Treatment options for a cruciate injury in older dogs

Updated November 21, 2016

Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is commonly encountered in humans but occurs in dogs as well. The ACL is a ligament in the front of a dog's knee that helps hold together the tibia, femur and patella bones. Canine ACL injuries often occur due to arthritis, physical activity or predisposition to the condition. ACL injury treatment options for older dogs vary slightly from those for younger dogs; however, effective treatments are available.


Surgery is the most effective means of treating ACL injuries in dogs. Surgery involves going into the joint and re-creating the torn ligament. Materials used to re-create the torn ligament include synthetic man-made materials, tissue or small portions of bone (such as part of the dog's tibia). This type of surgery requires physical rehabilitation as well as plenty of rest. Your dog must remain physically inactive for several weeks following the surgery, so that the knee joint can heal and the new ACL has time to strengthen and become part of the dog's body.

Controlled Physical Activity

Surgery is not always an option for an older dog, as the dog's age may make the procedure too risky. In this case, the dog is placed on a regime of controlled physical activity. This means that the dog must rest and stay calm the majority of the time. Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming is acceptable to maintain muscle strength. The period of controlled physical activity must be monitored by a veterinarian and usually lasts for eight to 12 weeks.


Anti-inflammatory medication is often administered to older dogs with ACL injuries. These medications relieve pain and swelling caused by the injury. Types of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) include buffered aspirin, carprofen and deracoxib. These medications are available from your veterinarian.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements administered regularly help your dog's body fight off inflammation and pain, as well as boost production and repair of muscle tissue. Helpful dietary supplements include glucosamine, chondroitin and perna mussel. Purchase these supplements in health food stores, but seek veterinary advice about how to best use them.


A healthful, high-quality, low-calorie diet is recommended for older dogs with ACL injuries. This type of diet helps dogs that are overweight lose weight to relieve stress on the injured ACL. It also prevents dogs of a healthy weight from becoming overweight during the upcoming period of inactivity during recovery. A healthy diet is key for dogs' bodies to repair injured tissues and to come back from physical trauma.

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