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When your dog is in tip-top shape, he can probably wear you out in a heartbeat with all his racing around like a whirlwind.
But if you notice your pet canine suddenly limping, you might want to take a step back and examine his hind legs. Although it could just be a dog sprain, your dog might be experiencing something a bit more serious—a torn cruciate ligament.
This is an issue resembling an ACL injury in humans, which results in severe pain and rapid swelling of the area. As you can imagine, if it’s not treated right away, it can quickly develop into a much bigger problem than a sore paw for your pup.
This guide explores a dog’s cruciate ligament, its common injury types, symptoms, and effective treatments. Keep reading for some key tips and tricks to help keep your fur baby romping around like he should and avoid cruciate ligament injuries!
What is a Cruciate Ligament in a Dog?
In layman’s terms, cruciate means forming a cross or crossing over. The ligaments on a canine’s stifle or knee joint form two fibrous tissue bands that make up the cruciate ligament. The cruciate ligament joins the tibia and femur, making the knee a hinged and stable joint.
Cruciate ligaments normally come in pairs. One runs from the inside to the outside of the dog’s knee joint, while the other runs vice versa. These two ligaments cross one another towards the middle and are called caudal and cranial cruciate ligaments in cats and dogs.
A dog’s cruciate ligaments are similar to our ACLs or anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments. A torn cranial cruciate ligament is one of the most common knee injuries in canines. In humans, you would often hear a loud popping sound when the ACL is torn, but humans often don’t hear the same sound as dogs. Instead, the dog may yelp or wince, indicating they are in pain, but it might not be clear where the source of the pain is until your dog starts limping.
The most common victims of torn cruciate ligaments are larger-breed canines suffering from MPLs or medial patellar luxations. These breeds include the following:
- Labrador Retriever
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Saint Bernard
Symptoms of Dog Crucial Ligament Injury
Generally, your pets are not able to show they are in pain the same way we do. They cannot speak as well, so you should be as observant as you can to identify a cruciate ligament injury. Close communication with your pet’s vet can help you quickly identify the injury, but you should also watch for these common symptoms:
One of the most obvious signs that a cruciate ligament injury has occurred is if your pet is limping or experiencing lameness on his hind leg.
Limping or lameness can become more severe if your pet continues to do strenuous activities without proper rest. Moreover, arthritic changes can also occur when the tear is not addressed immediately.
When swelling happens, it becomes more difficult for your dog to bear his own weight, especially when he is obese. Swelling can also be accompanied by pain or discomfort, so you will notice your canine not engaging in physical activities as often.
Weak and Pale
Dogs with cruciate ligament injuries are also weaker because they cannot be as active as they wish. Their limping hind legs make it uncomfortable for them to move around and play. As a result, they typically prefer to stay in one place.
The Drawer Sign
Another common indicator is the drawer sign. When the vet holds your canine’s femur in place, you can notice the tibia being pulled forward, similar to how a drawer slides open. But you must remember that when your canine does not have this symptom, it doesn’t mean his cranial cruciate ligament is healthy.
When a normal dog sits, both his knees are on his sides, and his feet are nicely tucked underneath. But when a canine suffers from a tear in his cruciate ligament, you may notice that he doesn’t sit normally.
Your puppy might have his affected leg sticking out and not tucked in. He cannot bend his knee because it’s painful; hence, abnormal sitting occurs.
When your dog tries to walk with a torn cruciate ligament, it puts more stress on the unstable knee. The injured knee adds more pressure to the meniscus, which serves as a shock absorber in the dog’s knee.
Because of continuous pressure on the ligament, you would hear an audible knee clicking when you try to make your pet walk.
Cruciate Ligament Injury Dog Types
Dogs, like humans, can also experience various types of cruciate ligament injuries. These injuries range in different degrees of severity, symptoms, and causes.
