ACL or Ruptured Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries in Pets

Meet Jack…an English Bulldog with a great job and an exciting story to tell. Sadly, Jack’s career was almost derailed due to an unexpected injury. Like so many NBA stars and skiers, Jack messed up his knee and was sidelined for many weeks. Thankfully, prompt care and a great surgery team got Jack “back on the road again!”

Just one look at Jack and you can tell that this is a dog meant for bigger things. From blogging about his travels as New Mexico’s Canine Travel Reporter to his awards from the governor, Jack oozes confidence and excitement. So, when Jack ruptured his cruciate ligament, neither he nor his human partner, Jill, were going to let anything stand in the way of his speedy return to the spotlight.

Normal Stifle x-ray

Like people, dogs have two cruciate ligaments to help provide support for the knee. Their presence keeps the femur and tibia from sliding around and destabilizing the joint. According to veterinary surgeon, Dr. Phil Zeltzman, repairing torn cruciates is the most common surgery at veterinary surgery centers. He adds that certain breeds (Labradors and Rottweilers) show up with this injury more frequently than other pets.

Dogs can rupture these ligaments with sudden twisting movements while running or even from slipping on ice. In Jack’s case, a sudden meeting with a child’s snow sled was enough to cause the injury. After seeing Jack limp into the house that snowy day, Jill knew an appointment with his veterinarian was needed.

In most cases, diagnosing a cruciate tear simply requires a veterinarian’s examination and, if the patient is not cooperative, a touch of sedation. Palpation of the knee joint is the key to the diagnosis although it is also a good idea to take x-rays of both knees to look for any other problems.

The next step is surgery. According to industry experts, pet owners spend more than $1 billion dollars on cruciate surgeries for their pets each year. A variety of procedures exist to help stabilize the knee, but most surgeons will utilize one of three procedures. Because of Jack’s anatomy, breed and size, surgeons at the New Mexico Veterinary Surgery Center determined that the Tibial Tuberosity Advancement surgery would be the most effective solution.

Radiographs to the left show a ruptured ACL ligament in one of my patients, Luna. Compare it to the normal knee and you can see at the 90 degree angle of the x-ray on the left, the femur or the big thigh bone sits almost behind the tibia or the lower leg bone. The cruciate ligament stabilizes the knee. Luna had a TPLO surgery (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) performed by Dr. Payne of North Houston Veterinary Specialists. Dr. Payne is a veterinary orthopedic surgeon and travels to the veterinary clinic that requires his services.

Join them on Facebook

The surgery requires very special instruments and surgical skills for a successful outcome and at Luna’s 6 week check up, she was walking great.

As with any pet surgery, cost certainly is an issue. It is not unusual for these cruciate surgeries to range in cost from $1200 to more than $3000. David Goodnight, CEO of PurinaCare pet insurance says that nationwide, the average cost for this type of surgery is $2500.

Some pet owners will question the need for surgery as fibrous tissue in the dog’s body will eventually stabilize the joint. Sadly, this could lead to bigger problems, including severe osteoarthritis or even a rupture of the ligaments in the other knee. Certainly this route only increases the pet’s discomfort.

After surgery, most dogs feel much better. In fact, it’s a challenge for owners to keep their pets rested during the recovery. Jill recalls her experience with Jack, “Luckily I remembered to always keep him on a leash outside…by day three after surgery, I could see him wanting to run!”

This 8-10 week recovery period is crucial. Too much activity can delay healing at the site or even cause enough damage that a second surgery might be needed! The doggie patients need to stay in a crate when they can’t be supervised, go outside ONLY on a leash and only for bathroom breaks until the surgeon says short walks are ok. Running, jumping and stairs should be avoided.

Jack has made a complete recovery and is now back educating people about the wonders of New Mexico. But he is not out of the woods yet. About half of dogs who rupture one cruciate will tear the opposite knee’s ligaments. Along the course of his recovery, Jack’s veterinarians have made several recommendations to help him avoid this fate.

First, weight control! Excess weight creates additional stress on joints and can lead to ligament tears.

Next, daily exercise is important. Spending about an hour each day engaged in moderate exercise is not only a good way to keep your dog healthy and limber…it will probably help you too!

Finally, don’t overdo it! You wouldn’t run a marathon without training, so don’t expect your dog to hike 4-5 miles with you immediately.

Your veterinarian will also have some helpful ideas to protect your pet’s joints. Nutraceuticals, like glucosamine or rehabilitation exercises can help strengthen and support the knees. Canine Dasaflex contains a blend of ingredients to help with joint health and pain.