The anterior cruciate ligament, more commonly referred to as the ACL, is one of the main ligaments that connect the tibia, or the lower leg bone, to the femur, or the upper leg bone. ACL tears are very common both in humans and in small animals. In fact, it is estimated that about 85% of orthopedic surgeries performed on dogs are ACL repairs.
The knee basically functions like a hinged joint, and the ACL is what comprises the hinge. Therefore, if the ACL is torn, it can severely impact mobility. In some cases, even walking becomes very difficult or almost impossible.
Dogs tend to tear their ACLs due to chronic biomechanical stress on the joint; unlike humans, who tend to tear their ACLs because of acute trauma, often due to athletic injury. If your dog has the beginnings of an ACL tear, it will inevitably continue to deteriorate because of the continued stress. This is an important aspect of canine ACL damage, because it means that unless the ACL is repaired, their mobility and quality of life will inevitably suffer as the condition worsens.
Warning: About 50% of dogs will tear their second ACL (in the other knee) at some point after tearing the first. This is true regardless of whether or not we repair the first knee, but there is some belief by veterinarians that repairing and rehabilitating the first knee can improve the chance of whether the second knee gets injured.
ACL injuries can have a variety of symptoms, which range from subtle lameness to complete avoidance of bearing weight on the leg with the injured knee. The degree to which the condition is expressed is related to how severe the tear is. A telltale sign of an ACL tear may be clear when the dog is sitting: they will stick the injured leg out to the side.
There are several methods to address a torn cruciate ligament, but the most common is extracapsular repair surgery (ECR). At Highlands-Eldorado Veterinary Hospital, we are highly trained to perform a modern variation of ECR surgery to maximize treatment outcomes in our patients.
Immediately after surgery, a 3M Soft Case will be placed on the knee to reduce inflammation, support the affected leg postoperatively, and assist with physical therapy and rehabilitation. The cast typically stays on for approximately 4-12 weeks, which depends on the success of the recovery process. Keep in mind, every pet heals differently. When the cast is removed, the sutures below the cast will be removed as well.
Your pet will go home with an e-collar to prevent damage to the cast and the incision. Please, keep the e-collar on to prevent delayed recovery or further injury. Continue reading to learn more about the recovery process.
In addition to the extracapsular suture repair treatment method, there are several other methods to address a torn cruciate ligament, such as TPLO surgery, which stands for tibial-plateau-leveling-
osteotomy. This surgery essentially levels the knee joint to stabilize the “hinge.” Other options include a full replacement of the ligament, and tibial tuberosity advancement. Your veterinarian will discuss the best options for your pet with you taking into account their age, size, weight, and the severity of the injury.
Follow-up visits are crucial to the recovery process. We need to see your pet weekly to evaluate the cast and assess healing. We may make adjustments to the cast based on how the pet is walking and using the leg, and therapy plans will be updated each week based on progress. This is important because it encourages the pet to use the leg more versus relying on the cast for stability.
Follow-up visits are all included in the cost of the surgery, so please do not hesitate to call us! If your pet is skipping or refusing to use the leg we need to see him or her within 24 hours. There could be something wrong that is causing the pain. Following our instructions will make your pet’s recovery quicker and hopefully uneventful!
The soft cast must remain dry and clean, as moisture can damage the integrity of the cast, interfere with the rehabilitation process, and/or irritate the skin. We will send home a boot for your pet to wear every time he or she goes outside. If your dog is constantly licking the cast, keep the boot on full time.
Physical therapy begins the day after surgery to promote accelerated healing in the soft tissue surrounding the knee, regain muscle memory, build strong muscles, and to help us identify potential issues immediately. Physical therapy is essential to the healing process. Make sure your pet is fed, has had play time, and urinated and defecated prior to physical therapy visits. This way, they are focused and will get all of the benefits from the session.
Click here to learn more about the post-operative recovery process.
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