A Cruciate Tear in a Dog is one of the Most Common and Sadly Preventable Orthopaedic Issues in Dogs. Here’s the low Down…
Another client on yesterday looking for some naturally anti-inflammatory options that might assist in the healing of a cruciate tear in a dog. Poor thing. He will be confined for a while and bored out of his brains. It reminded me to get this post together. It’s a sad fact that dogs are a long-distance running species. They have ligaments like wire chord. Yet cruciate-tearing is one of the common orthopaedic injuries in dogs today. Sadly, 40-60% of dogs that suffer a cruciate rupture will experience one in their other knee also so here’s how to avoid it happening in your dog in the first place.
Diagnosing a Cruciate Tear in a dog
One of the most common signs your dog has busted his cruciate is, unsurprisingly, lameness with a characteristic toe-touching gait. This is where the dog finds it too uncomfortable to put his foot flat on the ground. It’s a painful one, I know first hand as I have done the anterior cruciate on my left knee twice (and a half). It often comes with other damage too. However, the problem is even more complex in dogs and it absolutely required veterinary attention. Of course, they don’t always tear completely. Partial tears are very common and will progress into a full tear if left untreated. Symptoms include:
- lameness (limping) of variable severity with decreased range of motion, with or without pain to the touch
- difficulty rising from a sit, jumping up a step or into the car
- sudden decreased activity level
- muscle atrophy in the affected leg
Treating A Dog with a Cruciate Tear
Surgery and Post-Op Confinement Boredom
Cruciate issues need a vet. No question. That’s for sure, entirely outside my remit to comment further at this point. Often surgery is required and this is where a good vet comes into his or her own.
Your dog will need to be confined afterwards to recoup. You have lots of options to have ready to entertain the poor little guy, including making your own rope toys from tied up old socks or tshirt, or even a bottle or ball in a sock if he has a fetish for them. The Facebook page Canine Enrichment has all you need here. It is a popular and second to none source for entertaining bored and confined dogs.
Feeding a Dog with a Cruciate Tear
Before we talk about fancy bells and whistles, and as I will highlight below in “how to avoid a cruciate tear in a dog”, the most important thing you can do for your dog in recovery is to feed his a good diet. This is a raw dog food diet, for all the reasons highlighted below. He needs fresh protein, fresh cartilage (glucosamine and chondroitin but also choc full of ) and of course fresh bone. Dogs are meat and bone eaters and sort of work like lego, you feed them muscle for their muscle growth, joints for their joints and bones for their bones. It is because you have not been feeding him these items (and instead, if he has torn a cruciate, likely been feeding him a belly-busting, ligament starving diet of 50-60% cereal in the form of ultra-processed dry food. I know this as this injury is much rarer in dogs fed real food).
One of the most common reasons cited for cruciate tears is obesity. This should come as no surprise when your dog was living on 50-60% bread. Raw dog food is high protein. Gloriously, the weight often will fall off him on this diet (think of a person going to the gym, they don’t eat a lot of carbs!). You don’t need to feed a fat dog less, they can still have a nice big meal only it must it leaner and please, please, please do not feed horrible “light” (also called “metabolic”) dry food, for all the reasons highlighted in our article obesity in dogs.
Bone broth is unbelievable for joints and membranes as it leaches all the good stuff out of the joints, notably collagen, proline, glycine, arginine and glutamine. These babies have a variety of serious health benefits from boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation and are central to repair, all delivered to your dog via a tasty soup! I highly recommend making some up. It’s so simple. Just pick up some nice beef bones from your butcher (the joints are best, ask him to cut them up). Put them in a large pan, add a dash of good quality apple cider vinegar and simmer them for 24hrs. Once finished and cooled, removed the cooked bones and give them rest. There are lots of articles online to help you through this process.
Natural Bits and Pieces That Will Help Your Dog Recover From a Cruciate Tear…
Your vet will prescribe anti-inflammatories for the first while. They will work, that’s for sure. However, if and when you feeel you want to go a bit more natural the very best natural inflammatories you give your dog, far and away, is Golden Turmeric Paste. Careful here, this stuff is so effective it can clash with some drugs (eg blood thinners). Please mention to your vet and don’t use in conjunction with conventional anti-inflammatories without advice from the vet.
