A Guide To ACL Injuries In Dogs

One of the best things about being a dog owner is the enthusiasm and energy your fur friend can bring to your life. Whether it’s jogging in the park, daily walks, or accompanying you on weekend hikes, your dog may help you stay active and fit, along with offering you affection and companionship. However, like humans, dogs are also prone to injuries, which may require surgery and aftercare.

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, also referred to as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury, is one of the common injuries in dogs. If not properly treated, ACL injuries in dogs may result in arthritis within the knee joint, lameness, and pain. 

It may also contribute to long-term mobility problems. If you’re unsure whether your dog is experiencing ACL injury, visit the nearest vet clinic and follow this link to get more information.

Signs Of ACL Injuries In Dogs

ACL injuries in dogs can cause joint instability, causing discomfort. Other signs of ACL injuries are as follows:

  • Your Dog Has Swelling And Thickening Knee

ACL injuries may cause your dog’s knee to swell, and scar tissue may develop over time. It makes the injured side look bigger than the normal knee.

  • Your Dog Experiences Lameness

Once the weakened ligament gives way while your dog is playing outdoor games or running, lameness may happen without warning. It can be uncomfortable for your dog when it can’t put its foot down. Other dogs may also show on-and-off lameness over months or weeks. They might get better with rest, but become lame again once they become physically active.

  • You Hear A Clicking Sound When Your Dog Walks

When your dog walks on an unstable knee, it stresses their joint’s structures more. The meniscus, your dog’s shock-absorbing cartilage pad, may quickly become injured or torn as their knee moves abnormally. Sometimes, it creates a clicking sound you can hear as you and your dog go for a walk. 

  • Your Dog Sits Abnormally

Your dog may lie or sit with its legs sticking out to the side instead of being tucked like you used to because it may hurt when it bends its knee.

Types Of ACL Injuries In Dogs

Like most types of injuries, ACL injuries in dogs can be either acute or chronic. While acute ACL injury happens instantaneously without prior damage to the ligaments, chronic refers to the slow onset and long forming of ACL injury in dogs.

  • Chronic ACL Injury

Most ACL injuries in dogs are defined as chronic and more common than the acute type. Chronic ACL injuries happen in dogs from five to seven years of age. It can be due to several factors, even if it’s common. 

A chronic ACL injury can be a partial or full tear leg injury. A full tear is the ligament’s rupture, which means no fibers are attached, and the ligaments aren’t intact. Meanwhile, a partial tear happens when several fibers tear but the ligaments remain intact overall. 

Torn fragments may cause joint inflammation, which results in the breakdown of a partially intact ligament. It’s a degenerative joint disease, causing poor dog stiffness and pain in the joint and other surrounding soft tissues. In addition, the ligament can’t heal itself because of insufficient blood supply. So, surgery might be necessary to restore the dog’s quality of life and fix the tear.

  • Acute ACL Injury

Acute ACL injury happens suddenly without any indication that it would happen. ACL tears frequently occur because of sudden twisting motion in the knee, mainly affecting the ligament of your dog’s CCL.

More often, acute ACL injury happens when the dog runs and suddenly changes its direction. For this reason, your dog’s body weight is placed on the knee joint, where too much rotation and tearing forces are on the CCL. A dog’s ACL rupture may also be due to the knee joint’s instability and tremendous pain, leading to lameness. 

Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from acute ACL injuries. The heavier the dog is, the more weight that impacts its joints. Once more force is involved, it may lead to a painful injury. Moreover, dogs with luxating patella and other knee problems can be predisposed to rupturing their cruciate ligaments because of the existing injury-related or structural problems.

How Are Dog’s ACL Injuries Diagnosed?

You must seek a vet’s advice to diagnose your dog’s ACL injuries. Diagnosis is generally based on the demonstration of the cranial drawer test, with the dog lying in a relaxed state. 

Because the dog must be relaxed, it will need sedation or slight anesthesia for the best results. Your vet will perform a proven test to determine if ACL tears are full or partial and if they’re the source of your dog’s pain. 

A tibial compression test is another diagnostic option for a dog’s ACL injuries. In this test, the vets will place their hands around the dog’s femur, with their index finger extended over your pet’s patella. The other hand of your vet grasps the foot and flexes the ankle. If your dog’s tibia moves forward, it’s a sign of ACL injury.

Another valuable test is radiography or an X-ray of the hips and knees of your dog. It’s an excellent way to rule out other causes of lameness, such as hip problems or fractures. Besides, X-rays may show signs of arthritis.

A more advanced and elaborate form of diagnosis is arthroscopy. It uses a small camera to check the joint internally to determine the degree of the damage.

A Guide To ACL Injuries In Dogs

How Are Dog’s ACL Injuries Treated?

The treatment of choice for dogs’ ACL injuries is surgical stabilization. Different surgical techniques improve the knee joint’s performance of torn ACL. Typically, the extracapsular repair is only for small dogs. In this procedure, the synthetic band is placed outside the knee joint and mimics the ACL’s orientation. 

Another common surgical technique performed on bigger dogs with ACL tears is tibial tuberosity advancement and tibial plateau leveling osteotomy. Both procedures use mental implants to alter the dog’s knee joint, which helps prevent the sliding of the tibia and femur.

