When it comes to a torn cruciate ligament, knee surgery is likely the most effective way to get your dog up and running again. Our Boulder and Westminster vets discuss the mechanics of your dog's knee, signs of a cruciate injury and the surgeries used to treat this condition.

Painful Ligament Tears in Dogs

Healthy and pain-free knees are essential for your dog to live an active lifestyle. While there are a number of high-quality dog foods and supplements that your vet can recommend to help keep your dog's joints in good condition, cruciate injuries (or ACL injuries as they are sometimes called) can occur and cause your dog a great deal of discomfort.

Your Dog's Cranial Cruciate Ligament

Your dog's cranial cruciate ligament (also called the CCL, CrCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in their hind legs that connect their shin bones to their thigh bones allowing for proper knee function.

Knee pain stemming from a torn cruciate can occur gradually over time or may come on suddenly during exercise. If your dog has injured their cruciate ligament and continues to run, jump and play then the injury may quickly become much more severe. 

Causes of Knee Pain in Dogs

If your pooch has a torn cruciate, pain is caused by the knee's instability and a motion called 'tibial thrust'.

Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee, causing the shinbone to “thrust” forward in relation to the dog's thigh bone (femur). The forward thrust movement occurs because the top of the tibia is sloped, and the dog's injured cruciate cannot prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.

Signs That Your Dog May Have a Torn Ligament

If your dog is suffering from an injured cruciate and experiencing knee pain, they will not be able to run or walk normally and will likely display other symptoms such as:

  • Difficulties rising up off of the floor (particularly after rest, following exercise)
  • Pronounced limping in their hind legs
  • Stiffness following exercise

Knee Surgery to Treat Cruciate Injuries in Dogs

Cruciate injuries will not typically heal unless treated. If your dog is showing signs of a torn cruciate it's important to make an appointment to see your vet and have the condition diagnosed, so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe. Often dogs with a single torn cruciate will quickly go on to injure the second knee.

If your dog is diagnosed with a torn cruciate ligament your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog regain normal pain-free mobility.

Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization (ELSS / ECLS)

For small dogs weighing less than 50lbs, Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization can be an effective surgical option for treating dog ligament injuries. This surgery works by preventing tibial thrust with the help of a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes the dog's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia. This allows the cruciate time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is a relatively quick and uncomplicated procedure with a good success rate in small to medium-sized dogs.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

One of the most common and most reliable knee surgeries for dogs is Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO). This surgery aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's cruciate. This treatment involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. Finally, a metal plate is added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen over the course of several months following TPLO surgery.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

TTA is similar to TPLO and involves surgically separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section up and forward. This surgery prevents much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. As with TPLO surgery, a bone plate will be attached in order to hold the front section of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the tibia) tend to be excellent candidates for TTA surgery.

Choosing The Right Knee Surgery For Your Dog

After a thorough examination of your dog's knee movement and geometry, your vet will consider your dog's age, weight, size and lifestyle, then recommend the treatment that's best in your dog's case.

What To Expect From Your Dog's Recovery from Knee Surgery

Healing completely from knee surgery is a long process regardless of which surgery your dog has. Although dogs are often able to walk 24 hours after surgery, do not expect your dog to recover fully and a return to normal activities for at least 12 - 16 weeks. To help get your dog back to their normal day-to-day lifestyle as quickly as possible, follow your vet's post-operative instructions carefully. Allowing your dog to begin running and jumping before the knee has completely healed could lead to a serious re-injury and bring your dog back to square one.

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.

If your dog is experiencing pain, has been in an accident, or needs emergency care for any reason contact Boulder and Northside Emergency Pet Clinics right away! Our experienced emergency vets are available 24/7 to help your dog when they need us most.