The most effective natural anti-inflammatory we sell is probably Oculus Prime (a blend of green and brown seaweeds and a red sea moss, all known to have potent anti0inflammatory effects). While OP is used to control weeping eyes in dogs the reports and testimonials show it will treat all inflammation.
As usual, you can’t beat a bit of good quality omega 3 in the diet. As fish oil capsules are falling slightly out of favour (I still use them!) due to all sorts of adultery etc, and salmon oil is usually pure much (if from farmed salmon), probably the most popular omega 3 joint supplement for dogs is Yumove by Lintbells. The reviews say it all.
Other lesser-known bits to include in their diet is the inner membrane of egg shells (pure chondroitin, studies show people have reduced joint pain and stiffness when egg membrane is added to their diet). Also, studies show that broken femurs in rats heal quicker and stronger when given CBD oil. I used both of these techniques in Duds following his major back surgery, together with a lot of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy and all involved remarked what a remarkably quick recovery he made from paralysis back to 95% normality. In fact, here’s a video I did for Duds highlighting the stuff I put in place while he was under the knife for his back op. Might be a bit of overkill for a cruciate tear, but take what you need from it.
Of all things I can recommend, hydrotherapy is number one. It is the very best exercise you can give a dog that cannot put weight on his joints. The difference in his recovery will be colossal. I used the Canine Centre in Dublin. Naoimi and Andrew saved Duds and I’ll be ever grateful. Very highly recommend.
How to Avoid a Cruciate Tear in a Dog
I have to put all that stuff first for anyone that has already suffered the injury but more importantly I want to highlight how to avoid a cruciate tear in your dog.
While yes it’s true age, obesity and constitution are causal factors for a cruciate tear in a dog, I must say that almost everything about high-carbohydrate dry food makes it more likely your dog will suffer joint issues. Here are the most important dietary concerns for robust joint and ligament health in the dog:
1. AVOID WHEAT
Gluten is the touch, stringy protein in wheat that makes dough sticky and bread touch enough for us to smother it with peanut butter. All the top adhesives are made from it. It happens to be very hard to digest. Humans as omnivore are still pretty bad at it with 30% of us lacking the enzymes to digest it properly (rising up to 50% in aboriginals as they were only exposed to it 200 years ago), causing all sorts of problems. It follows that dogs, as carnivores, are entirely useless at its digestion. Undigested gluten builds up in the intestines, blocking absorption of joint-forming compounds, hence gluten intolerants have weaker joints and ligaments (me). Also phytic acid in wheat binds any available zinc and magnesium out of the food (this is one of the main reasons gladiators of old had weak bones, they ate a diet high in barely).
2. FEED A DIET HIGH IN GOOD QUALITY PROTEIN
Joints and ligaments are made of protein. The better the building blocks the stronger the joint. If you feed small amounts of poor quality protein you will get weaker joints. Couple this with wheat and you are asking for it. In an excellent case study, a large group of sled dogs were divided into four groups differing only on the amount of protein fed (16%, 24%, 32%, 40% protein). Dogs fed the lower-protein diets had at least one injury during the racing season that resulted in it being removed from training for a minimum of one week (Platt and Stewart 1968, Reynolds et al. 1996). This is why, in my opinion, cruciate tears are so much rarer in dogs fed raw dog food, it is high protein in its most digestible form.
3. VITAMIN C
Vitamin C is the building block of collagen (skin, tendon, bone, cartilage, connective tissue). It is usually not included by dry food manufacturers as “healthy dogs can make their own”, which is true, albeit they are extremely poor at it. Vit C is also very sensitive
to cooking. Vitamin C is found in fresh animal fat so no need to add to a dog eating a real diet but if he needs a little extra you’ll find it in your local health store (the stuff for humans is fine). They needs around 50mg per 1kg of dogs but many recommend up to three times this in times of need.
4: FEED MINERALS IN THEIR FRESH “BIOAVAILABLE” FORMS
Zinc, magnesium and of course calcium is vital to good bone and ligament growth. The best and easiest to absorb kinds are found fresh in raw meaty bones. No supplements have ever been found to come close. Studies show zinc and magnesium oxides (used in dry foods) are much cheaper but harder to absorb for the dog (Lowe et al. 1994a, 1994b).
