Dogs can tear their ligaments just like their human counterparts. Most often, the ligaments in the knees are torn due to exercise, repeated injury or trauma to the leg. Understanding the signs of each injury can help any dog owner get their pet the necessary help to repair a torn ligament.
About the Knee
Three bones join to create the knee: the tibia, the patella, and the femur. These three bones are held together by strong bands of tissue known as ligaments. The two ligaments that are commonly injured in the knee are the anterior cruciate ligament and the cranial cruciate ligament. These two ligaments crisscross in the knee and prevent the tibia and the femur from rubbing against each other.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is in the front portion of the knee and can partially tear or fully tear. This injury usually occurs when a dog accidentally twists the hind leg, usually during exercise or activity. Dogs who are overweight have an increased chance of suffering from a torn ACL. Symptoms of a torn ACL include sudden lameness, swelling and pain.
Treatment for an ACL will vary based on the severity of the tear. For example, a fully torn anterior cruciate ligament will most often require surgery. Surgery is used to either reattach the ligament or replace it with a synthetic ligament. Following surgery, the dog will be under strict restriction for up to 2 weeks to allow the ligament to heal properly, with additional restrictions up to 6 weeks with light walking.
For dogs who have only partially torn the ligament, the doctor may institute an activity restriction to allow the torn ligament to heal on its own. It is important that all instructions and restrictions given by the veterinarian are strictly followed to prevent additional injury or retearing of the ligament.
Cranial Cruciate Ligament
The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is located on the back of the knee and just like the ACL it can be fully or partially torn. This can happen due to repeated injuries to the knee, trauma or a slow breakdown of the tissue of the affected ligament. Symptoms include lameness which can come and go, particularly after exercise. Some dogs may also develop arthritis, swelling of the joint and show signs of pain.
Treatment for a partially or fully torn CCL varies based on the size of the dog. For example, small dogs under 13.6 Kilogram can often heal on their own within a few weeks. These dogs should be under strict exercise restrictions for up to 6 weeks.
In larger dogs over 13.6 Kilogram, surgery is often the best option. Surgery is used to stabilise the tibia beneath the femur through the use of implants or by surgical alteration of the joint. Following surgery, the dog should rest for at least 6 weeks with slow increases in exercise until normal exercise levels are reached.
In either case, if the dog is overweight then a weight loss program may also be beneficial during this time to prevent future tears from occurring.