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Torn ACL in Dogs

A dog's ACL or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is the connective tissue that joins the shin and the thigh bones together. Sometimes this ligament can be injured. Our Tracy vets talk about how your dog's ACL can become torn, along with signs of injury as well as treatment options. 

What is the ACL, CCL or Cruciate?

In human knees, there is a piece of connective tissue called the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that connects our lower leg bone (tibia) to our upper leg bone (femur), this helps our knees to function properly. This connective tissue is also present in your dog, joining their tibia and femur however, in dogs this tissue is called the cranial cruciate ligament or CCL. 

While they do function slightly differently, people tend to refer to a dog's cranial cruciate ligament as the dog's ACL, CCL or 'cruciate' 

How do ACL injuries happen?

ACL injuries in dogs typically happen over a period of time and worsen as the tissue continues to be used after an injury has occured. For many dogs there is no defining moment when their ACL injury suddenly occurred, instead, it is more likely that through continued exercise, symptoms which began as mild gradually became more pronounced and painful for your dog.

What are the signs of a torn ACL?

ACL in juries in dogs are extremely painful and your dog will not be able to walk normally if they have suffered from this injury. If your dog has torn their ACL They may be noticeably limping or favoring their hind legs, showing signs of stiffness following exercise, and having difficulties jumping or rising up off of the floor.

What happens to the ACL when it is torn?

When a dog's ACL has been injured, the tibia slides forward in relation to the femur. This forward sliding movement is known as a 'positive drawer sign' and results in knee instability which can lead to osteoarthritis or damage to the cartilage and surrounding bones.

What are the available treatments for a torn ACL in dogs?

If your dog is showing signs of an ACL injury it's important to see a vet to have the condition diagnosed so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe. It is common for dogs that are suffering from a torn ACL to experince injury in the other legs hortly after.

Non-surgery options for a torn ACL

While there are a couple of non-surgery options out there, non-surgical treatment for CCL injuries are typically only used for dogs that are quite small. One of the recommended non-surgery options includes rest and anti-inflammatory medications for six weeks to eight weeks on average, along with rehabilitation exercises after the injury is healed and a weight loss plan if the dog is obese. Without surgery, the knee joint will be subject to degenerative changes.

Ortho Dog Cruciate Care Knee Brace

Another possible option for ACL surgery alternatives is a knee brace. The Ortho Dog Cruciate Care Knee Brace is a non-rigid brace that was created to stabilize and support the knee joint for the duration of the healing process. This device is not only helpful for dogs that are suffering from ACL injuries but also other types of leg conditions such as sprains. 

This knee brace stabilizes the knee preventing movement therefor allowing scar tissue to have an opportunity to form a callus over the tear for healing. Orthopedic braces are a straight forward low cost alternative to ACL surgery. Talk to your vet to find out if this could be an option for your furry friend. 

Surgery options for a torn ACL

Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization - ELSS / ECLS

When not torn, your dog's ACL would normally be able to oppose the forward force of the tibia as your dog is shifting its weight, when torn the ACL is no longer able to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring. This surgical treatment works by counteracting the sliding forward of the dog's shinbone, ('tibial thrust') by “anchoring” the tibia to the femur with a suture placed by your dog's surgeon in order to stabilize the joint while it heals.

ELSS surgery is fairly quick and uncomplicated with a good success rate in small to medium-sized dogs. ELSS surgery is typically the most affordable of the ACL surgical treatment options. The long-term success of ELSS surgery varies in dogs of different sizes and activity levels. Speak to your vet to find out if ELSS surgery is an option for your injured dog.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy - TPLO

TPLO (tibial plateau leveling osteotomy) surgery is more complicated than ELSS surgery.

This surgery involves rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle and adding a metal plate in order to stabilize the cut bone as it heals.

Full recovery from TPLO surgery in dogs takes several months but has a good long-term prognosis, and re-injury is uncommon.

What is the recovery process after ACL surgery?

ACL surgery is a serious surgery and has a long recovery time. 

Your dog may be up and walkign around as soon as 24 hours after the surgery has been performed, but a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or possibly longer. 

It is essential to follow your vet's instructions and pay attention to your dog's healing progress. It's important not to rush exercise following ACL surgery. Never force your dog to do exercises if they resist as this can lead to re-injuring the leg.

If your dog is showing signs of a torn ACL please contact our Tracy vets immediately to have your dog examined.

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