If your dog suffers from knee pain due to a torn cruciate ligament (similar to ACL injuries in humans), surgery may offer the most effective treatment. In this article, our veterinarians at Vancouver explore three surgical options for addressing this prevalent knee injury in dogs.

Knee Injuries in Dogs

To ensure your dog enjoys a healthy and happy life, you must actively maintain the proper function and pain-free condition of their knees.

Similar to human knees, your dog's knee health relies on a foundation of excellent nutrition and an appropriate level of physical activity.

However, despite the availability of high-quality dog foods and supplements that can aid in maintaining your pup's joint health, they can still experience cruciate ligament injuries, also known as ACL injuries, which may cause significant knee pain.

Knee pain resulting from a torn ligament can occur suddenly during your dog's running or playtime or gradually develop over an extended period.

What is the cranial cruciate ligament (ACL) in dogs?

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) connects your dog's two large leg bones, enabling their knee to move properly and without pain. It is one of two ligaments in their leg.

What is tibial thrust?

When your dog experiences a torn cruciate ligament, instability within the knee leads to pain triggered by a motion known as 'tibial thrust.'

Tibial thrust occurs when weight is transmitted up your dog's shin and across their knee, causing their shin to move forward forcefully. This movement occurs due to the sloped top of their tibia, and their injured ligament cannot prevent this painful motion from happening.

What are the signs of a ligament injury in dogs?

If your dog has an injured cruciate ligament causing knee pain, they may struggle to perform various movements normally, such as walking or running. You should also watch for other symptoms of knee injuries, such as:

  • Reluctance to exercise or climb stairs
  • Difficulties rising off of the floor
  • Limping in their hind legs
  • Stiffness following exercise

Can surgery repair my dog's knee injury?

Ligament injuries in dogs cause pain and typically do not heal independently. If your pup exhibits signs of a torn ligament, it's crucial to promptly consult your vet for a diagnosis to initiate treatment before symptoms worsen.

In numerous instances, a dog with a torn cruciate ligament in one leg will rapidly injure the ligament in the opposite healthy leg.

If your dog has a torn cruciate ligament, your vet will likely suggest one of three knee surgeries to restore your dog's normal mobility.

ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization
  • Surgeons often use this knee surgery to treat smaller dogs weighing less than 50 pounds. It prevents tibial thrust by surgically placing a suture, stabilizing your pup's knee by tightening the joint, and preventing the tibia from sliding front to back. This allows the ligament to heal and gives the muscles surrounding the knee a chance to regain strength.
TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
  • TPLO reduces tibial thrust without having to rely on a dog's cruciate. TPLO surgery involves making a complete cut through the top of your dog's shin bone (called their tibial plateau) and then rotating the tibial plateau to change its angle. A metal plate will then be added to the area where the cut was made to stabilize the bone as it heals. Over several months, your dog's leg will gradually heal to regain strength and mobility.
TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
  • TTA surgery involves 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 of the tibia up and forward. This can help 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 new corrected position until the bone has had adequate time to heal. 

Which type of knee surgery is right for my dog?

A vet can comprehensively examine your dog's knee to assess its movement and geometry. They will consider your dog's weight, age, lifestyle, and size before suggesting an appropriate treatment.

After thoroughly evaluating your pet's condition, your vet can recommend the most suitable surgery to address your dog's knee injury.

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

Healing from knee surgery requires patience and is typically a lengthy process. While some dogs may start walking within 24 hours after their surgery, fully recovering and returning to normal activities will likely take 16 weeks or longer.

Carefully following your vet's post-operative instructions will enable your dog to safely and quickly regain their normal activities while minimizing the risk of re-injuring the knee.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you interested in learning more about your dog's treatment options for knee surgery? Contact Mountain View Veterinary Hospital today to get started.