If your dog suddenly goes lame in one of his hind legs, you want to take action as quickly as possible. More often than not, sudden lameness in a hind leg indicates a ruptured cruciate ligament in dogs, otherwise known as a torn ACL.
The sooner you begin to treat the injured ligament, the better off you dog will be. Immediate treatment not only helps to ensure the existing injury won’t get any worse, but it can also serve to prevent additional injuries from developing. And the risk of additional injuries is high when it comes to a torn cruciate ligament.
What’s a Torn Cruciate Ligament in Dogs?
A torn cruciate ligament refers to an injury of the dog’s cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which provides and maintains stability for the knee. The ligament connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia), helping to hold the knee in place. The CCL in pets is equivalent to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans, which is why the injury is commonly called an ACL tear in dogs.
Your Dog Compensates to Stay off Injured Leg
A dog’s torn ACL is painful, and your dog will automatically put the least amount of weight and pressure on it as possible. He’ll naturally compensate, or transfer most of his weight away from the injured limb and onto his other legs. As your dog distributes his weight differently while walking and standing, new problems can start to develop in the areas that are now bearing excess weight.
Dogs typically carry 60% of their weight on their front legs and 40% on their back legs. If your dog is barely touching the ground with his injured hind leg, all the weight that limb is supposed to be carrying is being transferred somewhere else. That somewhere else includes:
- The dog’s other hind leg
- The front legs
- The spine
Torn ACL Compensation Leads to Other Injuries
As other bodily areas begin picking up the excess load, compensatory injuries can start to occur. One of the most common is a torn ACL in the dog’s other leg. An estimated 40% of dogs with a torn ACL in one leg end up suffering from a torn ACL in the opposite leg.
Because tendons, ligaments and muscles all contribute to compensatory gait and posture, they are all at a higher risk of injury from the excess load. A dog may start to suffer from inflammation, pain or spasms in other legs or in his back. When chronic overload goes on long enough, it can even affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), or the jaw joint.
The more compensatory injuries that develop, the tougher it can be for the vet to get down to the root cause, or what started it all in the first place. In many instances, the root cause is a dog’s torn ACL.
An ACL Tear in Dogs Contributes to Arthritis
Although not a compensatory injury, arthritis is another condition that often develops with a dog cruciate ligament injury. An injured ACL is no longer properly stabilizing the knee, and the dog’s thigh bone and shin bone begin to rub against one another.
This can result in pain as well as the development of arthritis, bone spurs and a reduced range of motion. In most cases of a torn ACL in dogs, degenerative osteoarthritis is a big risk – regardless of the age of the dog.
How to Prevent Additional Injuries to Your Dog
Dogs are tough – and stoic when it comes to hiding pain. If a dog is visibly limping, the pain has likely become too great to hide. Getting your dog to a vet to determine the cause of lameness is a must. This allows you to determine and treat the main issue before it develops into additional injuries.
Proper rest and recovery time:
Don’t rush your dog back into action after ACL surgery. Depending on the surgical procedure used, it can take up to three weeks before a dog can even bear weight on his injured limb.
For all dog ACL surgeries, exercise restriction is typically recommended for at least eight weeks. Keep in mind your dog is not going to naturally take it easy, especially if the pain has abated. It’s up to you to supervise and restrict activities to give the injury adequate time to heal.
Physical therapy, muscle building:
Dogs that receive physical therapy after surgery generally recover more quickly than dogs that don’t. Dog physical therapy uses adaptations of the same types of modalities and techniques used for humans, typically a combination of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise.
The goal is to reduce pain while helping to rebuild muscle, increase mobility and enhance function. A full and fast recovery significantly reduces the risk of additional injuries to your dog.
Quality joint supplements, such as TopDog’s omega-3 supplement, can contribute to good joint health. While supplements can be particularly useful after surgery for a dog’s torn ACL, you don’t have to wait for an injury to occur. Supplements can be used for dogs of any age at any time, whether they have existing joint issues or not.
Obesity can greatly increase the risk of a torn ACL and other injuries in dogs. Paying attention to the quality and quantity of food you serve your dog is one of the easiest ways to manage your dog’s weight.
You’re better off following feeding recommendations from your vet or other trusted source over the instructions on the dog food bag. Many pet food manufacturers recommend an unnecessarily excessive amount of food, and it’s easy to fall into a habit of dispensing far too many treats.
With early detection, immediate action and a strategic recovery plan, you can greatly reduce the risk of additional injuries related to a torn ACL. Make quality supplements from TopDog Health & Rehabilitation part of your plan, and the benefits can be greater still.