Understanding ACL Injuries in Dogs - Salt Lake Animal Physical Therapy
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Understanding ACL Injuries in Dogs

Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Worried about your dog suddenly limping or wondering what’s causing them to hold their leg up? Are they avoiding taking the staircase or show reluctance in walking? Such behaviors signal an underlying injury or fracture, and a proper diagnosis is needed to figure out the exact reason for the problem. More often than not, it’s the damaged ACL or anterior cruciate ligament causing the physical discomfort. ACL is also interchangeably used with the CCL or Cranial cruciate ligament. But for the sake of consistency, we will use ACL throughout this article to address the issue.

To clear up any confusion, here is the difference between ACL and CCL.

While ACL refers to the injury in humans, CCL refers to the damaged tissue in dogs that connects their tibia to their femur. The tibia is the bone below the knee, while the femur is above the knee. 

Symptoms of ACL in Dogs

The symptoms of all ACL in canines vary, depending on the severity of the tear or their size. Since larger dogs bear more weight, they may show signs of complete immobility or reluctance in walking. They do so to avoid the pain from putting weight on the affected leg.

Some of the common symptoms of ACL in dogs include:

  • Stiffness in hind legs.
  • Lameness
  • Abnormal sitting posture
  • Swelling in knees
  • Stiff joints after physical activity
  • Popping or clicking sounds from joints
  • Difficulty standing up after resting
  • Sticking out one of the hind legs while sitting

But what causes ACL injuries in Dogs?

There are various reasons why dogs tear their ACL. Let’s quickly take a look at some of the most common ones.

  • Insufficient Exercise: Dogs who do not get regular exercise, running or walking, tend to develop weak joints, ligaments, and muscles. And with sudden exertion, they may end up with a torn ACL.
  • Overexertion: As mentioned above, lack of exercise is one of the reasons for ACL issues in canines. And it is also true the other way round. Overexertion with excess running and hyperactivity may lead to ACL as well.
  • Overweight Dogs: Most people, out of sheer love, overfeed their dogs. But these love-loaded snacks also come with extra calories that add to their weight. The constant pressure on the joints from carrying the extra pounds is another common reason for ACL in dogs.
  • Aging: Similar to humans, aging also negatively affects dogs’ health. ACL is one of them. The years of activity eventually take a toll on their muscles, causing ACL issues.
  • Weekend Warriors: Now, this is every dog owner’s dilemma. With busy weekdays, most dog owners can afford only weekends to spend quality time with their four-legged friends. And as they take their dogs for a fetch-the-ball session, the overexcited dogs tend to overdo it, releasing all their pent-up energy. Such dogs do not have the well-trained muscles to deal with the sudden exertion and end up with an ACL injury.

Treatment for ACL injuries in Dogs

Unfortunately, most information on the internet immediately concludes that surgery is the best way to get your dog treated for ACL. Surgical treatment for CCL is effective, but there are some downsides to it that you should be aware of. Surgeries are toll-taking procedures and may not always be favorable for your doggo’s overall health. Other than that, they are expensive but do not always get the desired results. So you may choose to let your dog go under the knife, but a weak immune system may delay recovery, or other psychological problems may get triggered, especially in anxious dogs. So, make sure you understand the seriousness of the ACL injury, see that the diagnosis is thorough and that you see a board-certified veterinary surgeon.  We can always give some recommendations if you need one.

  • Non-surgical CCL Treatment: Physical Therapy for dogs is a time-tested medical practice that has proven its effectiveness in treating dogs with ACL. With a professional dog physical therapist (PT) or a reliable rehabilitation program, CCL can sometimes be treated effectively without the need for surgery, depending on the severity of the tear. But even if surgery is unavoidable, it should be followed up by physical therapy sessions. This way your dog can make the best recovery possible. A certified canine rehab therapist can develop a comprehensive plan for recovery. This will include alleviating pain and inflammation, improving weight bearing, and then developing strength, balance, and coordination of the involved limb.

Using guided strength-building sessions, the PT helps your dogs get back to their active best. But you must be patient with physical therapy as it may take time. And slowly but eventually, the physical therapy will start showing results that last.

Rest assured, physical therapy for ACL is a reliable non-invasive method. It helps speed up your dog’s recovery naturally and makes legs stronger, keeping many muscle-related issues in check.

Home Treatment for CCL

  • Reduce weight: As e mentioned earlier, overweight dogs tend to develop ACL injuries. And so, shedding the extra pounds is the first logical step. Weight loss is a result of eating in a calorie deficit. But make sure the change in diet is not sudden but a well-monitored gradual process. Your veterinarian can give you advice on proper weight loss.
  • Get mild exercise: Short walks help the muscle gain the strength back but avoid overdoing it. It is best to get advice and oversight from a certified canine rehab therapist on this progression.

Before you commit to any home ACL treatments, make sure you consult a trusted PT, or else you may end up causing more damage than good.

Consult the top ACL Physical Therapist now!