The surgical recovery often takes 8-12 weeks. While your dog is in recovery, exercise is restricted and gradually built back up to let the knee heal. Physical therapy may also help speed up the recovery process.

Tips To Prevent ACL Injuries In Dogs

Although there’s no surefire way to avoid ACL injuries in dogs, there are some things you may do to keep your dog healthy and fit. Here are some tips to lessen the risk of ACL injuries in dogs:

  • Prevent Your Dog From Doing High Jumps

Avoid playing games, including catch or Frisbee, that may cause your pet to jump too high. It’s because doing so may lead to a wrong movement upon landing or hyperextension.

  • Add Supplements To Your Dog’s Diet

The best-quality joint supplement can provide your dog with some essential nutrients it requires to keep their joints strong and healthy. Fish oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for dogs. Such supplements contain anti-inflammatory properties and may boost your dog’s mobility, reduce joint degeneration, and assist joint repair.

  • Choose Dog Food Wisely

Not all dog food is made equal. Fortunately, you can choose from various options in the market. Depending on your preferences, you can opt for reliable dog food choices or cook homemade dog food. However, before cooking or shopping for the best dog food, always follow what your vet suggests and avoid inexpensive dog food.

A diet full of vitamins and minerals is vital to ensure a dog’s healthy joints. Generally, dogs will eat delicious food that falls from your table, so keep an eye on their daily intake. The debate on what dogs should eat is too broad, but focus on quality and quantity. 

If you’re unsure what your dogs must eat, how often, or how much, consult your vet to maintain your dog’s healthy diet and caloric intake. Some vets may recommend several options depending on your dog’s overall health.  

While you should not settle with cheap dog food products, you can try experimenting with the most affordable options, especially if you have a tight budget. It may also come in handy to consider cooking dog food at home. Consider checking out pet owners who share recipes and video tutorials online. 

As you try various options, observe your dog and its health. If you think your dog likes the food you prepare, you may continue cooking homemade dog food, but ensure you stick with your vet’s advice on your dog’s nutritional needs.

  • Maintain Your Dog’s Healthy Weight

A dog’s weight will cause more strain on its knees. To avoid this, help your dog maintain its weight by providing a nutritious diet, but ensure not to overfeed them. 

Several dog food options may offer joint support and help you manage their weight. These can be a perfect way to cater to your dog’s nutritional requirements while protecting their knees.

  • Prioritize Daily Exercise

Lack of exercise may weaken your dog’s muscles and ligaments. Thus, avoid exercises like weekend walks after not doing any activity the entire week. 

Before any exercise, a gentle warm-up is also recommended. Ensuring your dog gets moderate and regular exercise will ensure good health and lessen the risk of ACL injuries.

Reasons To Maintain Your Dog’s ACL Health

As a dog owner, it’s crucial to maintain your pet’s joint and ACL health to avoid painful dog injuries. If you’re wondering why you should maintain ACL with preventative care, the answers include the following:

1. Lessens The Likelihood Of Orthopedic Problems

Sometimes, experiencing an injury or illness may result in developing another. It may be due to a genetic predisposition or some factors like bearing weight unevenly. 

Dogs that often suffer from ACL injuries had orthopedic comorbidities, such as:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Luxating patella
  • Arthritis

These conditions may develop after an injury like torn ACL, resulting in more discomfort and pain for your dog. Due to abnormal wear and tear between the cartilage and bones when the ACL ruptures, your dog’s knee joint may develop arthritis. Depending on the injury’s severity, arthritis may be observed one to three weeks after the injuries and may worsen in the long run. The result is loss of mobility and chronic pain.

2. Prevents Pain And Mobility Issues

ACL injuries in dogs may significantly impact mobility, primarily due to the pain caused by the ligament’s inflammation. For chronic cases, the ligament’s slow degradation creates joint inflammation. It results in painful movement and can make your dog limp or show lameness symptoms once they move. 

Getting up from their seated position will also be difficult for dogs. It’s due to a weakened and unstable knee that’s becoming less functional as its ligaments degrade slowly.

In acute cases, the dog’s pain will be immediate and immense. In this case, surgery may provide pain relief and help them move around easily. Unfortunately, some dogs won’t be able to return to their pre-rupture state even with surgery. Hence, prevention is the only way to keep your dog pain-free and mobile.

3. Lets Your Dogs Enjoy Sports

If your dogs love to participate in sports and other outdoor activities, then you must take care of their ACL. ACL injuries are a ticket to early retirement for dogs competing in sports. This is because restoring ACL injuries fully may not be possible, so even if your dog has undergone proper treatment as soon as you catch the injury, they won’t be able to do sports again. 

Furthermore, if your pet is an agility champ, try to minimize their involvement in sports where they run over flat or hilly terrain regularly as this may increase the risk of ACL injuries.

Final Thoughts

If you notice your dog has long-term mobility issues or limping, it’s probably an indication of ACL injuries. In this case, call your vet immediately for a consultation. Keeping your dog’s ACL healthy can affect their quality of life. With this, you’ll have more time to enjoy the things you love doing together, such as exploring, playing, and running.

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