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ACL in Dogs

Rupturing of the ACL(CCL) in your dog can be a very stressful and frightening experience that may require surgery. Our veterinarians in Clarksvillediscuss ACLs in dogs and how injuries can be treated. 

A Dog's ACL

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg. It connects the tibia to the thigh and allows correct knee movement.

An injury resulting in knee pain due to an ACL tear may occur suddenly during exercise but often develops gradually over time. If your dog suffers a cruciate ligament injury and continues to jump, run, and play, the injury will likely worsen, and symptoms will become more painful and pronounced.

ACL/CCL Injuries in Dogs

Keeping your canine companion's knees healthy and pain-free is essential to enabling him to lead an active life.

However, while many high-quality dog foods and supplements can help keep your dog's joints in good condition, cruciate ligament (or anterior cruciate ligament, as it's sometimes called) damage can occur without warning and cause a great deal of discomfort.

Cause of the Pain

When your puppy suffers an ACL tear, the pain is due to knee instability and a "tibial thrust" movement.

Tibial thrust is a sliding movement caused by the transmission of weight up your dog's tibia and through the knee, causing the tibia to push forward about the thigh bone (femur). This forward thrust occurs because the top of the tibia is tilted, and your puppy's injured ACL cannot prevent this unwanted movement.

Signs of an ACL Injury in Dogs

If your dog is suffering from knee pain due to an injured ACL, they will not be able to run or walk normally and will likely display other symptoms such as:

  • Difficulties rising off of the floor
  • Limping in their hind legs
  • Stiffness following exercise

If you notice a distinct event that causes your dog to appear injured immediately, contact an emergency vet immediately.

Treatment for Dogs With ACL Injuries

Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament usually does not heal on its own. If your dog shows signs of an ACL tear, it's important to consult a veterinarian and diagnose the condition so that treatment can begin before symptoms worsen and become more painful.

If your dog suffers an ACL tear, your vet will probably recommend one of three knee operations to help your dog return to an active lifestyle.

TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy

The TPLO operation is more complex than the ELSS operation but generally gives good results in treating ACL lesions in dogs. This surgical option reduces tibial thrust without relying on the dog's ACL. The procedure involves making a complete incision in the upper part of the tibia (the tibial plateau) and then rotating the tibial plateau to alter its angle. A metal plate is then added to stabilize the cut bone during healing. Over several months, your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen.

TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement

TTA is similar to TPLO but is not as frequently used to treat ACL injuries in dogs. This knee operation involves surgically separating the anterior part of the tibia from the rest of the bone and then adding a spacer between the two parts to move the anterior part up and forward. This avoids much of the pushing movement of the tibia. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front part of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the upper tibia) are excellent candidates for this type of ACL surgery.

ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization

This ACL surgery is typically used to treat dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing the tibial thrust with a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ACL has time to heal and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is fairly quick and uncomplicated, with an impressive success rate in smaller dogs.

Ok, but can a dog live with a torn "dog 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 the use of a knee brace may be successful for dogs when combined with restricted activity.

Choosing an ACL Surgery

After your vet examines your dog's physical state, they will recommend the best option for your pup after considering their age, size, medical history, etc.

ACL Surgery Recovery Process

Regardless of the treatment option chosen, recovery from ACL surgery is a lengthy process. With TPLO surgery, many dogs can walk as early as 24 hours after surgery, but it can take 12 to 16 weeks, or even longer, for full recovery and a return to normal activities. Following your vet's post-operative instructions is essential to help your dog resume normal activities as quickly and safely as possible without risking re-injury. If you allow your dog to resume an active life too soon after surgery, you run the risk of re-injuring his knee.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Is your dog showing signs of an ACL injury? Contact our Clarksville vets to have your pup diagnosed and treated.

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