Keeping dogs out of vets since 2011

Torn ACL in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Cost

Torn ACL in Dogs

So what is the ACL, and where is a dog’s ACL? The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is located in the centre of the knee (stifle) and is responsible for stabilising the hind leg when the dog is straightening, bending or rotating the leg. 

In this article, we will be discussing:

What is an ACL tear in Dogs?

A dog ACL tear is an injury to the knee which occurs when the dog tears their cruciate ligament. The ligament does not always tear completely. A partially torn ACL in dogs is very common and may progress into a full ACL tear if left untreated.  

Dogs are a long-distance running species, and they have ligaments like wire chords. Sadly, a dog ACL tear is one of the most common orthopaedic injuries in dogs today.  40-60% of ACL tears in dogs will usually result in a tear to their other knee. So it is vital that we know, not only how to recognise an ACL tear but also how to prevent a torn ACL in dogs. 

A little note…

It is important to say here that although you will often see and hear the term “dog torn ACL”, the correct term for the dog’s cruciate ligament is actually the Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) which is what your vet will refer to it as.  However, in this article, we will stick to the term dog ACL for ease.

 Symptoms of an ACL Tear in Dogs – 

  • Lameness or limping is one of the main signs that your dog’s ACL may be torn. 
  • A dog ACL tear can often result in the dog not wanting to place their foot flat on the ground, and they may walk up on their toes. 
  • Difficulty rising from a sitting position, 
  • Difficulty getting up a step or jumping into the car
  • Suddenly decreased activity levels
  • Muscle atrophy in the affected leg

How will an ACL Tear in Dogs be Diagnosed?  

A suspected dog ACL tear needs immediate Veterinary attention.  

Your vet will perform a physical examination to check for different issues as the symptoms of a dog ACL tear vs a sprain, for example, may look similar at first glance. The vet can check for an injured ACL on a dog by feeling for a “Cranial Drawer”, which is a specific type of movement or palpitation of the knee joint to check for any instability.

An X-ray will help to confirm a torn ACL in dogs by looking at changes within the knee joint. 

Treatment for a torn ACL in a dog

Once your vet has diagnosed that the cruciate ligament is torn, depending on the severity of the tear, your dog may not have to go through surgery.  Ask your vet’s advice on alternatives such as canine massage therapy, hydrotherapy and orthopedic braces, which can stabilise the knee joint. However, if the tear is more serious, your vet will advise surgery. There are three different types of surgery for a dog stifle injury:

1. Lateral Suture Technique or Extracapsular Repair 

This surgery involves using a strong suture to secure the joint, a kind of false ligament, if you will, to replace the injured one. The joint stabilises as new scar tissue grows. This surgery is more common in smaller dogs. 

Lateral_Suture Technique
Credit: West Vet

2. TPLO or Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy

This involves realignment of the top of the tibia (shin bone) at an angle that will prevent the bone from sliding forward. This realignment then stabilises the knee joint. 

dogwood-veterinary-tplo-surgeries-before-and-after
Credit Dogwood Veterinary Surgery

3. TTA or Tibial Tuberosity Advancement

This type of surgery involves the tibia bone being cut, and a titanium plate and bone grafts are used to secure the new angle of the joint.

Tribial Tuberosity Advancement
Credit VCA Animal Hospitals

How much will torn cruciate ligament dog surgery cost? 

Depending on the severity of the tear, what type of surgery is carried out, if the surgery is carried out at a specialist clinic and if there are other existing issues such as arthritis in the joint etc, the price of surgery can vary. Cruciate ligament dog surgery cost in Ireland can range between 900 Euros to 4,000 Euros. 

Again, this all depends on so many variables. If you are concerned that you can’t afford cruciate ligament surgery for your dog, please speak to your vet and if you have pet insurance, check with them how your policy will cover it.

Life After Surgery – 3 Tips on How to Help Your Dog Recover

The thought of surgery can seem extremely daunting, and you will understandably be very concerned about your dog; no one likes seeing their best buddy in pain. However, with lots of time, patience and some crucial dietary components, your dog will be back enjoying life again in no time!

Here are our top tips for getting your dog back on his feet and enjoying a pain-free life.

1. Rest and Confinement 

For at least the first 10 – 14 days after surgery, you must ensure your dog is confined in a comfortable area like a crate or similar to rest and recuperate. Offer enrichment such as snuffle mats, licky mats, dog puzzles etc. Groups on Facebook, such as Canine Enrichment, can offer some fantastic ideas to keep the little guy entertained.

dog_resting

2. Exercise 

Immediately after surgery, your dog should only be taken outside on a lead for bathroom breaks.  You may want to help him walk by using a towel as a sling to support his hind legs, or invest in a rear lifting dog harness, as he may feel unsteady trying to walk on three legs. Your dog should not jump on furniture or attempt to climb the stairs.  

After around 14 days, once the stitches are removed, you should be able to start gradually increasing the lead walks to five minutes each week.  Each dog is different and will tolerate different levels of exercise during their recovery, so please always be guided by your vet and ask their advice at all times..

