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ACL Tears in Dogs

It seems that the longer we are in business, the more we hear about ACL tears in dog’s knees. We’ve helped a number of dogs avoid surgery when their ACL was partially torn, and we’ve worked with an even greater number of dogs who had surgery, to get them back to normal function again. ACL tears are by far the most common of all orthopedic injury in dogs, up to 85% of all orthopedic injuries.

Why is this happening?

First, all dogs are at risk of tearing an ACL, even small dogs.

That being said, the most commonly reported injuries are happening in young, Caught Frisbeeactive, large breed dogs, such as retrievers, Mastiffs, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds. Additionally, overweight, out of shape dogs are at greater risk of an ACL tear than dogs who are physically well-conditioned.

There is also some research that indicates that early spay or neuter is causing dogs to have a greater risk of an ACL tear. This is because of the way the bones grow. Early spay and neuter delays the growing process causing some bones to grow longer than they should. This changes the angle of the knee joint, which can lead to knee problems.

What are the signs of an ACL tear?

Some dog owners report hearing a yelp, then the dog begins limping. Others notice that all of a sudden the dog is either limping or not putting any weight on that leg. How much pressure your dog puts on that leg often can indicate the severity of the tear.

How is an ACL tear diagnosed?

Most veterinarians who are familiar with ACL tears will perform a test called a cranial drawer test. This is a test where the vet holds the femur (the thigh bone) in place and moves the tibia (the larger bone in the lower leg) back and forth. If the ACL is torn, the tibia will move forward. If the ACL is not torn, there will be little to no movement.

Most veterinarians will also want to do xrays, to rule out other possible issues, such as a fracture, hip problems or arthritis.

How is an ACL tear treated?

Partial tears can be successfully treated with management, combining rest and some sort of physical therapy. We’ve had great success helping dogs with partial tears regain complete function through hydrotherapy in our indoor warm water pool.

Full tears generally require surgery. Another new option for partial and complete tears is a leg brace. I don’t know a lot about them, but I’ve heard this is an option that may work, and is less costly than surgery. To learn more about braces, visit Posh Dog Knee Brace.

There are three types of surgery that are generally recommended. Here is a very basic explanation of each.

  • Extracapsular or Lateral Suture Repair. In this procedure, a monofilament suture (similar to a fishing line) is used to secure the joint. While this procedure is often recommended for smaller dogs, we’ve seen it work successfully for dogs up to 70 pounds. It is the least invasive of the three procedures and requires the least amount of recovery time.
  • Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA). This procedure is often recommended for medium to larger dogs and requires cutting the front part of the tibia to realign the kneecap ligament. It is an invasive surgery that requires a lengthy recovery.
  • Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO). A popular surGerman Shepherd Doggery, this procedure is generally recommended for large dogs or those with a steep slope of the tibia. It also involves cutting the tibia, and then rotating the tibial plateau so the slope is leveled out. It’s then held in place with plates and screws. It is also an invasive surgery that requires a lengthy recovery.

If your dog is facing surgery, what option should you choose?

That depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • your dog’s age,
  • size, weight and build structure,
  • activity level,
  • your financial constraints, and
  • your ability to provide adequate after surgery care.

We are lucky in Central Florida in that we have several great options available for dogs that need ACL surgery. AVS in Maitland is NOT the only option and is generally not the best option, primarily due to cost. If your dog is facing ACL surgery and you would like to understand more of your options, or if you would simply like to learn more, please contact us. We are happy to help.