5. INCLUDE FRESH SOURCES OF GLUCOSAMINE AND CHONDROITIN
Glucosamine and chondroitin play a role in joint formation and support. Unsurprisingly the fresh cartilage of all animals, from chickens to rabbits to fish is full of it. If you remove fresh cartilage from the diet of the dog problems may develop at mid-age whereby you will be recommended to buy glucosamine and chondroitin in tablet form made of ground up cartilage at grossly inflated prices from your vet. If you want to add these in, pick up the human kind with MSM (sulfur), much cheaper, exact same dosage.
6. TACKLE OBESITY BY REMOVING CEREAL-BASED DRY FOOD
Sadly 90% of dogs in Ireland and the UK today are dry fed. This means 90% of dogs are eating a diet of 50% carbs (aka sugar). Have you tried to maintain a figure on 50% bread?! Obesity results and it puts a massive strain on the joints. Couple obesity with weak ligaments and joints “Guide Laden Exercise” below and you have the perfect storm.
As mentioned above, if you have been feeding a dry, ultra-processed, unfulfilling, rapidly digested and belly busting 50-60% carbohydrate diet (imagine going to the gym on a 60% bread diet?!) then you can forgive your dog for having a few extra pounds on him. And please, please, please do not fall for “light” (often called metabolic and sold to you under “prescription”, despite having no medicinal qualities whatsoever) dry foods either. They are the same as the rest but now they add in an extra 10% indigestible fibre. Like a runway model chewing tissue for before a big show, studies show this is an extremely poor way of dieting a dog.
The correct way to diet your dog is to move him to a higher protein, raw meat and bone diet. This way the calories come off him slowly and he retains his lean muscle mass. Highly reccomend you read our article on obesity in dogs guys.
7. GIVE YOUR DOG “NORMAL” EXERCISE
Guilt-laden “hyper” exercise is a lot of pressure on their joints. You leave your dog all day on its own. You come home, get a big plastic tennis ball-throwing arm and run him until he pukes down on the beach. Or tie him to the back of your bike and cycle your fat ass around the town. This is not recommended, particularly for at-risk breeds.
8. WHILE IT MAY BE TOO LATE NOW, IF YOU HAVE TO NEUTER YOUR DOG, FOR WHATEVER REASON, THEN PLEASE, PLEASE WAIT UNTIL THEY’RE SEXUALLY MATURE
Studies (1, 2) show removing their gonads and thus sex hormones before their bones are fully formed will disrupt bone growth and result in cruciate rupture. If you have to neuter, please leave it until later. Our neutering article is in the top three most read articles on our site. I urge you to grab a cup of tea and have a read of it.
Cruciate Tears in Dogs, In Conclusion
Folks, if it hasn’t happened yet, get your dogs off cereal-based dry dog food. On high dose carbohydrate dry food you are fueling fat deposits and growing your dogs at a maximal rate, on joints that have been starved of nutrition. Feed dogs species-appropriate fresh meat on the bone and you can avoid some terrible unpleasantness down the way.
Hope this helps.
I have spent a lot of time building up my knowledge. From a doctorate in animal behaviour and nutrition to years in guide dogs and the last seven year inside and out of the pet food industry, I have always provided all my information free to the public, articles that I spend a lot of time putting together. While it’s clearly a passion of mine the fact remains, I can’t do this and a steady job at the same time. Without a salary or fancy sponsorship, I am left trying to moentise my site as much as I can without pushing on you horrible adverts for car loans and crap pet products. One way I do this is by tracking some of the links to products I recommend (as an Amazon Associate I then earn from qualifying those purchases). Now I’m going to put a donation button at the bottom of each article. If this article helped you in any way and you feel you’d like to give me the price of a cup of coffee (€3), please free to do exactly that. If you’re strapped and can’t afford it, I can totally sympathise, you’re free to read on, no questions asked. We’re glad to have you on board spreading the word regardless.
Many thanks and continued good health to you and your pets.