Walkin-Rear-Harness
Credit -Handicapped Pets

3. Feeding a Dog with a Cruciate Tear – Let food be thy medicine 

Before we talk about the fancy bells and whistles of how to avoid a torn ACL in dogs, the most important thing you can do for cruciate ligament dog recovery is to feed him a good diet.  This means feeding a raw food diet.  First it is important to explain exactly what vital compounds and substances your dog will need to heal.  Further down are some examples of the types of food that contain these compounds.  Of course, there are supplements out there but what is best and what his damaged skin, muscles and that joint really need is real food in the form of fresh/raw protein, raw bones and cartilage.

i) Glucosamine 

A substance that creates molecules that form the cartilage of your dog’s joints. Dog’s naturally produce cartilage but with a damaged joint, they will need some extra help. Some studies show that taking Glucosamine combined with MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) can improve pain and inflammation compared to taking them individually. 

ii) Chondroitin – 

Like glucosamine, Chondroitin is produced naturally in the body and is the building block of cartilage. Vital for joints and connective tissues. 

iii) Collagen – 

The most abundant protein in the body, collagen is the main component of the connective tissues that make up ligaments, skin, muscles and tendons. It has many vital functions including helping to keep bones strong and keep skin supple.

iv) Hyaluronic Acid 

This substance is what is known as a humectant; a substance that retains moisture. It is found naturally in certain body parts such as the eyes, skin and synovial fluid in the joints. 

v) 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 need around 50mg per 1kg of dogs but many recommend up to three times this in times of need.

There are a dizzying array of dog supplements for your dog’s torn ACL, however, you cannot beat vitamins and minerals in their natural form and here are some examples of natural, fresh foods that will heal and repair.

Food for Repairing and Healing a torn ACL in dogs- 

i) Beef trachea – 

Made up of mostly cartilage, this is a great source of glucosamine & chondroitin. A 1oz piece of raw beef trachea will provide your dog with 1400mg of glucosamine! Stuff with their raw meat to keep them busy while they are confined in that crate.

ii) Chicken feet – 

Rich in collagen, chondroitin, calcium and hyaluronic acid. Just one raw chicken foot contains around 400g of glucosamine! 

iii) Raw bones – 

Vital for all the glucosamine, Chondroitin etc – chewing can also relieve stress and boredom in dogs through releasing endorphins, so raw bones will be perfect for when they are confined in that crate for weeks!

9 reasons to feed fresh bones to dogs

iv) Green lipped mussel – 

Studies show significant improvement in dogs with arthritis, joint swelling and joint pain when they were given GLM. 

v) Bone Broth – 

A powerhouse of nutrients, 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. 

There are lots of articles online to help you through this process. Many raw food companies sell bone broth already made if you don’t want to make your own.

drinking-bone-broth-1

Other great, natural supplements to help with canine joint repair

i) Eggshell membrane – 

Other lesser-known bits to include in their diet is the inner membrane of eggshells (pure chondroitin, studies show people have reduced joint pain and stiffness when egg membrane is added to their diet)

ii) CBD oil  

The benefits of CBD are truly astounding and the number of studies supporting its use is staggering.  I used both eggshell membrane and CBD oil 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.

cbd oil

iii) Golden Tumeric Paste 

Your vet will prescribe anti-inflammatories for the first while. They will work, that’s for sure. However, if and when you feel you want to go a bit more natural, one of the very best natural anti-inflammatories to give your dog, far and away, is Golden Turmeric Paste. Easy to make at home, the active ingredient curcumin in turmeric, has amazing anti inflammatory properties  and a study on humans with arthritis showed that it was more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug. 

A warning – always check with your vet before using turmeric paste as it can interfere with some pharmaceuticals, for example, blood thinners and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Turmeric-paste

iv) Omega 3 

You can’t beat a good bit of omega 3 in the diet, crucial to feed to your dog from a pup, don’t wait until they are stiff to add this to their diet. Fish oil capsules are falling out of favour due to all sorts of adultery, especially if from farmed fish, which may contain all sorts of antibiotics and antiparasitic drugs. Not to mention that the oil, once extracted from the fish, will start to go rancid as soon as it hits the air. 

The point is, once again, food in its whole, raw form is superior to the isolated, treated, mass-produced variety available in pill form. In this way, supplements should be viewed as a poor substitute for consuming oil fish (sardines, sprat, herring). If you think your dog needs some Omega 3, a little fresh oily fish is the first place you should go. They don’t need a lot, as little as 100g a week for a 15kg dog would be fine.

Sardines

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 recommended.

How to Prevent ACL Tears in Dogs

prevent_ACL_Tears_in_Dogs

I have to put all that stuff first for anyone’s dog that has already suffered the injury but more importantly, I want to highlight how to avoid a cruciate tear in your dog.

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 in 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 be leaner and please, please, please do not feed horrible “light” (also called “metabolic”) dry food!

While 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 tough, stringy protein in wheat that makes dough sticky and bread strong 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 omnivores 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 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 sledge 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 them 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 much rarer in dogs fed raw dog food, it is a high protein in its most digestible form.

dog_diets

3. Feed minerals in their fresh “bioavailable” forms

Zinc, magnesium and of course calcium are 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).

4. Include fresh sources of Glucosamine and Chondroitin 

As mentioned above, Glucosamine and chondroitin are vital for healing and repair post-surgery but they also play a huge role in joint formation and support. Start feeding your pups with fresh food containing this, don’t wait until they have issues with their joints. 

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 (sulphur), much cheaper, exact same dosage.

Bugs-n-Bones

5. 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 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 recommend you read our article on obesity in dogs guys.

image of a fat dog on a weighing scales

6. Give your dog “normal” exercise

Guilt-laden “hyper” exercise will put 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.

7. Neutering

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 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.

Canine Growth Plate Closure Average Time

In conclusion…

Prevention is always better than cure.  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. If you feel you would like more help with feeding a raw food diet, you can book a consultation with me, where I can help you with everything you would like to know.

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