ACL Surgery for Dogs

Your vet may recommend surgery if your dog has torn their cranial cruciate ligament (CCL/ACL), to help get your pooch up and running again. Today our Cave Creek vets talk about the three common kinds of ACL surgeries for dogs.

ACL Injuries & Your Dog's Knees

In order for your dog's knees to stay pain-free and healthy, you have to give them an active lifestyle.

While there is a variety of high-quality dog foods and supplements available that could help your dog's joints stay in optimal condition, cruciate injuries (also known as ACL injuries) can occur without warning and make your dog very uncomfortable.

A Dog's Cranial Cruciate Ligament

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL, or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg that works to connect the shin bone to the thigh bone and allow for proper movement of the knee.

Injury leading to knee pain that stems from a torn ACL can occur suddenly during exercise, but will often gradually develop over a period of time. If your pooch has an injured cruciate and continues to jump, run and play then the injury is likely to become much more severe and symptoms will become more painful and pronounced.

Causes of Knee Pain in Dogs

When your dog has a torn ACL, the pain comes from instability in the knee and a movement called 'tibial thrust'.

Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up your dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee, causing the tibia to “thrust” forward in relation to the dog's thigh bone (femur). This forward thrust movement happens because the top of the tibia is sloped, and your pup's injured ACL is unable to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.

Signs & Symptoms of ACL Injuries in Dogs

If your pooch has an injured ACL, they will be suffering from knee pain and probably won't be able to walk or run normally. Other symptoms your dog may develop includes:

  • Stiffness following exercise
  • Difficulties rising up off of the floor
  • Limping in their hind legs

ACL Surgery Treatments For Dogs

Normally, ACL injuries can't heal on their own. If your dog is exhibiting signs of a torn ACL you need to take them to the vet as quickly as possible to have the issue diagnosed, so it can be treated before other more painful and serious symptoms arise.

In order to get your dog back to their usual active lifestyle, your vet will probably recommend one of three surgeries to help treat your dog's torn ACL.

ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization

Generally, this form of ACL surgery is conducted to help treat dogs that weigh under 50 pounds and works by preventing tibial thrust with 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 ACL has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength. Usually, ELSS surgery is relatively quick and not complicated with a good success rate among smaller dogs.

TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy

TPLO is more complicated than ELSS surgery but it's generally highly successful at treating dogs with ACL injuries. The goal of this surgery is to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's ACL. The procedure involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (the tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. Then a metal plate is added to help keep the cut bone stable as it heals. Your dog's leg will gradually heal and become stronger over the course of several months.

TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement

TTA is similar to TPLO but isn't usually used as often to treat dogs that have ACL injuries. This knee surgery consists of surgically 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 up and forward. This helps 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 correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the tibia) are excellent candidates for this type of ACL surgery.

The Right ACL Surgery For Your Dog

Your vet will determine the best ACL surgery for your dog by conducting a comprehensive assessment of your canine's knee including the geometry and movement of the limb. When making the decision your veterinarian will also take your dog's size, weight, age, and lifestyle into consideration.

Recovery Time For Dogs After ACL Surgery

It doesn't matter which surgery is used for your dog's ACL injury, it's still a long healing process. Lots of dogs that have had TPLO surgery are able to walk approximately 24 hours after their procedure but, a full recovery and a return to normal activities could take 12 - 16 weeks or more. It is very important to carefully follow the post-operative instructions your vet has provided you with so your pooch can recover as fast and safely as possible without risking re-injury. Allowing your dog to return to an active lifestyle too soon after surgery could lead to injuring the knee all over again.

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.

Contact our vets in Cave Creek immediately to schedule an appointment if you believe your dog has obtained a cruciate injury.