Pet Health

Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs: What a Pain in the Knee

By November 3, 2022 No Comments

Dogs can suffer from a painful knee injury if their cruciate ligament tears or ruptures. This will lead to osteoarthritis (OA). A cruciate ligament injury that isn’t treated may become worse even though it may seem to improve after a few weeks.

So as a pet owner, what should you know about this type of injury? 

Inside the joint

Pets have two cruciate ligaments (cranial and caudal) that help hold the knee (stifle) joint together and prevent excessive sliding of the thigh bone (femur) on the shin bone (tibia). The cruciate ligaments are so named because they cross inside the joint, connecting the bones above and below the knee (the femur and tibia). Like the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in people, the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is the one that most often ruptures in dogs.

How does this happen?

Most dogs with this injury have had a slowly degenerating cruciate ligament which finally ruptures, either fully or partially – like a fraying rope that breaks – causing sudden lameness.  This often happens with a sudden change in direction or speed. Dogs can also rupture their cruciate ligaments while walking; for instance, if they trip over a rock or step into a hole.

Other factors that contribute to degeneration of the ligament are:

  • obesity
  • age
  • poor physical condition
  • genetics
  • breed

Pets at risk!

Cruciate ligament rupture can affect any dog, regardless of size or age. However, this type of knee injury is more common in overweight and obese dogs, and the risk of injury does increase with age.

Cranial cruciate ligament injury can affect healthy dogs as well. Canine athletes that participate in agility and other athletic activities are at higher risk, as are dogs that are inactive most of the week but amp up exercise on the weekends.

 Most dogs that have a cruciate ligament injury in one knee will eventually develop it in the other knee.

Certain dog breeds, such as the Akita, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Mastiff, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, and Staffordshire terrier, are at higher risk.

Cats can suffer from cruciate ligament injury as well.

Signs to look out for

Sudden lameness and pain in a hind leg are the most obvious signs of cruciate ligament injury. Other symptoms include:

  • Limping
  • Stiff gait
  • Swelling or instability of the knee
  • Lameness that comes and goes, especially with physical activity
  • Trouble bearing weight on the affected leg
  • Difficulty getting up from a sit
  • Trouble jumping up onto a sofa or bed, getting into a vehicle, or climbing stairs
  • Reluctance to play
  • A popping or clicking noise when walking

How will my pet’s injury be diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam of your pet, which includes checking for swelling, inflammation, and pain, as well as abnormal movement and motion of the knee. This typically involves moving your pet’s knee into several positions, as well as observing your pet walking. Full assessment of the knee may require sedation, especially in well-muscled dogs. Your veterinarian may also need to take x-rays of the knee and recommend other diagnostic tests.

How will my pet be treated?

Surgery is usually the most effective way to treat this type of injury, especially in large breed dogs. If your pet needs surgery, Dr. Sampson at Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital will provide an affordable option for cruciate ligament repair. On rare occasions, we may need to refer you to a board-certified veterinary surgeon for a more advanced procedure called a tibial plateau levelling osteotomy (TPLO).

Some small dogs (and cats) may be able to recover without surgery, but only if they can be put on strict exercise restriction for about six weeks. Rehabilitation (or physical therapy), including laser therapy, can be very helpful during this type of conservative therapy to enable a less painful recovery period and to minimize detrimental joint and muscle changes.

Regardless of treatment, the stifle will start to develop irreversible degenerative changes progressing to osteoarthritis; however, a more stable knee created by surgical intervention will greatly reduce these changes.

After surgery, dogs must have their activity limited for about six to eight weeks. Rehabilitation, which is usually part of the postsurgical plan, helps speed up recovery and reduce the chance of complications.

Are there ways to prevent cruciate ligament injury?

Although there’s no way to completely prevent cruciate ligament rupture or disease, keeping your pet lean and fit may reduce the risk of this type of injury. If your dog is overweight the veterinary team can create a weight loss plan that includes reducing caloric intake and increasing activity slowly and as safely as possible.

If you have questions about cruciate ligament rupture or if your pet is limping, in pain, can’t put weight on their leg, or is showing other signs of a knee injury, contact our team at Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital right away.

The sooner we diagnose the problem, the faster we can help your pet feel better and start to recover from the injury!


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