Dog ACL - What is it and how is it treated?

Many know about ACL injuries in athletes, but did you realize that dogs can also suffer from torn ACLs? Our Vancouver vets discuss the differences between ACL injuries in dogs and people and how ACL injuries are treated in dogs.  

What is the ACL in dogs called?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin tissue in the middle of our knees that connects the lower leg bone to the upper leg bone.

In dogs, this tissue is called the CCL, or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). As with a person's ACL, the CCL connects the dog's tibia (bone below the knee) to the femur (bone above the knee).

One key difference between a person's ACL and a dog's CCL is that, due to the angle of the dog's back legs when they are standing, walking, or running, their CCL is always load-bearing. 

What are the differences between ACL & CCL injuries?

ACL injuries are particularly common in athletes. These injuries generally occur due to an acute trauma stemming from a sudden movement, such as a change of direction while running or jumping.  

Dog CCL injuries typically come on gradually rather than suddenly and tend to become progressively worse with activity. 

What are the symptoms of an ACL injury in dogs?

It's important to note that because people are accustomed to ACL injuries, it is common to refer to CCL injuries in dogs as an ACL injuries. 

The most common signs of an ACL injury in dogs are:

  • Lameness and limping in the hind legs.
  • Stiffness, often most noticeable after rest, following exercise.
  • Difficulty rising up off the floor or jumping.

If your dog is suffering from a mild ACL injury, it is likely to become worse over time, with symptoms becoming more pronounced. A mild ACL injury will likely lead to a painful tear if left untreated.

Unfortunately, dogs suffering from a single torn ACL typically begin to favor the non-injured leg during activity, which often leads to the second leg also becoming injured. It is estimated that 60% of dogs with a single ACL injury will soon go on to injure the other knee.

How are dog ACL injuries treated?

Many effective treatments are available for dogs diagnosed with an ACL injury. When determining the best treatment for your dog's injury, your vet will take your dog's lifestyle and energy level into consideration, as well as your dog's age, size, and weight.

What are the available ACL treatment options for dogs?

Knee Brace:

  • A knee brace is a non-surgery choice for dealing with an ACL injury in dogs. It can stabilize the knee and allow the ligament to heal naturally. However, it's important to remember that for it to work, the dog needs to be less active, which can be a challenge for many pets.

Extracapsular Repair - Lateral Suture

  • This type of ACL surgery is typically recommended for small to medium-sized dogs weighing less than 50 lbs. It involves replacing the torn ligament with an artificial ligament on the outside of the joint. 

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy - TPLO

  • With TPLO surgery, the need for the CCL ligament is eliminated by cutting and flattening the tibial plateau (the top section of the tibia), then stabilizing it in a new position with the help of a plate and screws.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement - TTA

  • TTA surgery replaces the CCL ligament by cutting the top of the tibia, moving it forward, and then stabilizing it in its new position with a stainless steel metal plate.

How long will it take for my dog to recover from ACL surgery?

After ACL surgery, dogs recover at different speeds. Even though some dogs may start walking within 24 hours, full recovery and getting back to their usual activities can take  16 weeks or more. Watching how your dog heals and listening to your vet is crucial.

It's important to pay attention to your dog's healing process and follow your vet's advice. Never force your dog to do exercises if they resist, as this can lead to re-injuring the leg.

If your dog shows signs of a torn or injured ACL, contact your Vancouver to book an appointment.