Dog Knee Injury: How Do They Happen?
Dogs are usually pretty active. Running, jumping and playing are all common parts of a happy life for them.
As with people, the health of your dog's knees is built upon a solid foundation of good nutrition and a suitable level of physical activity.
That said, while there are a number of high-quality dog foods and supplements that you can give your pup to help keep their joints in good condition, cruciate ligament injuries (or ACL injuries as they are sometimes called) can still happen and cause your dog a great deal of knee pain.
When your dog experiences knee pain or an injury, it can greatly affect them in many ways, not only affecting their health but also their happiness.
What is the cranial cruciate ligament (ACL) in dogs?
The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg that connect the shin bone (tibia) to the thigh bone (femur). These ligaments help your dog's knees to move as they are meant to.
What is tibial thrust?
When your dog has a torn cruciate ligament pain arises from instability within the knee, and a motion called 'tibial thrust'.
Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's shin bone and across the knee, which causes the shinbone to “thrust” forward. This forward movement happens because the top of the tibia (shin bone) is sloped, and the dog's injured ligament cannot prevent unwanted movement from occurring.
Are there any typical signs of knee injuries in dogs?
when a dog experiences an injury to these ligaments it will affect their ability to walk and move around as well as cause a great deal of pain (although they may hide this to an extent). Other symptoms of knee injuries that you should watch for are:
- Difficulties rising up off of the floor
- Limping in their hind legs
- Reluctance to exercise or climb stairs
- Stiffness following exercise
Will surgery really be able to help repair my dog's knee injury?
If your dog suffers a ligament injury they will need veterinary intervention as these typically are unable to heal with time alone. If your pup is showing signs of a torn ligament it's important to see your vet have the condition diagnosed so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe.
In many cases, a dog with a torn cruciate ligament in one leg will quickly go on to injure the ligament in the healthy leg due to compensating and shifting their weight.
If your dog is suffering from a torn cruciate ligament, your vet will likely recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog regain normal mobility.
ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization
- This knee surgery is often used to treat smaller dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing the tibial thrust with the help of a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ligament has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength.
TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
- TPLO reduces tibial thrust without relying on the dog's cruciate. TPLO surgery involves making a complete cut through the top of the shin bone (tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. A metal plate is then added to the area where the cut was made, in order to help stabilize the bone as it heals. Over the course of several months, your pup's leg will gradually heal, regaining its strength and mobility.
TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
- TTA surgery involves separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section of the tibia up and forward. This can help to prevent much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front section of the tibia in its new corrected position until the bone has had adequate time to heal.
How will the vet determine the right surgery for my dog?
Your vet will do a thorough examination of your dog's knee to assess its movement and geometry. They will also take the physical aspects of your dog and their abilities into account before deciding which surgery would be best. Once your vet has done a full evaluation of your pet's condition they will be able to recommend the best surgery to treat your dog's knee injury.
What is the recovery time frame for dog knee surgery?
Just like any surgery, knee surgery can come with a long healing process and both you and your dog will need to be patient. While many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, a full recovery and a return to normal activities can take 16 weeks or more.
Following your vet's post-operative instructions carefully will help your dog to return to normal activities as quickly as safely possible while reducing the risk of re-injuring the knee.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.