An Owner’s Ultimate Guide to Dog ACL Surgery

Dogs have a loving and playful nature that makes them a part of your family quickly. They’re great with toddlers and older adults alike with their ability to bring joy into the room.

However, dogs are prone to getting sick or meeting an injury. As members of the family, you should provide them with quality care to reduce their pain. Whether having parasitic or bacterial infections to getting bone and muscle-related injuries, you should accompany our pet at every step of the way to ensure their proper recovery.

CCL tears are one of the most common injuries dogs can experience. It can significantly reduce the quality of their life, resulting in a physically and mentally inactive pet. This can cause your pet to become lethargic and immobile. Your big ball of energy can suddenly lose interest in playing and moving around. This blog discusses TPLO treatment, its different benefits, and why it is the ideal procedure for fixing a torn ACL in dogs.

Knowing Dog Knee Anatomy

It is essential to understand your dog’s knee anatomy as it is the foundation of the other phases and 6-step procedure of TPLO. Canine knees are anatomically similar to humans. There are four bones in your dog’s knee: the femur, tibia, fibula, and patella or kneecap. Apart from these bones, the knee also has various ligaments vital to your dog’s mobility, stability, and overall leg function. These bands of tissues often come in pairs to hold the knee together. The medial ligaments are towards the inside of the knee, while the lateral collateral ligaments are located outside the knee structure.

The cranial (towards the head) and caudal (towards the tail) cruciate ligaments also make up your dog’s knee. The knees also have cushions known as the medial and lateral meniscus. For this blog, we will be using the terms ACL and CCL interchangeably, as they are essentially the same.

Does My Dog Have a Torn ACL?

A torn ACL makes your dog’s bones unstable and injures their meniscus. The tibial plateau slope (TPS) makes the tibia and femur move in opposite directions. The steeper the slope is, the greater chances your dog develops an ACL rupture. The degree of predisposition indicates the kind of treatment your dog would need. Dog ACL injury symptoms include:

  • Limping in the hind legs
  • Joint stiffness
  • Difficulty in moving
  • Sitting with a back leg stretched out to the side
  • Clicking sounds when walking

While trauma in sports or accidents plays a significant role in human ACL tears, it is not the same with canine ACL injuries. Genetics, obesity, and poor fitness level have a more vital role in degenerative CCL tears. Other contributing factors include the following: 

  • Early neutering
  • Immune-mediated diseases
  • Presence of bacteria

Certain dog breeds like German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, and Bichon Frises are more susceptible to ACL injuries. While most of these breeds are larger dogs, canines with petite builds can still encounter these injuries.

How to Diagnose Torn ACL in Dogs

It is crucial to know whether or not your dog has a CCL injury to prevent it from worsening. Diagnoses can be made in three ways: direct physical examination, x-rays, and other indicators.

A direct drawer test means applying anterior pressure to the distal femur while the proximal tibia gets posterior pressure. The dog’s knee is slightly bent during this test. On the other hand, an indirect drawer test or the cranial tibial thrust is the motion when a dog takes a step and weight travels through its leg, resulting in instability. Your veterinarian may physically examine the instability with their hands or inspect bone movement and alignment.

The vet can also conduct x-rays better to picture the severity of your dog’s injury. Other indicators of partial or full dog CCL injury include the following:

  • Atrophy – loss of muscle mass
  • Effusion – can be felt by a veterinarian upon inspection 
  • Buttress – excessive scar tissue inside the dog’s knee
  • Trochlear osteophytes – bone spurs
  • Audible clicking sounds – due to a meniscus tear

How to Treat ACL Tears in Dogs 

You can opt for surgical and non-surgical procedures in treating the ACL tears of your dog.

Non-surgical treatment

Non-surgical treatments further branch out into five basic categories such as the following:

Ideal Body Condition

Obesity is one of the leading causes of ACL injuries in dogs. In fact, obese patients have a faster progression of osteoarthritis. Managing your pet’s weight reduces their risk of injury significantly. 

Proper Exercise

Proper exercise can either mean restricting your dog from doing certain activities or modifying their exercise routine. This can be as simple as having them walk on a leash regularly. A veterinarian can help you through proper rehabilitation. Consult your vet to know what program they would recommend.

Joint Supplements

You can also give your dog various joint supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine, to help strengthen their joints and muscles. The daily dosage depends on the size of your dog. It is best to consult a veterinarian first before purchasing and giving your dog the medicine. 

Alternative Therapies

You may also want to consider different alternatives like stem cell, chiropractic care, and acupuncture. Remember that these treatment options can complement other treatments or favored instead of more invasive procedures.

Surgical Treatment

There are two surgical options for ACL tears in dogs. Extracapsular uses strengthening techniques outside the joint capsule, such as lateral sutures, TightRope, and SwiveLock. Meanwhile, an osteotomy procedure cuts the bone to treat the injury. This treatment comprises tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA), and CORA-based leveling osteotomy (CBLO).

Why TPLO Surgery?

Out of the several treatment options mentioned above, TPLO surgery is the procedure we recommend the most. It decreases the tibial plateau slope and stabilizes the knee by cutting the bone and leveling it to the top of the tibia.

TPLO uses a bone plate and up to six screws. The metal plate can fit large and small dogs as they come in different sizes, while the screws can be locking or non-locking fasteners. 

Most veterinarians recommend TPLO surgery because of its high success rate. Your pet can return to its normal lifestyle as if it never had the injury. Moreover, the procedure is favored because of its numerous benefits, including slowing down degenerative joint diseases, retaining a better range of motion, and providing faster recovery and long-lasting results.

TPLO Recovery

The final phase is further divided into six substeps:

  • Bandage and incision care
  • Postoperative medications
  • Rehabilitation
  • Rechecks
  • Arthritis protocol
  • Is your dog still limping?

Every vet has their own preference on what they want to see their patients doing at specific timeframes. With TPLO, your dog should avoid licking their incisions to prevent infection and maintain consistent improvements. For example, short five-minute leash walks during the first two weeks are ideal, while off-leash activity should only be down after three to four months since the surgery.

Set Your Dog on the Path to Recovery

Ensure your pup recovers from their injuries by providing them with the best possible care. TPLO is a highly recommended procedure in treating ACL tears for dogs of all sizes. Consult your veterinarian on how you can prepare before and after the surgery. Help your dog return to its usual lifestyle so it can enjoy life to the fullest.

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