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Torn ACL in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Next Steps of Treatment

A dog ACL tear is an unfortunately common occurrence for our pups. One swift move can lead our doggos to take a four or five-month timeout from most of their favorite activities.

Why does this happen? A dog’s anatomy is built for extreme speed, which is evident to anyone who’s played chase with a pup for longer than five seconds. They’re fast! But those speedy legs aren’t as strong and resilient as a human’s, so a dog knee injury – sometimes referred to as CCL injuries – can happen pretty quickly. 

Luckily, there are great recovery rates for dog ACL injuries, with 85 to 90% of pups making a full recovery from their cruciate ligament tear. Dog therapies can include surgery, physiotherapy, and a load of rest. 

Read on to learn more about the common causes of a torn CCL in dogs, how to spot the symptoms, and the best next steps you can take to help your canine companion feel better. 

What is a Torn ACL in Dog?

What is an ACL?

The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament, also known as the cranial cruciate ligament in a dog’s anatomy. The CCL runs from the shin bone, through the knee, and up to meet the thigh bone. This strong tissue band connects a pup’s leg and assists movement. 

A dog has torn ACL issues ranging from a partial, minor tear in mild cases, to the ligament entirely pulling away from the bone. In the most extreme cases, your dog will lose its ability to put any weight on the leg.

Causes of an ACL tear in dogs

A canine ACL tear can happen quite quickly. That’s because a dog’s leg is built differently than ours: they stand on their toes, with their knees always bent forward. Their leg is never entirely straight like ours, which puts extra pressure on their cranial cruciate ligament. 

The following categories are more prone to develop ACL tears:

  • Dogs with hip dysplasia, or abnormal development of the hip joint, contributes to weaker knees as they overcompensate for misaligned hips 
  • Obese dogs, as every extra pound puts undue stress on a dog’s leg joints
  • Out-of-shape pups, as a lack of regular exercise can lead to weaker muscles and ligaments that are prone to injury

One or more of the above can contribute to a high likelihood of a torn CCL after:

  • A swift blow from the side while a dog is standing
  • A quick twist of the body while the foot stays in place
  • A sudden slowdown and change of direction during fast running
  • A misstep into a hole causing the leg to twist abnormally

In addition to one swift injury, wear and tear over time can also cause a torn cruciate ligament.

Dog torn ACL symptoms and signs

Look for the following signs if you suspect your dog has a torn ACL:

  • Dog is hesitant or unable to use the affected leg, with either a sudden onset or gradually over time
  • Sitting with their leg out to the side abnormally
  • Stiffness in both of the dog’s back legs
  • Swollen and thickened knee due to scar tissue
  • Clicking during movement of the knee
  • Loud popping noise in the knee at the time of injury

If your dog experiences any of these symptoms, get them to a trusted vet clinic as soon as possible.

Can a Dog Walk With a Torn ACL?

It is possible that a dog can still walk with a torn CCL. Dog ligament injuries, just like with human ligaments, can vary a lot in severity. 

In the case of a partial cranial cruciate ligament tear, a dog will likely still be able to walk with some difficulty. 

The problem is that even if a dogcanwalk with a torn ACL, they need to be resting the limb in order to heal or avoid more damage to the ligament. Continuing to walk with CCL injuries leads to further tearing. If you suspect your dog has this injury, get them in to see a vet technician before the problem worsens. 

Does a cruciate ligament tear in dogs hurt?

Yes! When the initial injury takes place, your dog will experience moderate to severe pain. The pain will subside slightly from the initial injury, but a pup will continue to have mild to moderate pain in the knee whenever they attempt to use the leg. 

Look for sure signs your dog is in pain, such as lessened activity levels, excessive whimpering, and sudden personality changes. 

Can a Dog Torn ACL Heal on its Own?

CCL injuries can heal independently in some cases, like when the damage is mild and the limb receives adequate rest. If a dog returns to normal activity levels immediately, the ligament will be stressed and tear further. 

A dog needs to rest their leg for several weeks so that scar tissue can form and the healing process begins. 

Can a dog live with a torn ACL?

The short answer is no. Although you can ignore a dog CCL injury for a while, especially in the case of a minor tear, it will eventually worsen and require treatment. Treatment comes in one of two forms: surgery and conservative at-home treatments. 

Only your vet can determine when surgery is or isn’t necessary, so consult with them to determine the next steps. 

Surgery

There are a few types of surgeries your vet can perform to replace or remove the need for the ACL ligament. The cost of these surgeries range from $1,100 to $4,500, so ask your vet about treatment options and get your pup the best treatment you can within your budget. 

You should also note that surgery isn’t the end of the road for your dog’s recovery. You’ll need to include therapies as a part of ACL surgery recovery to make sure your best friend recovers well. 

Conservative treatment

Conservative treatment is less expensive than surgery but requires intensive efforts to ensure that healing happens as it should. 

You will likely need a brace or sling for your pup, as well as anti-inflammatory medications, regular icing, massage, and physiotherapy. 

Setting your home up for conservative treatment is necessary to keep your dog off his feet for several weeks. Build a comfy area for your dog to relax, monitor them closely, and stop unnecessary walking for the first few weeks of recovery. Invest in a bed ramp for dogs and baby gates to prevent any jumping or extra movement.

Final Word: CCL in Dogs

If you are in the stressful, unfortunate situation of dealing with your dog’s torn ACL, there is some good news: they will likely make a full recovery!

The proper treatment plan is going to make a world of difference in how quickly your dog gets back to their old routines, so keep in close contact with your vet and follow their instructions closely for your best results. 

If your dog is in a high-risk category for developing CCL, try dog ramps and other measures to keep your dog from overusing their stressed joints. If your pup is obese, put them on a diet to help reduce extra strain on their knees. 

We wish you much luck on the recovery journey!

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