Type of Injury
Most Common Symptom
Torn Ligament Dog Back Leg
Difficulty in walking and limping
Torn Ligament in Dog Front Leg
Limping and unable to support weight
Dog Hip Ligament Injury
Weakness and pain
Dog Stifle Injury
Agitation and limping
Achilles Tendon Injury
Swelling and limping
Torn Ligament Dog Back Leg
When a dog experiences a torn ligament on his back leg, limping is an obvious sign. You can also notice your pet engaging less in physical activities because the torn ligament makes him feel uncomfortable.
Bruising is also a common symptom, and you can also observe the dog avoiding letting his back leg touch the ground because it’s painful.
Torn Ligament in Dog Front Leg
On the other hand, dogs can also experience torn ligaments on their front leg. This can also make them limp or unable to support their weight. Symptoms of a torn front leg ligament include:
- Limping and lameness
- Muscular weakness and pain
- Decreased movement, especially on the front leg
Common causes of a torn ligament on your dog’s front leg can range from traumatic injuries to as simple as jumping excessively or sprains. Regardless of the cause, a torn ligament should immediately be addressed to prevent complications or intensify the intensity.
When your dog has arthritis, torn ligaments are common progressive effects of the disease. It’s essential that canines are properly diagnosed with arthritis so medications or supplements can be given immediately.
With various causes and symptoms, it’s always best that a proper diagnosis is made from a thorough clinical exam, together with the following diagnostic tests:
- Radiograph to check for bone fractures, misalignments, abnormal joint movements, and dislocations
- Physical exam that involves the vet manually manipulating the leg to check the dog’s range of motion
- MRI - can detect ligament sprains or brachial plexus avulsion
- Fluoroscopy - can detect the presence of injury while your dog is moving
Dog Hip Ligament Injury
Injury of the hip ligament is also common in dogs, especially larger breeds. More commonly known as hip dysplasia in dogs, this developmental condition is a hip deformity that can lead to minor pain to a severe disease called osteoarthritis.
A dog’s hip ligament injury can persist even during their younger years, but clinical features and symptoms typically only become evident when they age. This is why you should regularly visit the vet and have your pet screened for possible hip dysplasia.
Aside from physical activity and lifestyle, genetics also plays a significant role in dogs with hip dysplasia. It’s considered a genetic disease because parents can pass the condition to their young. Some of the most common breeds to encounter hip dysplasia include the following:
- German shepherds
- Saint Bernards
- Golden Retrievers
Symptoms vary according to the dog’s age, but the diagnostic procedures performed to confirm the disease are the same. The best way to know the cause of hip dysplasia is to have your dog’s hips radiographed. X-rays can also help determine the extent of the disease.
Dog Stifle Injury
A stifle injury or luxation occurs more frequently in cats, but dogs can also experience this disease. This type of luxation refers to a dislocated tibia bone relative to the position of the kneecap or patella and the femur.
When your dog experiences this, he needs the right treatment. A stifle joint injury is a severe condition usually caused by trauma, direct or indirect. But it’s not a common injury because of the multiple soft tissue structures that help stabilize your dog’s joints. These ligaments include:
- Lateral and medial collateral ligaments
- Casual and cranial cruciate ligaments
- Patella tendon
- Quadriceps muscle
These soft tissue structures typically need high force to get damaged and cause a stifle injury. And usually, stifle luxation is accompanied by fracture.
Achilles Tendon Injury
Another injury commonly caused by blunt trauma, such as overstretching and lacerations, is Achilles tendon injury. This condition can either be degenerative or chronic. The most common dog breeds to experience it include Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers.
Achilles tendon injury is more commonly known as common calcaneal tendon and actually involves three different tendons:
- Gastrocnemius tendon
- Digital flexor tendon
- Common tendon of gracilis muscles, biceps femoris, and semitendinosus muscles
Dogs with this condition would normally experience lameness, especially on the injured leg. Swelling and redness are also common symptoms.
