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ACL Surgery for Dogs

Commonly referred to as a dog's ACL or 'cruciate', your dog's cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) joins the thigh bone and shin bone. This connective tissue can be painfully torn or injured. Today, our Murfreesboro vets list three options for ACL surgery in dogs.

What is the ACL, CCL or Cruciate?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin piece of connective tissue in a human's knee that connects our upper leg bone (femur) to our lower leg bone (tibia). This helps our knee function efficiently. A dog also has tissue connecting their femur and tibia. However, in dogs this tissue is called the cranial cruciate ligament or CCL. 

A dog's CCL and a human's ACL may function somewhat differently, but you may hear veterinarians and pet owners refer to a canine's cranial cruciate ligament as an ACL, CCL or 'cruciate' interchangeably. 

How does a dog's ACL get injured?

ACL injuries in dogs usually happen gradually rather than suddenly, and grow progressively worse as a dog remains active. ACL injuries do not usually occur suddenly, in a defining moment. Instead, symptoms that started as mild are more likely to become more pronounced and painful over time, as your dog continues to exercise. 

What are the signs of ACL injuries in dogs? 

If your dog has experienced a torn ACL, they will suffer significant pain and be unable to walk normally. They may also have difficulties jumping from the floor or rising, symptoms of stiffness following exercise or a limp in their hind legs. 

What happens when a dog's ACL is torn or injured?

If a dog's ACL gets injured, the tibia will slide forward in relation to the femur. This forward sliding shift is called 'positive drawer sign' and leads to instability within the knee, which may cause damage to cartilage and surrounding bones, or osteoarthritis. 

Which treatments are available for a torn ACL in dogs?

It's imperative to book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible if your dog is exhibiting signs of an ACL injury so the condition can be officially diagnosed. Surgery will be required to treat symptoms before they become more severe. Keep in mind that many dogs with one ACL injury are at increased risk of injuring the other leg soon after. 

Surgery Options for Treating ACL Injuries in Dogs

Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization - ELSS / ECLS

This surgical treatment works by counteracting the sliding forward of the dog's shinbone ('tibial thrust') with a specifically placed suture.

The sliding motion of tibial thrust is caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's tibia and across the knee, causing the tibia to “thrust” forward in relation to the dog's femur (thigh bone). This forward thrust movement occurs because the top of the tibia is sloped, and the dog's injured ACL which would normally able to oppose the forward force, is no longer able to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.

Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization corrects tibia thrust by “anchoring” the tibia to the femur with a suture placed by your dog's surgeon. The suture stabilizes the dog's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ACL has an opportunity to heal itself, and the muscles surrounding the knee have a chance to regain their strength.

ELSS surgery is fairly quick and uncomplicated with a good success rate in small to medium-sized dogs. ELSS surgery can also be less expensive than other ACL surgical treatment options. Long-term success of ELSS surgery varies in dogs of different sizes and activity levels. Speak to your vet to find out if ELSS surgery is an option for your injured dog.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy - TPLO

The next surgical option we'll look at for treating your dog's injured ACL is the tibial plateau levelling osteotomy (TPLO). This surgery is more complicated than ELSS surgery and aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's ACL (CCL).

This surgery involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. Finally a metal plate is added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Over the course of several months, your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen.

Full recovery from TPLO surgery in dogs takes several months. However, some improvement can be seen within just days of the procedure. Following your vet's post-surgery instructions and restricting your dog's activities are essential for successful healing. TPLO surgery in dogs has a good long-term prognosis, and re-injury is uncommon.

How long will it take for my dog to recover from ACL surgery?

Some dogs recover more quickly than others following ACL surgery. However, recovery from a torn ACL is always a long process!

Many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, but full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 to 16 weeks or possibly longer.

It is essential to follow your vet's instructions and pay attention to your dog's healing progress. It's important not to rush exercise following ACL surgery. Never force your dog to do exercises if they resist as this can lead to re-injuring the leg.

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.

Is your dog exhibiting symptoms of an injury to a leg or other part of the body? Contact our Brogli Lane Weaver & Alexander Animal Hospital veterinary team today to book your dog's next dental appointment.

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