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Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Dogs: What Owners Need to Know

A cruciate ligament tear is a painful condition that is considered one of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs. The rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament is associated with lameness and pain, and in many cases requires surgery and expensive treatment. We have summarized the most important information about cruciate ligament ruptures in dogs for you.

What is a Cruciate Ligament Tear in the Dog?

The cruciate ligament tear is a very common injury to the knee. The dog’s knee joint has a complex structure: it is a hinge joint that connects the upper and lower legs.

The cruciate ligaments play an important role here, ensuring stability in the knee joint and preventing the knee from twisting. If one of these ligaments tears, one speaks of a cruciate ligament tear.

Causes: How Does the Cruciate Ligament Tear Develop in Dogs?

In most cases, the anterior cruciate ligament of the dog’s knee is affected. This is because it is exposed to particularly heavy loads. What exactly leads to a rupture of the cruciate ligament varies and cannot be answered across the board.

Genetic predisposition, previous diseases of the joints, circulatory disorders, and age-related degeneration are the primary triggers of a cruciate ligament tear. These factors weaken the cruciate ligament. It can be assumed that the normal movement of the dog will weaken the cruciate ligament more and more. Over time it frays, tears only partially and finally completely.

Muscle strength and the dog’s weight also play a role in the development of the injury. Overweight and heavy dogs in particular are disproportionately affected by an anterior cruciate ligament tear.

Cruciate Ligament Rupture Dog: Symptoms

As soon as the cruciate ligament ruptures, the affected animal shows typical symptoms such as lameness and signs of pain. The dog pulls in the hind leg and keeps it bent, trying not to put the leg down while running. Typical symptoms of a torn cruciate ligament are:

  • Slight or severe lameness with alternation between a fast and slow running pace;
  • The minimal strain on the affected leg when running;
  • Bend the leg while standing and running;
  • Standing and walking on the tips of your paws or avoiding ground contact altogether;
  • Extending the leg while lying down;
  • Swelling of the knee joint;
  • Muscle loss, the leg becomes thinner;
  • Acute or persistent pain;
  • Strong heat generation, the knee feels warm.

If the cruciate ligament is torn, the injury often goes undetected, as the symptoms often subside after a few days and the dog can walk normally again. However, this increases the risk of a sudden cruciate ligament tear. Therefore, the cause should always be clarified even in the case of short-term lameness.

Diagnosis: How Does the Vet Recognize a Cruciate Ligament Tear in the Dog?

The veterinarian can quickly diagnose a complete cruciate ligament tear in the dog. In the so-called drawer test, the vet pulls the lower leg of the injured leg forward. If this can be pulled out like a drawer, the anterior cruciate ligament has torn.

This fast method allows a reliable diagnosis, especially in small dogs. However, large and strong dogs often tense their muscles so much that the drawer test cannot be performed. In this case, the injury will be confirmed with imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT.

Cruciate Ligament Rupture Dog: Surgery – Yes or No?

Many dog owners want to spare their four-legged friend an operation and therefore rely on conservative treatment. This includes treating the dog with pain-relieving medication, physiotherapy, and protecting the joint. However, the conservative method is only suitable for small dogs.

In most cases, however, the dog cannot avoid surgery.

Two surgical methods are preferred: In the TTA (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement) operation, a spacer is attached to the knee joint so that a cruciate ligament is no longer required.

TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) uses an implant that restores the function of the knee. In small, light dogs, an artificial cruciate ligament can also be surgically inserted so that the dog can walk normally again. This surgery replaces the cruciate ligament and the dog can continue its life as before.

Cruciate Ligament Rupture Dog: Healing Time

After the surgery, it will take a few months for the dog to recover. During this time, the musculoskeletal system is gradually trained. Physiotherapy and painkillers as well as a healthy diet also contribute to the healing process after cruciate ligament surgery.

Prevention: Can You Prevent a Cruciate Ligament Tear in Dogs?

Dogs with pre-existing conditions and dogs that are overweight are more likely to tear cruciate ligaments. You should therefore make sure that your dog maintains its normal weight and, in the event of being overweight, change its diet.

Also, keep in mind that your dog is getting older: in old age, excessive stress on the joints and excessive exertion should be avoided. In young, healthy dogs, on the other hand, a lot of exercises are important for the muscles and joints and can prevent a cruciate ligament rupture.

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