Dog ACL - What is it and how is it treated?

Many people are familiar with ACL injuries in athletes but did you know your dog can also tear their ACL? Read on to find out more from our Boulder and Westminster vets on what the differences are between ACL injuries in dogs and people, and how ACL injuries are treated in dogs.  

What is the ACL in dogs called?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin connective tissue in the middle of our knees which connects the lower leg bone to the upper leg bone.

In dogs we call this connective tissue the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). As with a person's ACL, the CCL connects the dog's tibia (bone below the knee) to their femur (bone above the knee).

One of the primary differences between a person's ACL and a dog's CCL is that the dog's CCL is always load bearing when standing, walking, or running due to the angle of the dog's back legs. 

What are the differences between ACL & CCL injuries?

ACL tears are especially common in athletes. These injuries are typically caused by an acute trauma caused by a sudden movement, such as a change of direction while running or jumping.  

Dog CCL injuries typically come on gradually rather than suddenly, and tend to become progressively worse with activity. 

What are the symptoms of an ACL injury in dogs?

It's important to note that, because people are accustomed to ACL injuries, it is common to refer to CCL injuries in dogs as an ACL injury. 

The most common signs of an ACL injury in dogs are:

  • Lameness and limping in the hind legs.
  • Stiffness, often most noticeable after rest, following exercise.
  • Difficulty rising up off the floor or jumping.

If your dog is suffering from a mild ACL injury, it is likely to become worse over time with symptoms becoming more pronounced. If left untreated a mild ACL injury will likely lead to a very painful tear.

Unfortunately, dogs with a single torn ACL tend to favor the non-injured leg during activity, which often results in the second leg becoming injured as well. It is estimated that 60% of dogs with a single ACL injury will later injure the other knee.

How are dog ACL injuries treated?

There are several effective treatments available for dogs with ACL injuries. Your vet will consider your dog's lifestyle and energy level, as well as his or her age, size, and weight, when determining the best treatment for your dog's injury.

What are the available ACL treatment options for dogs?

Knee Brace:

  • A knee brace can help to stabilize the knee joint and give the ligament time to scar over and repair itself after an ACL injury. To be effective, a knee brace should be combined with significantly reduced activity levels, which can be difficult for many dogs. 

Extracapsular Repair - Lateral Suture

  • This type of ACL surgery is typically recommended for small to medium sized dogs weighing less than 50 lbs and involves replacing the torn ligament with an artificial ligament on the outside of the joint. 

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy - TPLO

  • With TPLO surgery the need for the CCL ligament is eliminated by cutting and flattening the tibial plateau (the top section of the tibia), then stabilizing it in a new position with the help of a plate and screws.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement - TTA

  • TTA surgery also eliminates the need for the CCL ligament by cutting the top of the tibia, moving it forward, and then stabilizing it in its new position with a stainless steel metal plate.

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

Following ACL surgery, some dogs will recover faster than others. However, recovering from ACL surgery is never easy! While your dog may be able to walk within 24 hours of surgery, full recovery and return to normal activities could take up to 16 weeks.

It's important to pay attention to your dog's healing process and follow your vet's advice. Never force your dog to do exercises if they resist as this can lead to re-injuring the leg.

If your dog is showing signs of a torn or injured ACL contact your Boulder and Westminster vet to book an appointment.