Torn ACL in Dogs: What to Expect

torn acl in dogs surgeryTorn ACL in dogs is the most common orthopedic injuries and also one of the longest roads to recovery. From the cost of surgery to the time and energy required for rehabilitation, the price is high. However, by properly following protocols and caring for your dog’s health and wellness, there is good chance your dog will regain full function in their knee and be back to their active lifestyle in about a year.

What is a Torn ACL in Dogs?

Dogs’ knees are very similar to humans’ both in form and function. The knee joint is made up of bones, ligaments and fluid that work together to ensure optimal movement and stability. It is extremely important for functioning in daily life, essentially making walking and running possible. Issues with knee joints create much hardship in an animal’s life.

Bones are held together in the knee by 4 stretchy bands called, ligaments. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is located in the center of the knee and is responsible for stability of the joint. It helps to ensure that both leg bones don’t twist too far in the opposite direction of each other, protecting the leg and the rest of the body from opposing forces. When opposing forces are just too strong, i.e. the foot and body twist sharply in opposite directions or the knee suffers a hard blow, the ACL can partially tear or fully rupture, resulting in an unstable knee joint.

torn acl in dogsTorn ACL in dogs is one of the most common orthopedic injuries, often occurring in active dogs participating in high impact sports. Unfortunately, it is also common for a minor accident or all-too-easy occurrence such as slipping on hardwood floors or ice to result in a torn ACL in dogs. Without warning, a big jump and/or unlucky landing can easily (and unfortunately frequently) result in a torn ACL in dogs.

If you find your dog has a lame rear leg, it’s time to take them to the vet. The vet will perform tests to confirm the extent of damage, including moving their knee in such a way called the, “drawer test” to confirm an ACL tear. Depending on what they find, the vet may recommend your dog rest first and then return for further recommendation if pain and swelling persists. Sometimes surgery is not recommended for a partially torn ligament. Especially in dogs under 30 pounds, it is possible that full function and range of motion can be regained via other methods than surgery including physical therapy, acupuncture, nutrition, massage and chiropractic. However, for a fully torn ACL, more often than not surgery is required.

If an ACL injury is not treated (especially a fully torn ACL), severe degenerative joint disease (arthritis) will most likely occur. Also, other joints will suffer since the dog’s gate will change due to their inability to bear weight on the injured knee.

Torn ACL in Dogs Surgery

If your vet deems surgery necessary for your dog, you’ll want to prepare for the year following surgery, for that is when recovery takes place. However, surgery is the first step in repairing the knee.

Methods of surgery for torn ACL in dogs differ than human ACL reconstruction and is still relatively new in the field of vet medicine. You’ll want to make sure you get as much information from your vet as you can and ask about the options, risks and the cost for surgery.

Be sure to follow vet protocols leading up to surgery, including preparing for dog anesthesia.

Surgery traumatizes the body and so getting comfortable and pain free is the first goal following surgery. However, since restoring and ensuring full range of motion is an equally important goal, physical therapy and rehabilitation begins the first day following surgery.

Torn ACL in Dogs Recovery

torn acl in dogs recoveryThe recovery process for a torn ACL in dogs can be considered brutal due to the length of time and high level of commitment from you to get your dog back to 100%. In order to fully recover from ACL injury and surgery, a strict physical therapy regimen needs to be consistently followed. Recovery includes physical therapy in which movement prevents scar tissue buildup and ensures a return back to full mobility in the following months.

Physical therapy will need to be performed daily and you may benefit from seeing a dog physiologist if you are able to afford it. However, with proper dedication there’s no reason you can’t successfully complete physical therapy with your dog under the guidance of your vet.

If your dog is overweight, you will need to get your dog’s weight back to normal ASAP.

What to expect

Your dog will be in pain for some time following both the injury and surgery. Recovery is long compared to that of other injuries. Be prepared to work extremely hard for the first six months and continue to work and pay close attention for the following years.

Please be sure your dog has support for:

In the following months

Your dog will have had a major surgery and will be sore and mostly unable to bear weight on their leg. Pain will continue to decrease over time as you work on their range of motion. Your veterinarian will let you know about icing their knee and range of motion exercises.

The physical therapy program will gradually increase to low impact and eventually high impact exercise.

In the following years

Your dog is at higher risk for tearing their other ACL and developing arthritis down the road. Strictly adhering to your veterinarian's advice and caring for your dog’s health and wellness is the best way to combat any complications.

How to Prevent Torn ACL in Dogs

Make your home safe by covering hardwood floors and other slippery surfaces (especially on the stairs) with rugs or other pro-traction material. Dogs are more instinctual and less conscious than humans, meaning they may be more likely to react and move in a way that could harm their knee.

As with most health matters, prevention is key. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle for your dog from puppyhood through aging is the #1 way to prevent torn ACLs in dogs. This includes proper nutrition, exercise and overall wellness throughout your dog’s life. While active dogs are more likely to suffer an ACL injury because they are partaking in an activity or sport, it is also active dogs who are less prone to injury from insubstantial incidences (such as slipping on ice) because their bodies have more strength and flexibility. Obese and overweight dogs are more likely to suffer ACL injuries.

Hemp oil for dogs has many benefits including decreasing inflammation and increasing circulation, which helps dog joints and mobility. It is the best and easiest supplement to give your dog to help their joints and overall wellness. 


Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information contained or made available through the ColoradoDog website is not intended to constitute or substitute for legal advice or veterinary advice.

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