Dog Knee Surgery: The Facts About Your Dog’s Ailing Knees

Ligament injuries aren’t just limited to the athletes on your favorite sports team. Your dog can experience them as well. Just like in humans, these injuries can be either acute or chronic, occurring after an accident or sudden trauma or over time as the result of a degenerative condition. Given the importance of fully functioning ligaments in order for your dog to maintain his or her healthy lifestyle, dog knee surgery to address ligament damage is vital to his or her quality of life.

The Knee’s Structure

In both humans and dogs, ligaments connect the bones of the upper and lower legs. Specifically, the anterior or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. In us bipeds, this ligament is found in the knee joint. In quadrupeds, such as our dogs, this joint is referred to as the stifle joint. Weight bearing on this joint causes stress on the CCL, which can cause it to rupture all at once or sustain damage over time to the point of rupture.

Common Causes of CCL Damage

Understanding the causes of CCL tears lies in knowing exactly what kind of injury it is. In an acute case, the cause is fairly clear: sudden trauma or stress to the joint. This can happen while jumping, falling, or any other accident that may cause the knee to become dislocated. These cases tend to be rare, and more often than not, what may appear to be an acute case is actually the result of undetected chronic stress on the joint. There are a number of different factors that can contribute to this stress including

  • Joint conformation
  • Obesity
  • Genetics

The genetic link is less understood, but certain breeds of dogs have been shown to more susceptible to CCL damage at certain ages. In any event, it is recommended that you not breed a dog that has suffered a chronic CCL injury to avoid the possibility of passing any potential genetic predispositions on to his or her offspring.

What to Watch For

In most cases, dogs experience partial tears over time. Should your dog show signs of mild to intermediate hind limb lameness, he or she may be suffering from a partial CCL tear. Muscle atrophy in the rear legs is another sign of potential joint damage. A complete tear is often associated with the inability to bear any weight on the affected limb, particularly if your dog has also injured his or her meniscus.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A partial or complete CCL tear can usually be diagnosed through examination of the leg (often helped by giving a pain medication), x-rays of the knee, or an arthroscopic view of the ligament and its surrounding structures. The treatment options available include

  • Surgical joint stabilization
  • Osteotomy (bone cut) and implant placement (TPLO, TTA)
  • Non-surgical management (pain medication, weight loss)

Surgical intervention is recommended for most dogs, however, your pet’s age, size, activity level, and any other illnesses may affect the treatment recommendation. Weight control and appropriate rest after surgery are important for long-term success.

At BluePearl, our surgeons can provide information on the recommended type of surgery or treatment for your dog’s specific situation. If your family veterinarian suspects a CCL injury, ask for a referral to BluePearl.