A torn cranial cruciate ligament is one of the most common orthopedic disorders among dogs. Dogs knees are similar to human knees and the cranial cruciate ligament is the same as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. Therefore, like human athletes who tear their ACLs, dogs can tear their cranial cruciate ligaments during athletic activies.
Larger dogs like retrievers or dogs with very straight legs, like rottweilers and dobermans, commonly injure themselves whilst hunting or running around. Smaller overweight breeds like, poodles or cocker spaniels, can also tear their cranial cruciates from the return impact caused after jumping up.
Torn cranial cruciate ligaments are easy to recognize. If you are with your dog when the injury occurs, you may hear a popping noise when the ligament tears and after the injury, the dog will carry that leg or limp. The injury is initially painful, but the pain eventually subsides if there isn't torn cartilage or arthritis already present. Pain can then usually return in the form of arthritis.
Fortunately, pain control and/or surgery can restore your dog to function in about 90 percent of cases. If your dog weighs less than 20 pounds, pain and inflammation control may be enough to alleviate the discomfort and resulting lameness. Larger dogs need surgery along with pain and anti inflammatory control to restore comfort and mobility. If surgery is not done, the joint will continue to deteriorate and be painful.
The aim of surgery is to stop the looseness and resulting instability of the joint. In people, torn ACLs are replaced with grafts from the person's own body or frozen tissue. In dogs, nylon sutures or pieces of tissue from the side of the dog's knee are used.
Although surgery is generally very successful, recovery can be long. Dog owners expect their dog to be able to jump up and run around. But, just like people recovering from ACL surgery, dogs take time to recover, generally 1 to 3 months. Restraining extensive activity can be difficult in some dogs, or any dog that is feeling better after being laid up.
Post operative therapies are important to rehabilitation. Anesthesiologists and surgeons at the University of Illinois veterinary hospital work together to provide pain control and physical therapy, and are beginning to seek funding to develop Illinois as a regional center for post operative rehabilitation.
You can help your dog recover safely at home. Keep your dog in good health and encourage general, but not extensive, exercise. Especially avoid activity on concrete or slippery surfaces. Swimming and passive motion exercises where you move your dog's joints can help restore strength and motion.
For more information on lameness, contact your local veterinarian.
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