Did your dog come up lame or favouring a back leg? Does he/she resist putting weight on a back leg? Does your dog have knee pain? Or, is the knee swollen? Having one or more of these symptoms could mean that your dog has injured his/her cruciate ligament.
Sport fans have undoubtedly heard of an athlete being sidelined due to a torn ACL. It’s an abbreviation for anterior cruciate ligament and its injury strikes fear in the heart of all those who have sustained a knee injury. Why? Because it’s painful and can mean the permanent loss of full mobility in the affected joint.
Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of connective tissue that connect bones to each other and work to keep the bones moving in the correct spatial plane within the joint space. The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the ligaments in the knee. It connects and stabilizes the bones of the leg at the knee. When it’s injured, the femur and tibia are able to slip out of correct alignment, often causing pain, swelling, and/or lameness.
If not corrected, the knee joint can develop arthritis, cartilage damage, and reduced range-of-motion. If not corrected, permanent joint damage and lifelong pain is virtually a given. If not corrected, the unaffected limbs are commonly recruited into compensatory roles and other musculo-skeletal injuries can follow. Not good! But, fixable.
There are many ways to fix the joint laxity resulting from a torn cruciate ligament. The first thing to determine is if the damaged cruciate ligament can be saved without surgery.
Small, lean dogs have the greatest chance of recovering without surgery, using rest and medications to keep the cartilage (menisci) in the knee healthy. If the ligament is totally ruptured, there really are only two groups of options. You can rest the dog in confinement for at least a month, and let arthritis in the joint thicken the joint capsule and partially stabilize the joint. Movement and flexibility in the knee joint will be compromised for the rest of the dog’s life.
For dogs to maintain activity at nearly normal levels, surgery should be done within 10 days of injury. I can place artificial ligaments around the joint, or a specialist can alter the bones in the joint to alter the bio-mechanics of the knee joint. And as a last and most costly resort, full artificial knee replacement can be done.
I have over 20 years of experience fixing dogs with the artificial ligament techniques. They do require 2 months of slow recovery to avoid breaking the artificial ligament.
Some surgeons use a different technique whereby they alter the bone structure of the joint to change the bio-mechanics of the joint so it is held in a more normal angle during movement. These techniques also require 2 months of rest to allow the bone to heal.
So overall, it takes experience to best manage a knee injury. It is difficult to have them resolve without any arthritis once injured, so I urge prevention, with smooth exercise programmes (never throw a Kong for a dog – too much side-pressure on the knees with the erratic lateral movement of the Kong), accentuating swimming and aqua-size, and keeping the body condition lean and strong.
Most of the above discussion also applies to cats with leg injuries. Cats are very athletic so don’t injure themselves as often as dogs, but I have fixed 2 cats with ruptured knees over the years (compared to hundreds of dogs.)