You’ve likely heard of someone painfully injuring, possibly tearing or rupturing, their ACL, also known as anterior cruciate ligament. This type of injury is mostly common to athletes, especially female athletes.
But did you know that a dog too can sustain an ACL injury? Instead of being referred to as a dog ACL injury, this same injury is formerly known as a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury.
Why do dogs need their CCL?
You may be wondering, what in the world is this ligament and why is it important to my dog’s quality of life and mobility? To answer this question, think of how your knee works and is formed of three bones:
A dog’s knee joint is made up of the same three bones that are held together by the joint capsule. The joint capsule also encapsulates ligaments, joint fluid, and the meniscus.
There are two ligaments within this capsule — the cranial cruciate ligament and the caudal cruciate ligament — that are responsible for preserving the correct position or orientation of your dog’s femur and tibia.
If you imagine a person standing upright, then the femur and tibia are almost in a straight line, unlike a dog’s femur and tibia forming an 135 degree angle.
Because of the angled orientation of a dog’s femur and tibia, it requires a strong, stable, and intact CCL to support a dog’s weight during various daily activities of mobility.
How do dogs tear or rupture their ACL?
Now that you have the base orientation and anatomy of your dog’s knee, let’s learn and discuss how CCL tears and ruptures happen.
Tears and ruptures most often take place during running, fetching, stepping into a crater of some sort or sudden stops and turns. While those aforementioned activities are factors, one of many common factors in a dog sustaining a CCL injury is due to obesity and overall bad diet.
Another common phenomenon likely to lead to dog knee injuries is weekend warrior syndrome. This occurs to dogs that are inactive during the week, yet are extremely or overly active during weekend.
How do I tell the severity of a CCL injury?
There are signs and symptoms that can likely indicate the severity of your dog’s sustained CCL injury. Your dog may have full range or limited to no range of motion and bearing its own weight on the injured leg. In addition, stiffness or difficulty attempting to stand up are clues too. Also, dogs can sit way away from the side of impacted or injured leg.
No matter if you see improvement or not, it’s always best to take your dog to a professional licensed veterinarian. Vets can provide sound insightful experience for x-rays and MRI to know exactly what’s wrong with your dog.
Evaluating and diagnosing your dog’s injury
When you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should schedule a veterinarian appointment for further assessment.
Case in point, our boxers limped around for about 3 days. I perceived the limping to be a serious injury fo some sort. However, upon taking them to the vet, I was relieved to discover both sustained minor bruising from rough play. And while I was relieved their limping incident was not a costly surgeon, the vet bill was quite hefty.
In fact, bruises and partial tears can be as costly and painful full ruptures. Costs can decrease or increase based on where you live, a vet’s experience, dog breed and overall health.
Most CCL injuries will require a physical exam or palpation of the injured. Your veterinarian should evaluate your dog’s knee and CCL for outside swelling. To do so, most vets perform two tests: drawer sign and cranial tibial thrust.
Drawer sign testing consists of holding the femur in place and pulling the tibia forward, producing a motion similar to a drawer sliding open.
Cranial tibial thrust testing mimics a dog walking in hopes of reveal the tibia moving forward as an abnormal result.
In addition both tests, veterinarians often assess dogs for key areas (bulleted list below) before recommending preferred treatment.
- Ligament and joint fluid
- Sharding of bone (if existence)
- Degenerative lesions
- Other factors pertaining to your dog’s genetic health
Treating your dog’s CCL injury
By now, thoughts of cost to treat and repair your dog’s sustained knee injury are likely on the mind. Truth be told, dog CCL injuries and surgeries are quite costly, costing between $1000-$8000 dollars.
There are conservative approaches to effectively managing a CCL injury. Most approaches include activity restriction, rehabilitation, weight loss, and use of anti-inflammatories for pain control. In addition, braces, slings, harnesses and even stem cell treatments — although not enough data on record — are also viable options.
These supportive measures can be quite helpful regardless of the severity of injury to your dog’s knee. But the reality is that they are not the ultimate solution. Surgery is by far the recommended solution that offers the quickest recovery while minimizing the progression of arthritis.
The best two surgery options are tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA). Both procedures achieve the same outcome in fully repairing mobility of the knee, including but not limited too:
- Cutting the tibia bone
- Making a bone shift
- Using the bone plateau’s surface to hold the cut piece of bone in place
What’s the best knee treatment or surgery for your dog?
I wish I could provide clear answer as to the best knee treatment or surgery for your dog. However, truly answering this question requires a veterinarian consultation to accurately assess and diagnose what’s best for your dog.
It’s also important to remember that CCL tears and ruptures are chronic diseases. Dogs that often sustain a knee injury experience a 50-70% chance of developing similar, if not more severe, problems and injuries in the opposite knee.
In closing, every dog is different, similar, and unique in their own way. This means each dog requires specific evaluation to best align to a solution to restore optimal mobility, living, and health.