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ACL in Dogs

Experiencing your dog tearing an ACL (CCL) can induce significant stress and fear, often necessitating surgical intervention. In this article, our veterinarians in Turlock discuss the intricacies of canine ACL injuries and explore available treatment options.

A Dog's ACL

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL/ACL) connects your dog's shin bone to the thigh bone, facilitating proper knee movement. A torn ACL can cause sudden knee pain during exercise but often develops gradually. If your dog continues to jump, run, and play with an injured cruciate, the injury will likely worsen, and symptoms will become more severe and pronounced over time.

ACL/CCL Injuries in Dogs

Ensuring your canine companion enjoys an active lifestyle requires maintaining healthy and pain-free knees. Although numerous high-quality dog foods and supplements can aid in preserving your dog's joint health, cruciate injuries (also known as ACL injuries) can occur suddenly, causing significant discomfort to your dog.

Cause of the Pain

When your pup is suffering from a torn ACL, the pain arises from the knee's instability and a motion called 'tibial thrust.'

Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up your dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee, causing the tibia to "thrust" forward about the dog's thigh bone (femur). This forward thrust movement happens because the top of the tibia is sloped, and your pup's injured ACL is unable to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.

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 right away.

Treatment for Dogs With ACL Injuries

ACL injuries generally do not resolve on their own. If your pup exhibits signs of a torn ACL, it's crucial to consult a vet promptly for a diagnosis. This ensures that treatment can commence before symptoms worsen and become more painful.

If your dog has a torn ACL, your vet will probably suggest one of three knee surgeries to facilitate a return to an active lifestyle.

TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy

TPLO surgery, although more complex than ELSS surgery, typically achieves high success rates in treating ACL injuries in dogs. This procedure seeks to diminish tibial thrust without depending on the dog's ACL. It entails creating a full cut through the top of the tibia, known as the tibial plateau, followed by rotating the tibial plateau to alter its angle. Subsequently, a metal plate is inserted to stabilize the cut bone during the healing process. Over several months, your dog's leg will progressively recover and strengthen.

TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement

TTA is similar to TPLO but tends not to be used as often to treat ACL injuries in dogs. This knee surgery involves surgically separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone and then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section up and forward. This helps to prevent much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front section of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the 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.

Can a Dog Live With a Torn ACL

A dog can technically live with a torn ACL, but it may experience pain and difficulty moving. The severity and the dog's size, age, and activity level influence adaptability. Some dogs may manage with a partial tear without surgery, especially if small and less active.

However, surgical intervention is often recommended to prevent further damage. Without surgery, a dog may develop arthritis and experience chronic pain. Consultation with a vet is crucial to determine the best course of action based on the individual circumstances.

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 your treatment option, healing from ACL surgery is a long process. With TPLO surgery, many dogs can walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery; however, a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or more.

Following your vet's post-operative instructions is essential to help your dog return to normal activities as quickly and safely as possible without risking re-injury. Allowing your dog to return to an active lifestyle too soon after surgery could lead to injuring the knee all over again.

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 Turlock vets to have your pup diagnosed and treated.

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