If you have a large breed dog, you will hear about hip dysplasia, but the odds that someone will talk to you about ACL injuries are quite low.
There are at least three reasons why you should learn about ACL injuries in dogs.
1. There are things you can do to minimize the risk.
2. Knowing the signs of an ACL injury will prevent delays in diagnosis and treatment. That is important because a knee with a torn ACL becomes unstable and serious arthritis sets in very quickly.
3. You might be presented with a single treatment option. While it might be the best one, it is important to be aware of all options before making any decisions regarding your dog’s health.
So what is an ACL injury?
ACL is short for anterior cruciate ligament. It is also referred to as CCL (cranial cruciate ligament).
If you take a look at the anatomy of the stifle (dog’s knee), you will see that there is no ball and socket like in a hip joint. One bone is virtually sitting on top of the other, held in place by connective tissue. The two crossing cruciate ligaments are holding the bones in place and play a vital role in providing stability of the joint. Because of the anatomy of the knee, the ligaments have to withstand a lot of stress and that’s what makes them most vulnerable to injury.
Once the ligament gets torn or stretched, the stability of the knee is lost. This results in lameness, pain and onset of arthritis.
When your dog presents with a sudden onset of hind leg lameness that is not improving, you should suspect an ACL injury and have your dog checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible. The degree of lameness will depend on the degree of ligament damage. Your dog might start favoring the leg, putting weight only partially (tip-toeing) or not putting weight on the affected leg at all.
A knee with a damaged crucial ligament will not get better on its own. Your options will depend on the degree of the injury (partial tear, stretched ligament or fully torn ligament), age of your dog and anatomic aspects of your dog’s knee.
There are nonsurgical treatments, such as braces, regenerative stem cell therapy or prolotherapy. If you have an older dog that wouldn’t do well with surgery, braces or prolotherapy might be your best option.
However, if you have a young, healthy dog, a surgical solution gives your dog the best chance of returning to his active life. The most popular knee surgeries today are TPLO (tibial plateau leveling osteotomy) and TTA (tibial tuberosity advancement). Both these surgeries stabilize the knee by altering the bone anatomy.
An older and less invasive type of ACL surgery is extracapsular repair. There are a number of factors that will determine whether an extracapsular repair is an option for your dog. While most experts deem this surgery unsuitable for large breed dogs, there is evidence to the contrary. However, following strict post-op regime is crucial for the success of this type of repair.
The most important preventative measure to prevent ligament injuries in dogs is weight control. People still don’t seem to realize this, but obesity in dogs is a serious health risk. Not only does obesity increases risk of injuries and degenerative joint disease, it is a contributing factor to a number of other conditions, including heart problems, diabetes and even cancer.
Exercise will not only help keep the weight down, but it will also build strong muscles. Strong muscles help stabilize the joint and prevent injuries. Leash walks on even, flat surfaces are a good way to help the dog build muscle. Swimming is another great exercise. Be careful when your dog is taking part in activities that involve quick starts, stops, jumps and turns such as agility or Frisbee. With any sport, there is a risk of injury and dogs should slowly work into activities and receive proper training and conditioning.
Underlying conditions such as hypothyroidism and structural abnormalities affecting the knee such as a luxating patella also increase the risk of ACL injuries.