Causes of Cruciate Ligament Dog Injury
Cruciate ligaments are essential because they stabilize the knee, which is a hinge joint. Without these ligaments, a dog’s knees are unstable, with no interlocking bones. Through the cruciate ligaments, dogs are able to move their legs back and forth with restrictive lateral motions.
The common causes of cruciate ligament injury in dogs involve degeneration and trauma. What’s the difference? Learn more about it below.
Traumatic or Acute Cruciate Ligament Injury
An acute cruciate ligament injury occurs typically because of a twisting knee joint. Dogs who love running around while suddenly changing directions are usually the victims of this cruciate injury. A sudden change in direction makes most of a dog’s body weight land on the knee joint. This exerts excessive shearing and rotational forces on the cruciate ligament.
The ligament can rupture when the injury is caused by trauma, resulting in excruciating pain. The knee also becomes unstable, which can lead to lameness or limping.
Degenerative Cruciate Ligament Injury
When trauma is repeated, the dog’s cruciate ligament injury can weaken progressively. This can also happen when canines have an arthritic disease. The continuous use of an injured knee joint can lead to the gradual worsening of the condition, which can cause a complete rupture.
Obesity and Knee Problems
Obese dogs are more predisposed to encountering a cruciate ligament rupture. And the cause can be as simple as tripping or stumbling. Existing knee problems can also be predisposing factors to a cruciate ligament injury, especially when your canine already has a luxating patella.
Prognosis for a Torn Ligament in a Dog
If your dog is required to undergo surgery for his cruciate ligament rupture, the prognosis is good, with more than 85% to 90% chance of returning to his normal activities. That’s also considering you are religious in following your pet’s post-operational medical management.
Additionally, smaller dogs can have an even better prognosis than heavier and larger breeds. You should also ensure your canine undergoes the following medical therapies for a total recovery:
- Crate rest within several weeks
- Simple sit-to-stand motions
- Brief leash walks when the dog needs a bathroom break
- Underwater swimming or treadmill therapy
- Ingestion of anti-inflammatory supplements and/or drugs approved by the vet.
Follow-up check-ups with your vet can also help canines reach full recovery with fewer chances of developing complications.
Dog Ligament Injury Treatment
Treating a dog ligament injury is multidisciplinary, involving various factors for the total management of the condition. Depending on the severity of the dog ligament injury, treatment modalities can range from simple home remedy options to extensive surgeries with radiation therapy. The treatment option will also depend on the age and size of your dog.
Strict rest and supplements
Extra Capsular Repair
Prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers coupled with supplements
Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
Diet change and supplements
Surgical procedures are usually reserved for older and larger dogs with degenerative cruciate ligament injuries. The condition is already severe enough that simple at-home treatment options like medications cannot remedy it.
Leveling osteotomy combines tibial osteotomy (TTO) and tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO). This surgical procedure is the gold standard for surgically treating and managing a dog’s cruciate ligament injury, especially canines weighing more than 25 pounds.
Osteotomy involves knee stabilization, conforming to how the joint is able to handle weight-bearing stresses. Surgeons will insert a metal plate to help achieve a better balance of the ligaments. Dogs undergoing this surgery are expected to recover in six weeks.
Extra Capsular Repair
Extra-capsular repair involves securing the dog’s femur and tibia using a strong suture. The suture aims to function similarly to the cruciate ligament, supporting the knee joint to allow for the ligament to recover.
As the cruciate ligament starts to recover, the suture breaks or loosens, usually after eight to twelve weeks. Extracapsular repair is more suitable for smaller dog breeds and has good success rates. Plus, this treatment is easier and simpler than leveling osteotomy. It’s also more affordable with long-term success.
Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
Tibial tuberosity advancement involves tibial resection and placing metal implants for knee stabilization. It’s less intensive than leveling osteotomy with faster recovery rates. But, the canine’s lifestyle and anatomy may affect the surgical procedure's overall recovery and success rate.
