We’ve all heard of NFL players suffering from serious ACL tears, but did you know that your dog is even more likely to experience a debilitating ACL injury? An estimated 85% of all orthopedic canine injuries relate to the ACL.
A dog ACL tear doesn’t just create temporary pain and discomfort; it triggers instability in the knee that leads to the development of chronic arthritis and joint degeneration. As a pet owner, it’s important to understand the signs of a dog ACL injury and viable treatment options to preserve your pet’s quality of life.
While surgery is necessary for severe canine ACL injuries, there are dog ACL surgery alternatives available for early injuries and partial tears. Read on to learn more about how to protect your pet from the dangerous implications of ACL damage.
An Introduction to Dog ACL Injuries and Treatments
ACL injuries, also known as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries, affect dogs of all breeds. In fact, they are the most common cause of hind-limb lameness in dogs. The ACL connects the bone above the knee with the bone below the knee, which makes it responsible for stabilizing the knee joint.
Although ACL ligaments are essential for a dog’s range of motion, the unique anatomy of the canine body actually triggers accelerated degeneration of the ACL. If you take a look at your pet, you’ll notice that their natural physiology places extra strain on the knees and unusual tension on the kneecaps. This is why severe trauma isn’t needed to cause damage to your dog’s ACL; most dogs rip the ACL out of place simply by catching a Frisbee wrong or trotting too quickly.
ACL injuries in dogs can be categorized as sprains or tears. ACL sprains are less severe injuries that can respond to alternative therapies, while ACL tears are more serious. An ACL tear occurs when the ACL separates from the bone. Surgery is the only way to treat a full ACL tear without causing degeneration of the knee joint in the future.
Common ACL Surgery Options for Dogs
Developing an ACL injury is easy, but healing from the injury is not. Ligaments in both humans and dogs have very poor blood supply, which limits the tissue’s ability to heal. Humans can often bypass this lack of blood flow with a sling or brace that forces the ligament to stay straight for months at a time. However, canines can’t be forced to stop moving around or putting weight on a certain leg.
This leaves surgery as the only treatment option for full ACL tears in dogs:
TPLO: The tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) procedure is an advanced surgery that addresses torn ligaments in a new way. It involves changing the joint angle to help dogs bear weight comfortably. During TPLO surgery, the head of the tibia is cut and rotated to eliminate the need for an ACL at all. A titanium plate and screws anchor the tibia together. After a few months of recovery, canine patients can walk with relative ease.
Stabilization therapy: Stabilization therapy occurs in a few different forms, all of which place a synthetic fiber or material into the knee to mimic how the ACL should function. The ultimate goal is to add strength and stability around the joint to restore the range of movement.
Symptoms of ACL Injury in Dogs
Since dogs develop ACL tears over time, rather than during one specific traumatic event, symptoms are often subtle. Lameness that lasts more than three or four days is the most common symptom that leads to the discovery of an ACL injury.
Other common symptoms include the inability to bear weight on the injured leg and swelling on the inside of the knee. Once these symptoms lead a pet owner to visit the veterinarian, specific tests are done to confirm the presence of an ACL tear.
First, an X-ray of the leg may identify inflammation and swelling within the affected joint. Beyond a standard X-ray, veterinarians rely on the “drawer sign” to evaluate ACL injuries. Any dog with a healthy ACL won’t be able to have its leg flexed beyond the natural limitations of the ligaments. However, in a dog with a torn ACL, the leg can slide back and forth easily, just like a drawer.
Is Surgery the Most Common Method for ACL Repair?
By the time that your dog has suffered a full ACL tear, surgery is the only real solution. The ACL is a highly specialized component of the joint that medical professionals haven’t yet mastered to replace. Only surgery can be used to address the damaged ACL and prevent future joint damage.
What Happens If You Decline Surgery?
Many pet owners are eager to avoid surgery for their dogs at all costs, and some are tempted to skip ACL surgery in the hopes that the ligament will repair itself. This is a dangerous idea. The ACL injury creates instability within the joint itself, which in turn triggers arthritis.
After just one year of living with an untreated ACL tear, a dog’s joints can age more than ten years. Arthritis accumulates in the joints rapidly until the dog can’t walk, run, or live a normal, active life.
A Standard ACL Surgery for Dogs
A standard TPLO surgery completely alters the dynamics of a dog’s knee. The bone is cut and rotated so that the tibial plateau can no longer slide backwards. This stabilizes the knee and eliminates any functional need for the ACL ligament at all. In fact, most dogs can return to bearing weight just a few days after surgery since the knee becomes efficiently stabilized.
The cost of TPLO surgery averages between $2,500 and $4,500. Due to the invasive nature of the surgery, anesthesia is required, along with a 12-week recovery period. This recovery time is critical for rehabilitation, and when done correctly it improves the likelihood of a safe and successful recovery. When done properly, TPLO surgery helps dogs resume full physical activity within six months.
Dog ACL Surgery Alternatives
There is no denying the importance of ACL surgery for dogs with full ACL tears, but stem cell therapy for dogs provides a viable alternative to surgery when treatment can occur before the ACL tear becomes too severe.
Stem Cell Therapy for Dogs Using HUC-DT
Stem cell therapy is an innovative medical treatment that harnesses the body’s existing healing mechanisms to treat injured areas of the body with stem cells. Veterinarians can place a large number of stem cells directly into a partially torn ACL to accelerate the natural healing process and minimize damaging inflammation.
However, not all stem cell therapies offer the same benefits and results. HUC-DT is a new and unique form of stem cell therapy proven to safely and naturally decrease inflammation, speed up healing, and decrease pain in canine patients.
When HUC-DT is used to treat partial ACL tears, the healing process becomes expedited while pain and inflammation decrease. This offers valuable applications for dogs with ACL injuries:
- HUC-DT can support primary ACL surgery by accelerating healing during the recovery period.
- HUC-DT can reduce the need for secondary ACL surgery by healing partial tears.
- HUC-DT can enhance ligament health and heal micro-tears to minimize the likelihood of ACL damage.
The Bottom Line: Address Dog ACL Injuries Proactively
You don’t want to experience the heartbreak of watching your dog lose their ability to play their favorite games or run to the door to greet you, so it’s important to address their ACL injuries proactively.
Once evidence of limping and slow movements signal the possibility of an ACL tear, have your dog examined by a veterinarian to identify and treat any injuries immediately. A rapid response to your dog’s symptoms increases your ability to take advantage of valuable dog ACL surgery alternatives like HUC-DT stem cell injections.