This is quite a common question for dog owners, likely because ACL injuries are the most common musculoskeletal issues orthopedic veterinary clinics see in canines – affecting more than a million dogs every year. And due to the vast amount of information on canine ACL tears on the internet, it’s no wonder there’s confusion on the subject.
If your dog tears their ACL, your veterinarian may recommend surgery – but then you may read a story online about a dog who recovered wonderfully from an ACL tear using only conservative treatments, for example a knee brace.
The truth is that when it comes to ACL injuries in dogs, there is incredible variability. There is variability in how veterinarians diagnose the injury, but more important there is huge variability in the degree of injury. For example, your dog could have a partial tear (which could be a ¼, ½, or ¾ tear), they could have a partial tear that also involves a meniscus tear, they could have a full tear, or a full tear with a secondary meniscus tear.
This means that while some dogs may heal using only conservative treatments, others will absolutely need surgery – it mainly depends on the severity of the tear. This is why it’s extremely important that, if you notice your dog limping, you take them to the veterinarian immediately to fully diagnose the degree of injury and make an appropriate treatment plan.
What Are the Conservative Treatment Options for ACL Tears in Dogs?
Conservative treatment options for a canine ACL tear include:
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Use of a leg brace
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Anti-inflammatory supplements
- Weight loss for overweight dogs, and other noninvasive treatments.
It’s important to understand that while conservative management works for some dogs, the reality is that it entirely depends on the degree of the ACL injury. The vast majority of dogs need to have the knee stabilized – and therefore, surgery. What can be extremely effective is surgery combined with conservative treatments, for example when physical therapy is performed during the surgery recovery period.
If you do choose conservative management to treat your dog’s ACL injury, understand that if your dog’s activity is not restricted, it can pose a serious risk of your dog compromising or injuring the opposite hind leg ACL. If this were to happen it could be devastating to both you and your dog.
It’s also important to keep a realist time frame in mind. If your dog is not showing significant improvement with conservative management in a 4-week period, then it’s time to give your veterinarian a call to discuss other options.
What Are the Surgery Options for ACL Tears in Dogs?
ACL surgery is the most common orthopedic surgery performed in dogs and is said to make up 85% of all dog orthopedic surgeries performed every year. Given that this is such a common injury, several procedures have been developed over the years to repair the ligament. Each technique comes with its advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to discuss the options with your veterinarian to decide which procedure is best for your dog.
Factors to consider when choosing the technique to repair your dog’s torn ACL include:
- Dog’s age,
- The surgeon’s preference
- Cost of the procedure
Here are 3 of the most common surgeries to repair a torn ACL in dogs:
- Lateral Suture – Lateral Suture, also called Extracapsular (outside the joint) repair of the cruciate ligament is probably the oldest and the most commonly performed procedure performed to correct this injury. The goal of the surgery is to restore stability to the stifle (knee) by placing sutures outside of the joint.
- TPLO Surgery – TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery has become one of the most popular orthopedic surgeries performed on dogs who have torn their ACL. Since it was first performed over 20 years ago, this surgery has proven time and time again to be an extremely effective long-term solution for addressing this injury in dogs, providing quicker recover and superior long term results. The philosophy behind the TPLO surgery is to completely change the dynamics of the dog’s knee so that the torn ligament becomes irrelevant to the stability of the knee itself.
- TTA Surgery – TTA (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement) is used to treat a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). The goal of this surgery is not to recreate or repair the ligament itself, but rather change the dynamics of the knee so that the cranial cruciate ligament is no longer necessary for stabilizing the joint.
What Can You Do to Prevent an ACL Tear in Your Dog?
In order to give your dog the best chance of avoiding an injury to their ACL, make sure that they:
- Maintain a healthy body weight,
- Exercise them on a regular basis and
- Don’t allow them to overdo it without proper conditioning,
- Get a prophetic X-ray taken of their hips and lumbar spine to ensure good body structure,
- Be informed about the early warning signs of arthritis.
Lastly, make sure you are giving them to proper supplements to help their joints be as healthy as possible, and as with any preventative health measures, you’ll save yourself and your pup a lot of strife by staying ahead of the problem– giving them the best chance possible for a lifetime of health and happiness.