Vet consultations are always recommended when you suspect your pet to have a ruptured or torn cruciate ligament. It’s a serious injury that can lead to severe joint issues, and improper treatment can worsen your pet’s condition.
At-home remedy treatments are adjuncts you can employ to speed up the recovery process. This includes letting your dogs have a strict rest with limited movements to allow the injured ligament to recover totally. Pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed by the vet can also help.
However, be careful not to let your dog take any kind of human medication, like ibuprofen, because they are dangerous and can cause serious medical issues.
Rehabilitation and therapy can also work. In fact, these treatment modalities compose of structured exercises which can help dogs recover from torn ligaments. Moreover, most surgical procedures recommend dogs attend rehab therapy as part of their post-surgical management.
Another key way to help your dog start feeling his best is to give him supplements such as TRI-ACTA H.A. Although these supplements may not make him feel better on their own, they can certainly help speed up recovery.
TRI-ACTA contains key ingredients such as glucosamine for dogs, which can help increase dog mobility, ease joint pain, support healthy ligaments, and support healing. Giving your dog these supplements during the healing process can make your fur baby feel his best a little quicker.
TRI-ACTA H.A. for Pets
Our maximum strength formula is optimally designed to accelerate the formation of cartilage, minimize inflammation, expedite the healing process, and improve joint conditions.
Cruciate Ligament Dog Alternative to Surgery
Aside from the at-home remedy options we listed, alternatives or adjuncts to getting surgery for your dog’s cruciate ligament injury include taking essential supplements and having a balanced meal. These supplements should be equipped with the right vitamins and minerals to help strengthen your dog’s ligament tear, resulting in knee stabilization.
A balanced meal includes choosing the right kinds of food that will complement your dog’s lifestyle, age, size, and breed.
Joint supplements can also aid in the process. These supplements can include the following nutrients and minerals:
- Natural eggshell membrane
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Green-lipped mussel for dogs
- MSM or methylsulfonylmethane
- Hyaluronic Acid
With several supplements needed, it’s also best that you give your dogs a single supplement that already contains all the minerals and vitamins they need. Such an example is TRI ACTA H.A, an all-in-one supplement with the following active ingredients:
- Glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine HCL
- Chondroitin sulfate
- Hyaluronic Acid
This supplement is also all-natural, with no additives or toxins added. With its wide range of benefits, most vets have already started to prescribe this as part of their treatment regimen.
How to Prevent a Dog Cruciate Ligament Injury
Cruciate ligament injuries cannot be totally prevented. However, ensuring they stay healthy with a normal weight can lessen the risk. You can also let your dog do regular exercises that are not too strenuous to ensure they regularly move their limbs and joints.
Moreover, because cruciate ligament injuries are somewhat genetics-linked, it’s impossible to avoid them when your breed is predisposed to the disease. Other simple ways you can prevent your pet from experiencing this injury include:
- Avoiding the weekend warrior syndrome—letting your dog rest and stay inactive on weekdays and engage them in strenuous and long walks or runs during weekends
- Become vigilant about the early signs CCL, like limping or walking stiffly
Cruciate ligament injury is not a simple joint issue in dogs. It can progress, lead to osteoarthritis in severe cases, and prevent your canines from performing various activities and living harmoniously.
Whether the cause is due to acute trauma or degenerative, it’s always important that you consult your vet immediately. Your veterinarian will help diagnose your dog’s condition through a series of diagnostic tests, like taking a radiograph of the involved leg.
Treatment modalities for cruciate ligament injuries are mainly surgical, especially when the condition is severe. However, the total recovery process also involves post-surgical management, including at-home remedy options. Providing supplements to your dog, like TRI ACTA, can also help.
TRI-ACTA for Pets
A proactive approach for developing and younger adult pets to maintain optimal joint health mobility, minimize inflammation and fend off age-related ailments.
If you’re interested in learning more about our TRI-ACTA supplement, check out our FAQs or give us a shout! We’ll hook you up with the details you need to keep your pup feeling his best!
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