Is your dog suffering from knee pain due to an injury or torn cruciate ligament (ACL)? Surgery may be the best treatment option. Here, our Long Island veterinary specialists review three types of procedures and after-care rehabilitation options for treating this common condition.
Knee Injuries in Dogs
To help your dog enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle, it's essential to ensure your pooch's knees are working properly and are free of pain.
Like people, the health of your dog's knees depends on whether they eat a nutritious diet and engage in a suitable level of physical activity.
That said, while you may give your pup a high-quality dog food and supplement to help maintain their joints, cruciate ligament injuries (or ACL injuries as they are sometimes referred to) can still occur, which can cause your dog to experience severe knee pain.
A dog may tear a ligament and suffer from pain suddenly — while running or playing — or may develop an injury gradually over an extended period of time.
What is the cranial cruciate ligament (ACL) in dogs?
The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg. It connects the tibia (shin bone) to the femur (thigh bone) and allows your pet's knee to move correctly.
What is tibial thrust?
Torn cruciate ligament pain can arise from instability within the knee. A sliding motion called 'tibial thrust' can occur, and is caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's shin bone and across the knee.
This causes the shin bone to "thrust" forward. The forward movement happens as a result of the top of the tibia being sloped. The dog's injured ligament is unable to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.
What are the signs of a dog knee injury?
If your pup is suffering from knee pain due to an injured cruciate ligament they will not be able to perform a number of movements normally, such as walking or running. Other symptoms of knee injuries that you should watch for are:
- Difficulties rising up off of the floor
- Limping in their hind legs
- Reluctance to exercise or climb stairs
- Stiffness following exercise
Can surgery repair my dog's knee injury?
Ligament injuries in dogs are painful and tend not heal themselves. If your pup is showing signs of a torn ligament it's important to see your vet to have the condition diagnosed so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe.
In many cases, a dog with a torn cruciate ligament in one leg, will quickly go on to injury the ligament in the healthy leg.
If your dog is suffering from a torn cruciate ligament your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog regain normal mobility.
ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization
- This knee surgery is often used to treat smaller dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds, and works by preventing the tibial thrust with the help of a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ligament has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength.
TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
- TPLO reduces tibial thrust without relying on the dog's cruciate. TPLO surgery involves making a complete cut through the top of the shin bone (tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. A metal plate is then added to the the area where the cut was made, in order to help stabilize the bone as it heals. Over the course of several months, your pup's leg will gradually heal, regaining its strength and mobility.
TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
- TTA surgery involves separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section of the tibia up and forward. This can help to prevent much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front section of the tibia in its new corrected position until the bone has had adequate time to heal.
Which type of knee surgery is right for my dog?
Your vet will do a thorough examination of your dog's knee to assess its movement and geometry, then consider other factors such as dog's age, weight, size and lifestyle. Once your vet has done a full evaluation of your pet's condition they will be able to recommend the best surgery to treat your dog's knee injury.
What types of rehabilitation therapies are recommended after knee surgery for dogs?
Your vet may recommend one or a combination of rehabilitation therapies at different points in your pet's recovery depending on your dog's specific circumstances. These may include:
Cold Therapy - This may help to soothe pain and decrease inflammation around the surgical site.
Massage - To stimulate blood flow and prevent scar tissue from forming on the muscles.
Walking - Your vet may recommend slow, controlled walking to help maintain strength. It will be important to walk on level surfaces, avoiding steps and hills at first.
Passive Range of Motion (PROM) - To stimulate blood flow, prevent the muscles from atrophying and speed healing.
How long will it take for my dog to recover from knee surgery?
Healing from a knee surgery is always a long process and will require patience. While many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, a full recovery and a return to normal activities can take 16 weeks or more.
Remember that for the first several weeks after your dog's surgery, your vet will likely recommend no jumping, stair-climbing or running for several weeks. Strict crate rest should be observed for the first 10 to 14 days to help the incision heal.
Following your vet's post-operative instructions carefully will help your dog to return to normal activities as quickly as safely possible, while reducing the risk of re-injuring the knee.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.