Signs of Torn ACL in Dogs: What You Need to Know

by | Jan 5, 2023 | Dog Health, TPLO Surgery

You and your dog come back home from your favorite running route, and you see your pet limping. It may just be fatigue or a strain, but it can be much worse, like a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).

ACL, or specifically CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) in dogs, connects the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone) in the knee joint and is vital in your dog’s movement. Just like humans, an ACL tear impairs a dog’s ability to walk, run, and enjoy the active and playful lifestyle it’s meant to have. 

Fortunately, there are detectable signs of a torn ACL in dogs that owners can look out for to prevent additional harm to their pet’s legs.

Symptoms of ACL Tears in Dogs

Your dog may give visual and audible signs of injury, which is why it is crucial to pay attention to your pet. Identifying the symptoms of ACL injury in your dog will help you spot it early and determine its severity. 

Below are ACL tear symptoms to look out for:

  • Limping or lameness

Your dog may walk slower than usual or stagger as it tries to manage its weaker leg.

  • Stiffness in the joints and legs

ACL tears cause ligaments to retract and therefore limit the range of motion of the joints.

  • Swelling or bruise on the knee

Tissue growth and inflammation can form around the knee.

  • Abnormal sitting position

ACL tears and joint pains can cause your dog to sit abnormally to ease its discomfort.

  • Clicking or cracking sounds in their legs

Ligament tears often come with damaged cartilage pads, causing clicks or cracking sounds when they rub up against each other during movement.

  • Lifting its leg when walking

Pain and discomfort will cause your dog to lift its leg to avoid putting pressure on the injury and compensate with its other three legs.

Dogs may vocalize their discomfort. Therefore it is best to listen to your dog to know if it’s already in pain.

  • Lethargic and uninterested in their favorite activities

ACL tears weaken the joints and may make your dog hesitant to run, walk, play, and move around.

Causes of ACL Injury in Dogs

ACL ruptures can stem from a variety of reasons. It may be from spontaneous play gone wrong or other health issues. Your pet may have an ACL tear due to:

  • Sudden trauma

A large sudden force on a dog’s legs from either jumping, running, or falling from a great height puts extreme stress on the knee. This trauma strains the muscles in the legs and puts excessive force on the knee joint, causing the CCL to rupture.

  • Age

Your dog’s CCL can experience wear and minor tears as it ages. These small tears can accumulate over time and develop into a complete tear of the CCL.

  • Weight

If your dog is a large breed or is overweight for its size, the extra weight will put a lot of pressure on its joints. The constant pressure can wear on your dog’s knee joints and may soon lead to the ligaments giving in. Lack of regular exercise can also be a contributing factor.

  • Twisted Knee

Most ACL tears in dogs happen from twisted knees. These can occur when your dog runs or turns too quickly or jumps from a great height. This puts immense stress on the knees, causing them to twist out of place and result in a torn ACL.

  • Degenerative joint disease

Joint disease or arthritis can develop when ligaments become weaker over time. These conditions can lead to CCL ruptures and other complications if not treated earlier.

There are also dog breeds that are most susceptible to ACL injuries, particularly large dogs. These breeds include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Saint Bernards
  • Mastiffs
  • Rottweilers
  • Newfoundlands

Genetics also plays a part for an increased risk of ACL injuries. Smaller dog breeds are no exception to this, especially if their lineage has a history of CCL-related conditions. 

What to Do if Your Dog Does Have a Torn ACL

Fortunately, there are remedies available for your dog’s ACL injury. These cases can require different treatments, ranging from complete surgical procedures to alternative and non-invasive approaches for managing pain.

Here are your options for easing your dog’s pain: 

  • Visit a veterinarian

Paying a visit to your local vet should be the first step if you start to notice anything wrong with your dog. This will help you better understand its health status and allow your pet to receive proper treatment. The vet can perform further diagnosis and give pointers on how to better care for the injury as an owner. They can also prescribe medications to help ease the pain and boost recovery.

  • TPLO surgery

The tibia plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) is one of the most common and recommended surgeries for ACL tears in dogs. TPLO involves cutting the tibial plateau (weight-bearing bone) and rotating it into a more flat and stable position. This makes the job of the CCL obsolete and is one of the fastest and efficient ways to treat ACL tears and injuries.

  • Lateral Structure Technique/Extracapsular Repair 

This quick procedure involves the replacement of the torn ligament with a suture or mono-filament plastic fiber across the knee joint to allow fibrous scar tissue to form up and provide stability. This acts as a permanent knee brace. However, there are drawbacks to this procedure. Recovery is not guaranteed, as the suture may break off too soon, or scar tissue development may be insufficient to give proper support to the affected leg.

  • Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

The TTA procedure stabilizes the knee joint by cutting off a portion of the tibia bone and spacing it forward with a metal plate to hold the knee joint and bone in place to allow for healing and also does away with the CCL.

  • Orthopedic braces and Supplements

If possible, your dog’s injury can bypass surgery and be available for other holistic treatments such as supportive braces and supplements under your licensed vet’s recommendations. This is a less invasive and affordable option available for owners.

  • Acupuncture, Swimming or Massage

These alternatives provide similar aid without the need for surgery. They may take a longer recovery period but offer a holistic and natural approach to rehabilitating your dog’s injuries.

  • Put your Dog on a Diet

Oftentimes, it is the excessive weight that is the culprit of ACL tears in dogs. Their joints can only take so much pressure before they give in and rupture. Putting your dog on a healthy diet will go a long way in preventing future accidents and ensuring your pet is in tiptop shape.

  • Leash your Dog

You should also limit your dog’s movement while managing its ACL tear. You can leash your dog to prevent it from walking or running while injured.

  • Make Sure Your Dog Gets Ample Rest

Give your dog ample time to recuperate from its injuries before and after surgery. This will allow for proper healing and accelerate your dog’s recovery.

  • Use Ice Packs, Heat Pads or Supportive Splints

Just like humans, applying home remedies can reduce inflammation in the injury site and reduce pain and discomfort. Splints offer support to the knee joint by lessening pressure and assisting in recovery.

ACL injuries are serious and can lead to permanent disability if left untreated.  We recommend seeing a vet immediately for professional help and treatment of your dog’s injuries. For more information on TPLO procedures and other treatments for your dog’s injuries, visit the TPLOinfo blog today.

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