The most common reason for canine orthopedic surgery is damage to the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in the dog’s knee joint. This ligament is the canine equivalent of the human ACL, which functions to stabilize the knee joint and ensure proper mobility. In humans and dogs, ACL/CCL tears can result in pain, instability, limited mobility, and lameness.

 

ACL/CCL injuries are more common in dogs than in humans. Human ACL injuries are usually associated with serious trauma to the knee, while canine knee injuries often have a slower onset. The ligaments in dogs’ knees naturally degenerate faster than in humans and can be a result of multiple factors. Thus, even in the absence of a specific injury or trauma, your dog may experience tearing of the CCL.

Ligament injuries MUST be treated

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In human medicine, physical therapy is highly recommended after undergoing an orthopedic surgery such as an ACL reconstruction. Research shows that postoperative rehabilitation is necessary for shortened recovery time and return to full function. The same is true for dog's that have surgery for an ACL/CCL injury.

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If you suspect that your dog may have a CCL injury, it is critical that you address it. Ligaments do not heal on their own, and if untreated, your dog’s symptoms can get worse. Furthermore, if your dog begins compensating for the injury by relying on the non-injured leg, there is a high probability that they will also damage the good knee. In fact, research suggests that “at least half of dogs that have a cruciate ligament problem in one knee will likely…develop a similar problem in the other knee.”[i] It is important that you seek medical attention to reduce the risk of further injury.

 

Depending on the severity of your dog’s injury, surgery may or may not be warranted. Less severe tears may be conservatively managed with physical therapy. Serious tears will likely require surgery.

There are various types of surgeries, so it is important to get an expert opinion. We recommend consulting a board-certified orthopedic veterinarian before deciding on a procedure (look for the letters DACVS after their name). Board-certified vets are the equivalent of human orthopedic surgeons and will be able to provide you expert advice regarding your pet. 

Whether your dog requires surgery or simply medication and rest, CANINE PHYSICAL THERAPY can help your dog recover from a CCL injury. In some cases, physical therapy may help your dog avoid surgery altogether. If your dog does require surgery, physical therapy can safely begin the day after surgery. In either case, a customized rehab plan can help eliminate pain and swelling, improve weight-bearing, regain muscle flexibility, rebuild muscle mass, speed recovery time and potentially prevent a CCL tear on the opposite limb.

 

[i] “Canine Cruciate Ligament Injury.” James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Colorado State University, 2022, https://vetmedbiosci.colostate.edu/vth/services/orthopedic-medicine/canine-cruciate-ligament-injury/.