All breeds of dog, any size, any sex, and any age, can get a cruciate ligament injury, although research has shown some breeds are more prone than others
ie: Retrievers, Poodles, Bichon Frises, German Shepherd Dogs, and Rottweilers.

Causes of an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury include

Dogs who are overweight
Dogs who are unfit, or who have sudden irregular bouts of strenuous activity (ie: only exercised on a weekend)
Male neutered dogs under six months of age
Dogs lacking muscle tone

There is a lot of information on the internet about ACL injuries, but in brief, dogs who have ruptured their cruciate ligament will appear suddenly lame, and usually hold the foot of the affected leg off the ground, the knee may also become swollen. In time, the dog may start to use the leg again, but often lameness returns. Dogs with a degenerating ACL may also show some pain, and there may be some swelling in the joint.

Diagnosis is made by observing abnormal movement of the joint together with X Rays and in some cases an MRI scan or keyhole surgery.

If the ligament is completely torn, dogs, especially larger breeds, will usually require surgery. After the surgery, the dog must be strictly confined for 2 weeks, the first two to three days will be on cage rest and exercised only on a lead for at least 4 - 6 weeks afterwards.

In some instances the ligament may only be partially torn and/or owners don't feel able to keep the dog quiet after surgery. In these cases, non surgical treatment is used with controlled exercise, especially non weight bearing exercise like swimming/hydrotherapy/underwater treadmill, painkillers and anti inflammatory drugs.

Products containing glucosamine, chondroitin, are often recommended, as well - Never give your dog any human pain killers ie: ibuprofen, asprin, or paracetamol unless advised to by your vet.

If a dog with a ruptured cruciate is not treated, severe degenerative joint disease will make exercise painful and inpair the dogs quality of life. Because the dog will generally put more weight on the unaffected leg, it is not unusual for the dog to rupture the anterior cruciate ligament on that leg as well because of the increased stress on it.

If the dog's exercise is restricted, and overweight dogs return to normal body weight, the prognosis is good, depending on the amount of injury to the knee and length of time between the injury and correction of the problem.

My Experience

Ted came running, or should I say 'hopping' down the fields one day, he was still quite happy to try and gallop about with the girls, albeit on just 3 legs. I gave him some Arnica, and rest for a few days, and he gradually started to improve.

Having had hydrotherapy in the past for an injury to his front leg, I booked him in for a course of 10 sessions and restricted his exercise to short walks on the lead. Five weeks later he seemed almost 100% better and as he had built up the muscles in his rear legs by 10cms each side, he was allowed off lead exercise.

All seemed ok for several months until one day he ran out of the house, and seemed to twist and turn quite sharply, and he was again on 3 legs. Back to swimming and restricted exercise and I also gave him Yumega Advance, Turmeric and Coconut oil. After 3 weeks, I couldn't see any improvement and although I knew the change in complementary therapy I was giving him would take six weeks to have any effect, I feared he had ruptured his cruciate ligament. On initial examination, the vet agreed and he was referred to the Orpthpaedic surgeon who took x rays.

Fortunately, the cruciate was stable, and only partially ruptured, and he did not require surgery. But he would need to be restrained with restricted exercise - easier said than done as he was already going stir crazy and the only days he was quiet was when he had been swimming.

Initially, he was prescribed Pardale V which are paracetamol based painkillers designed for dogs to help alleviate acute pain, however these are only licenced for 5 days. After which he was given Onsior which is one of the safest effect treatments for pain and inflammation in both dogs (and cats) and weekly Cartrophen injections. We continued with the Yumega Advance, Turmeric, Coconut Oil, and weekly hydrotherapy sessions.

I am happy to say that after four weeks we have reduced the Onsior to every other day, he has just finished his course of Cartrophen and since starting on the Onsior, I have not seen him lift his leg once, and he is fully weight bearing. I have been gradually increasing his daily walks, and have been given the all clear to walk him for up to an hour a day, as long as he is kept on the lead. In another two weeks he will only have the Onsior if I feel he needs it, and will have two weekly hydrotheraphy sessions.

Julie Growcott

Veterinary Centers of America
American College of Veterinary Surgeons
UC Davis
Washington State University
American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Dogs Naturally
Dr Conor Brady

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the advice provided by your veterinarian.