For a dog, an ACL injury can happen in the blink of an eye. One wrong twist, a step into a pothole, or an overzealous furry buddy running full speed into our little ones can cause the terrifying popping sound that signifies the cruciate ligament tearing from the bone.
If this has happened to your pup, you’re certainly not alone! Over one million dogs in America suffer from a torn ACL each year because their little bodies are structured in a way that makes them quite susceptible to knee injuries.
Can a dog live with a torn ACL? Yes, and a minor tear may even heal on its own. But more often than not, an untreated torn ACL will worsen until surgery is the only option. For severely or thoroughly torn ACLs, surgery is a must.
Recovery doesn’t end at surgery, and you need to know how to help your best friend once they’re back at home, resting and rebuilding their knee strength.
We’ve covered all you need to know about torn ACLs, a dog ACL surgery recovery timeline, and precisely what therapies and practices you should implement into your home routine to get your pup back into fighting shape as soon as possible!
What is a Torn ACL in Dogs?
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a thick, strong tissue band that runs from the front of the shin bone, through the knee, and up to the thighbones. It connects the bones of a dog’s leg and helps to support movements.
A dog’s leg anatomy is different from ours in that they stand on their toes, with their heels off the ground, and the knee is always slightly bent forward. This means constant pressure on the ACL, making dogs particularly vulnerable to injuring these ligaments.
A pup can have a full or partial cruciate ligament tear.
Dog Knee Surgery: Three Ways to Fix a Torn ACL
Dog recovery time will differ depending on the severity, recovery steps, and general health of the injured pup. Here are the three main methods a vet uses to perform doggie cruciate ligament surgery.
- Lateral suture technique, in which a false ligament made of a monofilament suture replaces the anterior cruciate ligament.
- Tibial plateau leveling osteotomy, in which they cut along the tibia and rotate the bone into a flat position, making the ligament unnecessary.
- Tibial tuberosity advancement, in which the surgeon cuts the tibial bone, pushes it forward, and puts a bone spacer into place. A steel plate gets inserted to hold everything in place.
The lateral suture technique is the least expensive option at $1,100 to $2,500, but your vet will determine which surgery will have the best outcome, helping you to make an informed decision on the next steps.
Success Rates of Dog ACL Surgery
No matter which of the surgeries above your vet performs, the recovery rates are incredibly promising.
There is an 85 to 90% recovery rate across the board for all three surgeries. Your pup will most likely make a full recovery and be back to their happy and healthy selves within a few months.
However, a small percentage of pets don’t do well after surgery, regardless of the steps taken by vets and owners.
How Can I Help my Dog Recover from ACL Surgery?
ACL recovery is challenging in the best of times for humans. It’s even worse when you can’t use words to explain to your sweet doggo why they can’t do any of their favorite activities for months.
By implementing all of these recovery and dog care methods into your plan, you’ll get your dog back into action at a much faster rate.
Set up a resting spot
You can prepare a nice resting spot before your pup heads into surgery so that you can spend that early recovery time focusing your attention on monitoring them as much as possible.
If you need a sling or brace to help your dog in the early days of recovery, order it ahead of time, so that it’s ready for you when you need it.
Set up a soft, comfy bed to take the pressure off their joints wherever your dog is most likely to want to spend their time – somewhere near you so you can keep a close eye on them.
If your dog sleeps on a bed or couch, get a bed ramp for dogs so that they can get up and down without reinjuring their sensitive knee. The last thing you need is your doggy jumping up on the bed. You can also use a ramp to get them in and out of the car on the post-surgery ride home.
Monitor the incision
Over the first few days, you need to monitor the incision to ensure it’s healing well and uninfected. Check the wound site in the morning and evening, every day for the first two weeks.
Bleeding and seeping fluid is normal for the first few days post-surgery. If swelling, redness, or discharge worsens after the early first days, take the pup to the vet immediately to check for infection.
Cone of doom
Dogs will be tempted, but they cannot lick their surgical wound. Licking introduces bacteria into the wound, which can lead to infection.
The cone is a dog’s worst enemy. Although they’ll likely hate you for it temporarily, your pup must wear a cone whenever you aren’t around to monitor them personally. Some owners have luck rigging an old shirt on their dog’s leg to deter licking, so play around with different options if your dog does not adjust to cone-wearing.
Vets often prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) for your furry friend to take post-surgery. These medications help reduce inflammation from surgery and manage your dog’s pain in the tender, uncomfortable first days of recovery.
Never, ever give your dog human anti-inflammatories, as these are toxic for dogs and can be fatal.
A professional can work with your pup to implement a vigorous program of the best dog ACL surgery recovery exercises.
They may introduce hydrotherapy to get your dog moving with almost zero weight on the joint. This gently builds back strength in your pupper’s leg without risking excess stress and reinjury.
You can begin massaging and gentle movement of the affected limb at home at 2-3 days post-surgery.
First, begin with gentle flexion and extension of the knees, hips, and ankle joints while your dog is lying down. This allows for movement without strain.
As your dog begins its physiotherapy recovery program, they’ll be quite sore. Give your dog’s leg a gentle massage for 5 to 10 minutes each day to relieve pain and prevent muscle stiffness.
Dog ACL Recovery Time: What to Expect
Your dog should be back to mostly normal function after 4 to 5 months. At this point, you should still avoid the dog park and strenuous activities until your dog is back to their normal health.
Here’s the typical timeline for dog ACL surgery recovery, week by week.
- Week 1 & 2: Your dog should be resting 90% of the day. Restrict movement, and allow leashed walking for bathroom breaks only. Small dogs need to be carried up and down the stairs for the first four weeks, while larger dogs can use the stairs as required with strict supervision. You can start a passive range of motion therapy 2-3 days after surgery by bending and flexing the affected joints while your dog rests.
- Week 3 & 4: The vet will remove the stitches, and walking can be increased by 5 minutes each week, always on a leash. Standing exercises can be implemented at the end of week four.
- Week 5 & 6: Go on leashed walks daily for 25-35 minutes. Week 6 can include gentle incline walking as well.
- Week 7 & 8: Introduce slow trotting and more angles on your leashed walks.
- Week 9 & 10: At week 10, you can begin to allow your dog off-leash while supervised in the backyard only. Your dog can try swimming, but ensure they aren’t walking over slippery rocks to get into and out of the water. They can attempt two-legged stands.
- Weeks 11 to 16: Increase off-leash time, but avoid horseplay and strenuous exercise.
Final Word: Recovering After Surgery at Home
When your dog undergoes surgery, it can be upsetting for both of you. It’s okay to feel emotional and let yourself cry if you need to. Lean on friends and family for support during this difficult time.
Although the road to recovery is difficult and expensive, the forecast for healing is quite optimistic. With some hard work and patience, your dog can make a full recovery over the next 4 to 5 months.
We wish your pup a speedy recovery from their surgery!