Cruciate ligament ruptures (ACL tear) are relatively common dogs and is very similar to the injuries we see in humans. A large percentage of adult dogs that are seen for lameness on a hind limb is diagnosed with a full or partial cruciate ligament rupture. A torn ACL can come from a serious injury like falling down the stairs or from even milder injuries like while running the yard. Most dogs with a complete ACL tear will not bear any weight on the injured leg.
Most injuries in dogs occur to the anterior cruciate ligament as the result of some sort of traumatic event, though dogs who are overweight run a much greater risk of this injury. Certain breeds like Weimaraners, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers Newfoundland’s, Mastiffs, and Pit Bulls are at higher risk than other large breed dogs, however, even small breeds can tear an ACL. Dogs who are running and suddenly change directions, jump, stop or fall are likely to injury this ligament as a result of twisting the knee joint to the right or left. The injury is extremely painful and usually results in varying degree of lameness. Partial tears are possible and the dog may be lame only occasionally, but often times partial tears progress to full ruptures with continued use of the knee joint. These injuries also speed the progression of arthritis and degenerative joint disease. Regardless of how the tear is repaired or not the affected joint will likely develop arthritis as your pet ages. A preventative regimen of Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplements and Fish Oils are important to try to delay this onset of arthritis. Additionally, dogs who have ruptured one of their cruciate ligaments are more prone to rupturing the cruciate ligament in their other leg.
Diagnosing a cruciate ligament tear usually requires at least one radiograph under sedation and deep palpation. Your pet’s veterinarian will attempt to elicit “drawer” in the knee joint, which is an abnormal degree of laxity or movement. This “drawer” movement is not seen in a stable, healthy knee joint and indicates that the joint has been damaged. Many dogs who have injured their knee are too painful for this manipulation to be performed while they are awake and require a fast-acting IV sedative in order for the veterinarian to perform the evaluation. A “click” can also sometimes be felt indicating a meniscal tear which usually results in a large amount of pain and discomfort. These tears are typically fixed using an arthroscope, a camera made to look into joints, at the same time the ACL is repaired.
In the case of a cruciate ligament tear surgery is usually the best option to give your dog a happy, pain-free life. There are many surgery options based on your individual dog breed, age, and lifestyle. This surgery is performed by a board-certified veterinary surgeon and usually costs between $3,500-$4,000. The rehabilitation period after surgery usually ranges between 2-3 months. If surgery is not an option, treatment with a dog-safe anti-inflammatory pain medication (NOT ADVIL/TYLENOL) coupled with strict cage-rest offers your dog the best chance at minimizing swelling and continued pain in the knee joint. Although at Meadowlands Veterinary Hospital (201-646-2008) we do offer stem cell therapy, T-cyte, and other less invasive approaches to ligament tear management, it is important to discuss all your options with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action.