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Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. August 22, 2018
Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

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We might think that ligament injury is something reserved for those who engage in athletic activities on a regular basis. The unfortunate fact is that anyone with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can tear or rupture it, with many different factors contributing to the likelihood of it occurring. Our dogs are no different. Despite their seemingly unlimited reserves of energy and agility, an ACL tear can happen when we least expect it.

One of the main complications with cruciate ligament injury in dogs is not only that it results in acute pain, but that it will require similarly acute veterinary assistance, often resulting in the need for surgery. Whether surgical intervention is required, our inability to convey how important rest and recovery is to our dog can complicate matters further. AnimalWised discusses cruciate ligament injuries in more detail so you can know what to expect if this happens with your canine companion.

You may also be interested in: Why is My Dog Limping on their Back Leg?
  1. What is a broken cruciate ligament in dogs?
  2. Symptoms of cruciate ligament rupture in dogs
  3. Treatment of cruciate ligament injury in dogs
  4. Recovery of cruciate ligament rupture in dogs
  5. Conservative treatment for cruciate ligament injury

What is a broken cruciate ligament in dogs?

Ligament damage in dogs is relatively frequent and can be serious, affecting dogs of all ages. Dogs which weigh over 20 kgs (44 lbs) in weight are more prone to this type of injury. It is produced either my a sudden traumatic break or by degeneration over time. Ligaments are the connective tissue which help stabilize joints. In a dog's knees we find two crossed ligaments, the anterior and the posterior. The one which joins the tibia and femur bone is the anterior cruciate ligament and this one breaks with more frequency due to its positioning. When it does tear or rupture, it causes instability in the knee.

Younger and more active dogs are more prone to getting this type of injury. This is because it often occurs due to trauma sustained during energetic play or while running, often due to hyperextension if their misplace a limb while running. Older dogs tend to reduce their activity levels as they age, living increasingly sedentary lives. In these cases, degeneration from long-term use is a more common cause.

Sometimes rupture of the ACl can also damage the meniscus, a pad of cartilage and fibrous tissue which cushions the point where two bones meet during articulation. When the meniscus is injured, the joint will be further affected and may become inflamed. In the long-term, degenerative arthritis and permanent lameness will occur if left untreated. The lateral ligaments will also be affected.

Symptoms of cruciate ligament rupture in dogs

In cases of an ACL tear in dogs, the most noticeable symptom will be a sudden limping. The dog will keep the affected leg up high without supporting it at any time, sometimes gingerly touching the ground with their paw before bring it back up again. Due to the pain produced by the breakage, it is very common for the dog to scream or cry intensely when it occurs. They may also whimper or whine for a long time after. We may also notice inflammation in the knee with a lot of pain experienced if it is touched or the dog tries to stretch it. At home we can see the paw usually identify the symptoms of an anterior cruciate ligament injury fairly easily. However, we need to be careful not to assume as an injury on the paw or similar leg problem may result in similar symptoms.

If we identify the pain in the knee, we must take our dog to the veterinarian. They can diagnose the break accurately by performing a physical examination involving the manipulation of the knee, as occurs in the so-called drawer test. Additionally, an x-ray can assess the state of the bones in the knee and register any potential damage there. Any relevant data can help the diagnosis, so we must inform the vet of when and how it happened. We should expect a lot of pain as this is characteristic of the initial injury. This pain will lessen, but without proper care and treatment, further pain will experience with the likely development of osteoarthritis.

Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs - Symptoms of cruciate ligament rupture in dogs

Treatment of cruciate ligament injury in dogs

Once a veterinary professional has confirmed the diagnosis, the likely treatment will be a surgical one. This is because, without surgery, the ligament will not reconnect and will result in osteoarthritis if left untreated. To perform this operation, the veterinary surgeon can choose between several techniques which summarize below:

  • Extracapsular: ligament stability is restored by placing suture material from the back to the front of the knee, preventing movement of the tibia and allowing for periarticular fibrosis to occur. This is the reparative growth of the fibrous tissue needed for the ligament. Usually works faster, but not ideal for larger dogs.
  • Intracapsular: the inside of the knee is opened up and damaged tissue is removed, facilitating the restoration of the ligament (and meniscus if required).
  • Osteotomy techniques: these are more modern surgical interventions which consist of modifying the forces which allow the knee to move or keep stable by cutting of the bone[1]. Specifically, they change the degree of inclination of the tribal plateau with respect to the patellar ligament, allowing the knee to articulate without using the damaged ligament. These are techniques such as Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA), tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy (TPLO), high tibia osteotomy (HTO) or triple tibial osteotomy (TTO).

The traumatologist assessing the the particular case of the dog will propose the most appropriate technique by assessing the various advantages and disadvantages. For example, TPLO is not recommended for puppies due to the potential for damage to bone growth.

Regardless of the technique employed, it is important to also assess the state of the meniscus. If there is damage here, intervention will also be required. If not, the dog will continue to limp after the operation and will not be properly healed. The first few months after the operation are crucial as there is still risk of rupture during the recuperation process.

Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs - Treatment of cruciate ligament injury in dogs

Recovery of cruciate ligament rupture in dogs

After surgery, our vet will recommend physiotherapy, consistent of exercises to gradually restore movement to the knee. It is very important to follow these instructions for adequate recovery. Swimming stands out as one of thr most useful physiotherapies available and is highly recommended if possible.

In order to achieve the best recovery and avoid the loss of muscle mass, we need to engage in restricted exercise. This can mean providing them a small space in which to move, but limiting the possibility of jumping or running which cause further damage. We should avoid over-extension of the joint by prohibiting certain activities such as going up and down stairs. When you do take them for walks, they will need to be held on a short leash. Do not go out on such walks until the postoperative period is over. Your vet will advise on when this time has elapsed.

Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs - Recovery of cruciate ligament rupture in dogs

Conservative treatment for cruciate ligament injury

As we have seen, the most common choice for treating an ACl or similar ligament injury is surgery. Without it, in only a short time, the dog's quality of life will be detrimentally and irreversibly affected. However, there are complications which can make surgery untenable such as the preexistence of osteoarthritis or if hey are of too advanced an age. In these cases, the only option will be to treat the injury with anti-inflammatories to relieve pain. This, however, will not be permanently effective.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs