X-ray images of a human arm showing a torn acl in a dog, also known as a torn cranial cruciate ligament

My Dog Tore Their ACL, Now What?


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In 2023, the third highest claim PD Insurance paid out across all claim types was for a limb injury. This is an umbrella term that includes fractures, sprains and strains, dislocations, cuts and laceration and torn ligaments. Among those is tearing their cranial cruciate ligament, also known as a torn ACL in dogs or cats.

An ACL tear is the most common ligament tear in dogs, so it’s worth knowing about it and what you can do for your pup if it happens to them.

Golden retriever with a torn ACL (cranial cruciate ligament), bandaged leg on an exam table at a veterinary clinic.

What’s a torn ACL in dogs?

A torn ACL, or in dogs more accurately called a torn CCL (cranial cruciate ligament), is a common injury that affects one of the crucial ligaments in a dog’s knee.

The CCL connects the back of the femur (the bone above the knee) to the front of the tibia (the bone below the knee), and its main job is to stabilise the knee joint. When this ligament is torn, it causes instability in the knee, leading to pain, swelling, and difficulty walking.

The injury can occur due to sudden movements like jumping or turning quickly, but it can also develop over time from gradual wear and tear.

How to check for a torn ACL in my dog

You can check if your dog may have torn their ACL at home by observing certain signs and performing gentle tests. It’s very important to be cautious so that you don’t cause your dog any more pain or further injury. Here are steps you can take:

Observe symptoms

Look for signs such as your dog limping, showing difficulty when trying to stand up or lie down, reluctance to jump or use stairs, and swelling around the knee. Your dog may also keep the injured leg raised while standing.

Sit test

A dog with a torn CCL might have trouble sitting squarely. Instead of tucking the injured leg under their body, they might sit with it sticking out.

Walking test

Notice how your dog walks. They might limp, use the injured leg lightly, barely put their toes down, or not use the leg at all.

Gentle palpation

Another way to check for a torn ACL in your dog is to gently feel around the knee joint for swelling or warmth. This indicates inflammation. Compare the injured knee to the other one, but avoid applying pressure if your dog seems to be in pain or uncomfortable.

How do you treat it?

You will need to take your pup to a vet for a thorough inspection, X-rays and a diagnosis. A dog’s torn ACL can be painful and debilitating, so it’s very important to get them medical care.

For minor tears or if your dog is not a good candidate for surgery (due to age, health issues, or other concerns), the vet might recommend a conservative approach.

This would include rest, prescribing anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling, giving you exercises to strengthen the muscles around your dog’s knee to support their joint, and advising on diet and nutrition to help your dog maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress on the knee.

For more severe tears or in active, young, or larger dogs, surgery for a dog’s torn ACL is often the best option. Common procedures include:

  • TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy): Changes the shape of the knee bone so that your dog doesn’t need the CCL to keep the knee stable.
  • TTA (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement): Changes the front part of the lower knee bone to help the knee work better.
  • Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization: Uses a tough thread to do the job of the CCL.
  • CBLO (CORA-Based Leveling Osteotomy): A newer way to fix the knee, similar to TPLO but cuts the bone differently. Read more here.

Regardless of whether treatment is surgical or non-surgical, post-treatment care is important for your pup. This typically includes follow-up vet visits, physical rehabilitation, and pain management.

When to put a dog down with torn ACL

A torn ACL is a treatable condition in many cases, with various options ranging from surgery to conservative management that can significantly improve your dog’s quality of life.

Putting down your pet is a deeply personal and difficult decision. If the injury has led to severe, unmanageable pain and discomfort that significantly impairs their quality of life, and all treatment options have been exhausted or are not viable due to other health issues – you may choose to go this route.

It may also be a consideration if your pup has multiple health issues, and the cranial cruciate ligament injury further complicates their condition to the point where they can no longer enjoy a good quality of life, despite treatment.

It’s crucial to have an open, honest discussions with your vet about your dog’s prognosis, potential for recovery, quality of life, and the full range of treatment options.

Insurance for the unexpected

The cost of treatment for your dog’s torn ACL can run up to thousands of dollars. Worrying about paying for their surgery out of pocket while giving them the best care possible can be very stressful.

Having a dog insurance plan means helping get them back on their paws with the least amount of financial pain possible. Find out about getting one or more months of FREE award winning pet insurance with PD Insurance. Click below to get a quote today.

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