Cruciate ligament injury is one of the most common orthopaedic problems vets see in dogs, especially Labradors and Golden Retrievers. The knee injury requires surgical repair. Compliance with veterinary advice throughout the healing process is crucial to a full recovery.
The first step in healing is to ensure the surgical site itself heals properly. The site should be red and slightly raised the first day after surgery but should flatten and become more of a pink colour over time, eventually becoming white and flat. If the site continues to be an angry red colour or you see oozing, it may be infected. The skin infection is certainly not good, but because it is over bone that has been traumatised, the risk of a serious infection is increased. Check the site daily and have your veterinarian re-evaluate it if there are any concerns.
Typically, your veterinarian will recommend your dog rest and stay off the leg for six weeks. Most of the time, this is not a problem because the dog realises the leg is in a weakened state and will not put weight on it. The length of time is necessary to allow the ligaments to stabilise and make biological connections to the bone. Ligaments are composed of mainly collagen and have a poor blood supply, so healing takes longer than most other tissue types in the body.
After six weeks, your veterinarian often will want to have a follow-up exam and may take an X-ray to ensure appropriate healing has occurred. Once your dog has been given the OK, it is time for physiotherapy. The goal of the therapy is to slowly return the leg to normal use, including running and jumping. Sometimes the initial damage is so severe that the dog will only be able to return to limited mobility.
Begin the physiotherapy by taking the dog on short walks twice a day. Every five days, increase the distance by another block. The dog should be excited to go out on these walks and may show minimal shortness of stride on the effected leg. By the second or third week of rehabilitation, you should ideally see no limping at all. If you see an increase in limping or your dog is reluctant to go out, consult your veterinarian as this maybe a sign of a problem. Continue to lengthen walks, and introduce off-leash play only when the dog is comfortably walking a couple miles.