a cruciate ligament injury typically involves gathering information about the dog’s medical history and having the dog get a complete physical exam. During the exam, the veterinarian will carefully examine the knee to assess any instability or pain—these are signs of ligament damage.

Bloodwork and other diagnostic tests may also be performed to rule out underlying illnesses. In addition, X-rays may be conducted. While X-rays can’t necessarily reveal small tears in the CCL, they can help assess the condition of the knee joint.

treating cruciate ligament tears in dogs _ blue heeler with a blue ball on a bed

Treatment

It’s important to seek treatment for a cruciate ligament injury. Although it can seem to improve over time in certain cases, especially with small dogs, an injury of this nature should still be checked out by a professional. A damaged (stretched or partially torn) ligament can lead to painful, or long-term, issues in the future, such as arthritis.

Non-surgical Treatment

There are some non-surgical treatment options, which may be useful for smaller dogs. This typically includes pain and anti-inflammatory medications along with restricted activity to rest the knee. If the dog is overweight, some gentle exercise might be recommended to help improve overall health.

There has been some recent interest in knee braces and orthotics to help treat dogs with cruciate ligament injuries. However, the benefits of these new treatment options for dogs have yet to be proven. While they have been shown to help humans with ligament injuries, there are significant mechanical differences between biped (two-legged) and quadruped (four-legged) knee joints. You can’t simply assume it will work for dogs like it does for people.

Surgical Treatments

Surgery is usually the preferred option for canine cruciate ligament injuries since it is the only way to control instability in the knee joint. There are two different surgical techniques that can be used:

Like any surgery, both of these options carry risks, such as infection or a failure to resume normal function. The risks can increase in older dogs, dogs that are markedly overweight, or for those with existing health conditions. However, it’s often worth taking these risks to alleviate the pain and return the dog to normal function.

Post-op Care

Post-op care for this surgery is critical, and it’s essential that you follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully. If your dog puts weight on the leg too early, it can cause further injury. Restricted, light weight-bearing activity is usually recommended for the first six to eight weeks. Depending on the type of procedure and your dog’s condition, activity may need to be restricted for longer than eight weeks.

It can be tough to keep a normally active dog calm and quiet during this recovery period. If your dog is crate trained, you can put them in the crate to rest safely. Having your dog rest in their crate is an especially ideal choice for when you need to leave to house, or for when you cannot directly supervise them. Physical therapy under the care of a veterinarian may also be recommended to assist in recovery.

Post-op care can vary dramatically from one dog to another. Therefore, it’s important to find which option will work best for your dog.

Prognosis for Surgical Intervention

The prognosis for surgical intervention depends on the situation. But, most dogs should be back on all fours after a few months. Even after surgery, some dogs may still have ongoing issues with their joint, such as arthritis. Issues such as this may need ongoing treatment or medication.

Dogs who have a cruciate ligament injury in one leg will often develop the condition in the opposite leg as well. So, it is beneficial to keep an eye out for CCL symptoms in the future.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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