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ACL Tears in Dogs – Can You Prevent Them?

In the years that we’ve been working with dogs, doing hydrotherapy and conditioning for many orthopedic issues, we’ve seen more CCL (also known as ACL) tears than we can count. In fact veterinarians report that it is one of the most commonly seen orthopedic issues.

What is the CCL?

Ligaments are bands of connective or fibrous tissue that connect 2 bones or cartilage at a joint. The Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) connects the back of the femur (the thigh bone above the knee) to the front of the tibia (large bone in the lower leg) at the knee (or stifle) joint. It is one of the most important stabilizers inside the dog’s knee and is responsible for keeping the tibia in place beneath the femur.

The CCL in dogs is similar to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in people. When speaking of a dog’s CCL, many people commonly refer to the CCL as an ACL.

What causes the CCL to tear?ccl tear in dogs

The true cause is not really known. It may have to do with activity, breed, age, and excess weight.

Often, it’s caused by repetitive micro-injuries where a dog puts pressure on the ligament in the same way, all the time. This causes the ligament to stretch over time and eventually tear.

It can also be caused by structural abnormalities or a trauma, such as jumping off the couch and landing badly. Because of the anatomy of a dog’s knee, cruciate ligaments are especially vulnerable to injury.

What type of dog is more likely to tear his CCL?

  • Certain breeds, such as labs, goldens, shepherds, rottweilers, and newfoundlands.
  • Dogs who get strenuous exercise periodically but not regular exercise.
  • Canine athletes, who compete in sports that involve repetitive movement.
  • Obese dogs.
  • Dogs who are spayed or neutered before 12 months of age.

Unfortunately, statistics show that about half the dogs who rupture the CCL in one knee will do the same in the other knee.

What are the symptoms of CCL injuries?

Depending on the severity of the tear, symptoms may range from a slight limp to fully lifting the leg and not bearing any weight on it. A dog may also have swelling on the inside of the knee.

What can I do to help keep my dog from tearing his ACL?

Obviously, prevention is always the best way to go. Prevention involves 2 main areas:

  • Minimizing the stress on the ligaments, and
  • keeping the ligaments and surrounding muscles strong and healthy.

How do I minimize stress on my dog’s knees?

Through weight management and the right exercise!

  • Keep him at either normal weight or slightly underweight, especially if your dog has any hip issues.
  • Give him the right exercise.
  • Swimming is the best choice for exercise because it gives your dog a full body workout. Plus dogs flex and extend their knees without stress on the joint more when swimming than any other exercise. This helps to build muscle around the joint, which in turn helps to stabilize Dayzee on the balance disk and bonethe knee.
  • Leash walks on non-slippery surfaces.
  • Core strengthening exercises such as sit to stand, or weight shifting on an unstable surface.
  • Exercise your dog regularly.
  • Avoid excessive jumping, and sudden, quick twists and turns.

What else can I do to keep the ligaments and surrounding muscles strong and healthy?

  • Give him a high quality diet.
  • Take him for his annual checkup. Make sure his metabolic and endocrine systems are functioning properly. Conditions such as hypothyroidism have been linked to degeneration of the cruciate ligaments.
  • If you can, wait between 12 and 30 months to spay or neuter your dog, depending on the breed. The reason is that you want your dog’s growth plates to close before you spay or neuter. The time it takes for them to close varies with the breed.
  • Give your dog high quality joint supplements.

Unfortunately, there is no fool-proof way to guarantee that your dog will never tear his ACL. But with proper diet, conditioning to build and maintain muscle mass, and by keeping your dog lean, you will greatly reduce the chances.

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