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Can a Dog Live With a Torn ACL?

Can a Dog Live With a Torn ACL?

Reviewed by Carol Dunham

Seasoned Pet owner and enthusiast, Content Reviewer at

As an experienced veterinarian and life-long dog lover, I know how concerning and confusing ACL injuries can be for pet owners. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll clearly explain everything you need to know about managing ACL tears in your precious pup. You’ll learn how to identify symptoms, understand your treatment options, support your dog through recovery, and partner with your vet to help them bounce back to comfortable, active living. With the right information and care, dogs can thrive despite this common injury. So let’s explore the question “Can a Dog Live With a Torn ACL?” and get your furry friend feeling their best!

What is a Dog’s ACL and How Do ACL Injuries Happen?

The ACL in humans is the anterior cruciate ligament, but in dogs it’s actually called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). This important ligament connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, stabilizing the knee joint.

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Unlike humans, dogs use their CCL constantly, as their knees stay bent while standing. This extra pressure makes dogs especially prone to CCL tears. These tears usually happen slowly over time, as repetitive stress weakens the ligament. Then during normal activity like chasing a squirrel, the CCL finally ruptures.

Acute CCL tears can happen, but they’re less common than the gradual wear and tear. Obesity, lack of exercise, age and previous injuries can make dogs more prone to CCL tears.

torn acl for dogs

Symptoms of a Torn CCL in Dogs

Some symptoms of a torn CCL may appear suddenly, but often they develop progressively over a few weeks. Here are the most common signs:

  • Lameness or limping, especially in a back leg
  • Stiffness and difficulty moving after resting
  • Swelling around the knee joint
  • Having trouble standing up, running, jumping or climbing
  • Favoring the uninjured leg
  • Loss of muscle mass in the injured leg

If your dog continues regular activity with a partial CCL tear, the symptoms will worsen over time as further damage occurs. That’s why it’s so important to limit their activity and see the vet promptly if you notice any symptoms of a possible tear. If you can’t afford to visit the vet, you can try our Ask A Vet Online service and get answers immediately.

Diagnosing CCL Injuries in Dogs

Since limping can have many causes, your vet will perform a physical exam and take x-rays to rule out issues like hip dysplasia. They may also do detailed orthopedic manipulations of the knee joint to diagnose a ruptured CCL. Additional tests like an MRI could be recommended to evaluate the extent of the injury.

Once a complete CCL tear is diagnosed, your vet will discuss the best treatment options for your dog based on their age, size, activity level and overall health. These options usually include surgical repair, a knee brace, or conservative management.

ccl dog surgery - torn ccl in dogs

Considering Surgery for a Dog’s Torn CCL

There are three main surgeries vets perform to treat ruptured CCLs, all of which involve changing the knee structure to stabilize the joint.

Extracapsular Repair: This technique uses a synthetic ligament or suture to replace the damaged CCL. Cost is $1,100-$2,500.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO): TPLO involves cutting and rotating the top of the shin bone to eliminate the need for the CCL. Cost is $3,000-$6,000.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): This stabilizes the knee joint by cutting the top front of the shin bone and securing it with a plate and screws. Cost is $3,500-$4,500.

Recovery from any of these surgeries takes 8-12 weeks of very restricted activity, plus 4-6 months of gradual rehab. Complications like infection are also possible.

Given the significant cost, recovery demands and risks, many dog owners understandably want to consider more conservative treatment options first.

Can a Dog Recover Without Surgery? Knee Braces and Other Options

The good news is dogs can sometimes heal partial and even complete CCL tears without surgery! Treatment alternatives include:

Knee Braces: Custom braces like the Ortho Dog Cruciate Care Knee Brace support and stabilize the joint, reducing pain and enabling gentle use of the leg. This facilitates scar tissue formation over the tear site. Braces cost $329-$379.

Supplements: Joint supplements like glucosamine, turmeric and fish oil support joint health and may aid recovery. Always consult your vet first about appropriate options and dosages for your dog.

Rehab: Low impact exercises, massage, swimming/underwater treadmill therapy, and other rehab activities can maintain muscle tone and range of motion in the injured leg. But high-impact activities and free running/jumping should be avoided during recovery.

Pain Management: Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers prescribed by your vet can keep your dog comfortable.

The success of non-surgical treatment depends on factors like activity level and tear severity. Your vet can advise if it’s a good option for your particular dog. If not, surgery may be the most viable path to recovery.

