Symptoms of Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

A cruciate ligament injury happens when your dog sustains damage to one of his knees. Injuries to this ligament are very common, but can often be treated effectively. Read on to learn more about your dog's cruciate ligament and what happens when it becomes injured.

Your Dog's Cruciate Ligament Explained 

Your dog has two cruciate ligaments, the anterior and the posterior cruciate ligaments, in his knee. Together, these ligaments stabilize the knee joint and help it to function. If one or both of these ligaments becomes torn or ruptured, pain, inflammation and lameness can result. 

Causes of Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

Cruciate ligament injuries often occur during athletic activities. Active dogs can be more prone to them. Obese or overweight dogs may be more likely to seriously injure their knees, since landing wrong or twisting the knee during activity can create more damage if the animal is heavier. You can lower your dog's risk of injuring his cruciate ligament by keeping him within a healthy body weight range and limiting his physical activity. Dogs that overexercise are more prone to cruciate ligament injury.

Symptoms of Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

If your dog injures either his anterior or posterior cruciate ligament, he will experience pain and lameness in the affected knee joint. Inflammation and alteration in gait may occur. Lameness from cruciate ligament injury usually comes on suddenly, when the injury occurs. If your dog develops sudden pain and lameness in one of his knees, it's a good idea to seek veterinary care within 48 hours. If left untreated, your dog can develop chronic arthritis in the affected knee joint.

Diagnosing and Treating Cruciate Ligament Injury

Your vet can diagnose cruciate ligament injury via an orthopedic exam. X-rays, arthroscopy or MRI may be necessary to determine the extent of the damage to your dog's ligaments.

Treatment for cruciate ligament injury in dogs usually involves surgery, but this will depend on the severity of the injury. If your dog's injury is mild, he may be able to recover after several weeks of cage rest, limited activity and anti-inflammatory drugs. Even if he recovers well, he'll be more prone to further knee injuries in the future.

In most cases, surgery will be needed to repair the damaged ligament. The prognosis for cruciate ligament injury is generally good, though it can vary depending on the extent of the injury and the type of surgery used to treat it.

Traditional surgery involves removing the ruptured cruciate ligament and replacing it with a strong suture. This surgery is the least expensive, but has the lowest success rate and carries the worst prognosis for full recovery.

A procedure known as tibial plateau leveling osteotomy, or TPLO, changes the way the knee joint works, so that it doesn't need a cruciate ligament. This surgery carries a much better prognosis, and eliminates the risk of re-injury. A procedure called tibial tuberosity advancement, or TTA, also restructures the knee to function without a cruciate ligament. Both of these procedures are far more expensive and require a longer recovery time than the traditional procedure.