CCL Injuries & Your Dog's Knees
Keeping your pup's knees healthy and pain-free is essential to providing your dog with an active lifestyle.
Although there are a number of specially formulated dog foods and supplements designed to help keep your dog's joints in good condition, cruciate injuries (CCL, CrCL or ACL injuries as they are sometimes called) can happen without warning and can cause your dog a great deal of discomfort.
What is a dog's cranial cruciate ligament?
The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg that works to connect the shin bone to the thigh bone and allow for proper movement of the knee.
Injury leading to knee pain that stems from a torn CCL can occur suddenly during exercise, but will often gradually develop over a period of time. If your pooch has an injured cruciate and continues to jump, run and play then the injury is likely to become much more severe and symptoms will become more painful and pronounced.
Why is a CCL injury so painful for dogs?
If your dog is suffering from an injured CCL, the pain results from a form of instability in the knee called 'tibial thrust'.
Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up your dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee, causing the tibia to “thrust” forward in relation to the dog's thigh bone (femur). This forward thrust movement happens because the top of the tibia is sloped, and your pup's injured CCL is unable to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.
What are the signs and symptoms of CCL injuries in dogs
If your dog is suffering from knee pain due to an injured ALC they will not be able to run or walk normally and will likely display other symptoms such as:
- Difficulties rising up off of the floor
- Limping in their hind legs
- Stiffness following exercise
What treatment is available for CCL injuries in dogs?
CCL injuries typically do not heal themselves. If your pup is showing signs of a torn CCL it's important to see a vet to have the condition diagnosed so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe and more painful.
A high percentage of dogs that experience a CCL injury in one leg go on to injury the other leg soon after the first.
If your dog has a torn CCL your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog to return to an active lifestyle.
ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization
This CCL surgery is typically used to treat dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing the tibial thrust with a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the CCL has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is fairly quick and uncomplicated with a good success rate in smaller dogs.
TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
TPLO is more complicated than ELSS surgery but typically very successful in treating CCL injuries in dogs. This surgery option aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's CCL. The procedure involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (the tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. A metal plate is then added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Over the course of several months, your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen.
TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
TTA is similar to TPLO but tends not to be used as often to treat CCL injuries in dogs. This knee surgery involves surgically separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section up and forward. This helps to prevent much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front section of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the tibia) are excellent candidates for this type of CCL surgery.
How do I know which type of CCL surgery is right for my dog?
Following a thorough examination of your dog's knee movement, and geometry, your vet will consider your pup's age, weight, size and lifestyle, then recommend the best treatment for your dog.
What is the recovery like for CCL surgery in dogs?
Recovery from a CCL injury is never quick and no matter which treatment option you decide upon, healing from CCL surgery will be a long process for your pooch.
With TPLO surgery, many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery however, a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or more. It is essential to follow your vet's post-operative instructions in order to help your dog to return to normal activities as quickly and safely as possible without risking re-injury. Allowing your dog to return to an active lifestyle too soon after surgery could lead to injuring the knee all over again.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.