ACL tears or Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) illnesses are some of the most common orthopedic issues dogs can experience. According to recent surveys, 85% of all reported orthopedic traumas are attributed to CCL tears. And studies have shown that 30-50% of dogs will likely rupture both CCLs within one to two years of each other, making it vital for them to get the treatment they need as soon as they start exhibiting symptoms.
Treatment for a dog’s CCL illness typically ranges from rest and immobilization to invasive surgical operations like a Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) procedure, depending on the severity of the case. If your dog has partially torn one of its CCLs, your veterinarian may require them to wear a brace and avoid intense activities for a certain amount of time. But in serious cases, surgery would be the best course of action.
Taking your pet in for surgery can be an emotional experience. You can ask your veterinarian for noninvasive treatment suggestions, but it often leaves you with the question of whether they can fully recover from a CCL tear without any surgical procedure.
Everything you need to know about a dog’s CCL illness
ACL or CCL injuries are tears around an important ligament of our pet’s knees or stifle joints, resulting in instability, pain, and even lameness. The rupture is often caused by excessive activity, ligament degeneration, and poor physical condition. But a dog’s breed can also leave them at high risk of tearing their CCLs.
Recent studies have shown that dog breeds like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and St. Bernards are more prone to the illness due to their body size. These dogs tend to be heavier than other breeds, exposing their legs to excessive pressure whenever they walk or run.
When your dog tears one of its CCLs, you’ll notice them limping and soon observe decreased activity. Your pet will try to shift its weight away from the affected area when they stand. But if the tear ruptures completely, they’ll have difficulty rising from a sitting position and even start hopping on three legs.
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, we suggest bringing your pup to your local veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
Can dogs heal from ACL illnesses without surgery?
With so much information about CCL tears online, you may have read a story or two of patients recovering fully from the issue without undergoing invasive treatments. There may be cases where patients recover without surgery, but this depends on multiple factors like age, weight, breed, and the severity of their condition.
Partial tears may heal through conservative treatments like physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Still, most dogs will have to undergo surgeries like a TPLO procedure to return to their usual lifestyle.
TPLO surgery ensures that your dog’s knees are stabilized by changing its dynamics. Once the patient’s joints are stable, it eliminates the need for the ligament. Combined with physical therapy, canines can use the operated leg in a few months and resume their normal life.
Benefits of TPLO surgery
Besides guaranteeing a full recovery, there are several other benefits to a TPLO procedure that make it the preferred treatment by veterinarians.
Faster recovery time
Surgeons typically use innovative techniques during the procedure to guarantee minimal tissue damage and pain. Most patients can start walking slowly at least three weeks post-surgery and return to their normal activities by the eighth week.
Still, it's important to remember that patients respond differently. Should your dog undergo the procedure, you must stay vigilant during its recovery period.
Prevents the progression of arthritis
Osteoarthritis in dogs results from joint degeneration, which is common among senior dogs. The condition can cause inflammation, pain, and loss of mobility in severe cases. By changing the biomechanics of our pet’s knee, the TPLO procedure prevents further damage to the area that could lead to arthritis over time.
Allows for normal mobility
Once your dog recovers from the operation and its joints fully heal, it can return to its normal active lifestyle. Now that your pup’s knees are stable again, regular exercise will restore their mobility and full range of motion.
Your dog will likely be able to freely run again, but we recommend that you make sure your dog gets regular exercise to prevent tearing its other CCL. Helping your pup maintain a healthy and balanced diet can also stave off a few pounds that could further stress its other leg.
With a 90% success rate, there’s no denying that TPLO surgery is one of the most effective ways to treat ACL tears in active and athletic dogs. Through this procedure and with the help of skilled surgeons, our canine companions can lead better and healthier lives.
Once your veterinarian accomplishes a full and proper diagnosis of your pet’s condition, they’ll be able to determine the best course of action to guarantee a full recovery. With their expertise, you can explore the different treatment options and view the other benefits of surgical procedures like TPLO.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.