Playing fetch with our canine companions on our days off is a special part of the bond, but sometimes it can go awry. After madly dashing after the ball and taking a sudden turn our beloved dog is lame and holding up his or her back leg and limping back to us with the tennis ball of course ready for another round. This sudden lameness could be a cranial cruciate ligament rupture or tear which is one of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs.
The cranial cruciate ligament or CCL for short, attaches the femur to the tibia or shin in dogs and it runs over the knee or stifle. It is very similar to the ACL in humans which is very commonly injured in active individuals. The CCL is really important in terms of stability in the joint and it also holds in place the meniscus or the layer that is the gliding surface between the femur to the shin. Without the CCL that meniscus can become torn, causing even more pain for our dogs.
A rupture in the CCL can be caused by numerous factors. Our “weekend warrior” dogs are the ones who decide to exercise strenuously less frequently, like only when we are playing fetch on our day off, are prone to this injury. Obese pets are also very prone to this injury. Even though we love our pets too much food is not love, but the exact opposite since the increased weight puts a lot more stress on our canine’s joints and twisting the wrong way or getting up can result in this painful injury. Unfortunately for some breeds of dogs they are just more prone genetically for this to occur, especially large breeds of dogs since they are more prone to degenerative joint disease. As these big breeds age the ligament weakens and then it ruptures fully.
When looking for signs of this it depends on how severe the injury is, but there are some obvious signs any pet owner can recognize. If the ligament is degenerating your canine companion will have a decreased range of motion, swelling, will be shifting weight from one side to another while standing, and extending one leg out while sitting. Once the ligament is ruptured the symptoms will be more severe in terms of swelling, it is painful to touch, and lameness like where the dog is completely holding up the rear leg and not putting any weight on it. So if you notice any of these symptoms, take your dog to the vet to try and prevent further injury.
The unfortunate reality of this injury is that it cannot heal and cannot be repaired completely. Smaller dogs with this injury can usually get by with conservative treatment, including weight control, rest, rehabilitation and medication, but the lameness can persist until surgery is performed. Larger breeds there are braces to help short term with stabilization, but usually require surgical aid. One surgical method is the lateral suture method which places a suture on the outside of the joint to stabilize it, but it does have limitations and very active dogs may not be able to return to full mobility. Another surgical fix is the TPLO surgery, which alters the anatomy of the knee so that the ligament is not necessary. These surgical procedures can be very expensive and rack a bill of up to $6,000 in the United States and the recovery time is long and difficult for our canine companions. Also, the odds are if one CCL is torn or ruptures then it is likely the other one will as well so that is another several thousand dollars that is going to be spent.
There is no sure fire way to prevent this injury, but there are some steps that can be taken in order to reduce the likelihood of it occurring or minimizing the severity of it. Keep your pet lean, the more weight on the frame of your pet the more stress there is on the joints so injury is more likely. Make sure your pet is active with regular exercise which ensures muscle and joint health, minimizing risk and also fighting obesity and the complications that come with it. The last preventative measure is to minimize the likelihood of injury by keeping our pet safe by having ramps, stopping your pet from jumping off of cars or beds and not running on slick surfaces so that your beloved canine can’t twist the joints improperly. As a favor to our canine companions and ensuring they live full happy lives we can watch for any signs and trying to prevent orthopedic injuries like a CCL tear or rupture from happening or worsening.