Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

Cruciate ligament injury is a very common cause of hind limb lameness, pain and arthritis in dogs. At Severn Edge we can offer lateral suture and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA) canine cruciate ligament repairs with our in-house orthopaedics team, without the need for costly referral. Contact us to arrange your appointment.

What is the cruciate ligament?

In dogs, the cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL) is equivalent to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the human knee – in simple terms a strong elastic band connecting the thigh bone to the shin bone. It holds the knee joint together, preventing the shin bone from moving too far forwards in relation to the thigh bone and also helps to prevent the knee joint from over-extending or rotating. 

What is cruciate ligament injury and how does it happen?

Whilst in humans ACL injury usually involves a sporting accident and a dramatic snap, this is unusual in dogs except as a result of an accident in very active sports or working dogs. It is more often the result of a gradual degeneration, a bit like a fraying rope, resulting in a partial or full tear of the fibrous tissue of the ligament. The resulting instability of the knee joint causes pain and lameness.

Some breeds of dog are predisposed to CrCL injury (including Labradors, Newfoundlands, West Highland White Terriers and Rottweilers among others) and there are also links with obesity, overall conformation of the dog and hormonal factors. A significant proportion of dogs diagnosed with injury in one leg go on to develop it in the other leg at a later date.

Symptoms

•  Holding a back leg up completely or just touching the toes to the ground
•  Lameness in one or both back legs
•  Stiffness, particularly on rising from lying down
•  Pain and/or swelling in the knee
•  A change in gait, walking in a stiff or unusual way
•  Standing with the knee pointing outwards
•  Sitting with the knee pointed outwards or sometimes the whole leg pointed outwards

How is it diagnosed?

A complete rupture can often be detected on examination, using certain movements of the knee to detect laxity in the joint. A partial tear or other early degeneration of the knee joint may require an x-ray under sedation to fully assess the degree of damage.

Treatment options

In smaller dogs (<10kg), dogs with only mild lameness or those who are poor candidates for surgery due to other health problems, ‘conservative management’ can be considered. This involves pain relief and a strict period of rest followed by a controlled return to exercise, with the aim of building up the muscles in the affected leg to take the pressure off the ligament.

Weight control, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy can be of great benefit. This process may take weeks or months and may not result in full resolution of the lameness.

Several options for surgical management exist, including methods to replace the ligament with a synthetic one and methods that change the geometry and forces of the knee joint such that the cruciate ligament is no longer needed for stability.

At Severn Edge we can offer both of these lateral suture and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA) cruciate ligament repairs with our in-house orthopaedics team, without the need for costly referral.

Ongoing care and prevention

Once your dog has recovered from surgery and undergone a gradual return to exercise, most dogs will return to full function and be able to exercise more or less normally. Your vet may recommend joint supplements or, later in life, anti-inflammatory painkillers for arthritis in the affected joint.

The most significant thing you can do at home is to keep your dog at an appropriate body weight – obesity puts strain on all of the joints and can make cruciate injury much more likely.

Keep your dog fit and follow a sensible exercise regime, with no ‘weekend warrior’ activities where they are suddenly pushed to do more than their bodies are used to. It may also be sensible to limit jumping, skidding and chasing activities.