CCL Recovery

Caring for Your Dog During CCL Recovery

Whatever treatment path you and your vet choose, your dog will need plenty of TLC during recovery at home. Here are some tips:

  • Use a leash outside to prevent uncontrolled movements
  • Provide soft, padded bedding they can easily stand up from
  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid extra pressure on the joints
  • Stick to controlled leash walks vs. free running/chasing
  • Limit jumping on/off furniture
  • Consider ramps or steps for car access
  • Ensure regular bathroom breaks to avoid squatting and straining
  • Give joint supplements if recommended by your vet
  • Provide mental exercise through training games and food puzzles

The extensive care and limited activity required during recuperation can be demanding for dog and owner alike. But with patience and commitment to their recovery plan, dogs can bounce back to enjoy comfortable, active lives after ACL injury.

Why Your Vet is Your Best Resource for Dog ACL Injuries

If your dog is displaying any symptoms that concern you, don’t delay in seeking veterinary advice. Catching and addressing ACL injuries early greatly improves outcomes. Your experienced vet has the knowledge to accurately diagnose whether your dog has a partial or complete CCL tear, and then guide you through all the treatment considerations.

Ruptured CCLs are very common, but every dog is unique. There’s no universal “right” treatment. Your vet will factor in your dog’s age, health, lifestyle and more to determine if surgical repair or conservative management has the best chance of success. If surgery is recommended, they can also advise the most appropriate technique based on your dog’s specific needs.

Recovering from a ruptured ACL requires time and dedication from pet owners, but with your vet’s expert guidance you can help your dog get back to comfortable, active living. Monitoring their progress and communicating regularly with your vet is key. They can adjust recommendations as needed to ensure your dog heals as quickly and successfully as possible.

When to Consult a Vet Online About a Suspected ACL Injury

If you notice limping, stiffness, swelling around the knee joint, trouble standing up, or other worrying symptoms in your dog, don’t wait to take action. Connect with one of our dog vets for prompt advice. The sooner an ACL tear is properly diagnosed and addressed, the better the outcome will be for your dog.

Our vets can answer questions about symptomatic behavior you’re observing, advise if an urgent vet visit is needed for an exam, or provide guidance if you’re waiting on appointment results. During the recovery period, they can also offer tips for making your dog more comfortable, discuss any concerns about their progress, and help optimize their healing.

Don’t delay getting answers and taking steps to help your dog with a suspected ACL injury. Trust our compassionate, seasoned vets at Easy Vet Answers for immediate, tailored guidance so your pup can get back to playful, active living.

Why Easy Vet Answer is the Best Place to Ask a Vet About Your Dog’s ACL Injury

Here at Easy Vet Answers, we offer convenient 24/7 access to licensed, experienced veterinarians who can provide personalized advice about your dog’s ACL injury. Get your questions answered promptly from the comfort of your own home for a one-time fee as low as $5.

With us, there’s no need to wait days or weeks for a vet appointment when you notice those concerning limping or stiffness symptoms in your dog. Connect instantly with a qualified vet and start your dog on the path to recovery without delay.

Over 12 million people trust JustAnswer for expert pet health guidance. Chat or call a vet now to learn the best treatment options for your dog’s specific ACL injury. We’re committed to pain-free playtime for all pups!

Can a Dog Live With a Torn ACL? Frequently Asked Questions

Can a dog live comfortably with a torn ACL?

While it depends on the severity, dogs can adapt and live fairly comfortably with a torn ACL with some adjustments. Braces, medication, physical therapy, and avoiding high-impact activities can help manage the pain and instability. But surgery may be required for more active dogs or severe tears.

What happens if you don't repair a torn ACL in a dog?

If not treated, a torn ACL can lead to chronic pain and lameness from progressive arthritis. Dogs may compensate by overusing their other leg, raising the risk of injuries there too. Severe muscle loss can also occur. Non-surgical options like a knee brace may be successful, but surgery is sometimes necessary.

How long can a dog go with a torn ACL?

Dogs can sometimes adapt and live with a torn ACL for several months or years. But the longer it goes untreated, the more damage occurs in the joint, resulting in worsening arthritis and instability. Addressing it quickly gives your dog the best chance of regaining comfort and mobility.

Can a dog heal from a torn ACL without surgery?

It's possible, especially if it's a partial tear. With restricted activity, a knee brace, medication, and sometimes physical therapy, scar tissue can form over the tear allowing it to heal. But surgery is often necessary for complete tears or very active dogs. Your vet can advise if non-surgical treatment may work.

How long does an ACL tear take to heal without surgery?

Healing time varies a lot depending on the severity of the tear and treatment approach. With conservative management like a brace and rest, dogs may take 4-6 months to show significant improvement. But the joint may remain unstable long-term without surgery. Follow your vet's recommendations closely.

How long can you delay ACL surgery?

It's best not to delay ACL surgery too long, as the instability and inflammation will cause more harm over time. Usually surgery should be done within 1-2 months at most. Your vet can determine the optimal timing based on your dog's specific injury and needs.

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