Can surgery fix my dog's knee problem?

If your dog is experiencing knee pain due to a torn cruciate ligament (ACL), surgery may be the best treatment option. Today our Tucson vets look at 3 surgery options for treating this common knee injury in dogs.

Knee Injuries in Dogs

For your pooch to enjoy a happy and active lifestyle it is essential to keep your dog's knees working properly and pain free.

As with people, the health of your dog's knees is built upon a solid foundation of good nutrition and a suitable level of physical activity.

That said, while there are a number of high quality dog foods and supplements that you can give your pup to help keep their joints in good condition, cruciate ligament injuries (or ACL injuries as they are sometimes called) can still happen and cause your dog a great deal of knee pain.

Knee pain stemming from a torn ligament can happen suddenly while your dog is running or playing, or develop gradually over an extended period of time.

What is the cranial cruciate ligament (ACL) in dogs?

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in your dog's leg that connect the shin bone (tibia) to the thigh bone (femur) and allows your pet's knee to move properly.

What is tibial thrust?

When your dog has a torn cruciate ligament pain arises from instability within the knee, and a motion called 'tibial thrust'.

Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's shin bone and across the knee, which causes the shinbone to “thrust” forward. This forward movement happens because the top of the tibia (shin bone) is sloped, and the dog's injured ligament is unable to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.

What are the signs of a ligament injury in dogs?

If your pooch is suffering from knee pain due to an injured cruciate ligament they will not be able to perform a number of movements normally, such as walking or running. Other symptoms of knee injuries that you should watch for are: 

  • Difficulties rising up off of the floor
  • Limping in their hind legs
  • Reluctance to exercise or climb stairs
  • Stiffness following exercise

Can surgery repair my dog's knee injury?

Ligament injuries in dogs are painful and tend not heal themselves. If your pup is showing signs of a torn ligament it's important to see your vet to have the condition diagnosed so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe.

In many cases, a dog with a torn cruciate ligament in one leg, will quickly go on to injury the ligament in the healthy leg. 

If your dog is suffering from a torn cruciate ligament your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your dog regain normal mobility.

ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization
  • This knee surgery is often used to treat smaller dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds, and works by preventing the tibial thrust with the help of a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes your pup's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia so that the ligament has time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee have an opportunity to regain their strength.
TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
  • TPLO reduces tibial thrust without relying on the dog's cruciate. TPLO surgery involves making a complete cut through the top of the shin bone (tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. A metal plate is then added to the the area where the cut was made, in order to help stabilize the bone as it heals. Over the course of several months, your pup's leg will gradually heal, regaining its strength and mobility.
TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement
  • TTA surgery involves separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section of the tibia up and forward. This can help to prevent much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. A bone plate will be attached to hold the front section of the tibia in its new corrected position until the bone has had adequate time to heal. 

Which type of knee surgery is right for my dog?

Your vet will do a thorough examination of your dog's knee to assess its movement and geometry, then consider other factors such as dog's age, weight, size and lifestyle. Once your vet has done a full evaluation of your pet's condition they will be able to recommend the best surgery to treat your dog's knee injury.

How long will it take for my dog to recover from knee surgery?

Healing from a knee surgery is always a long process and will require patience. While many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, a full recovery and a return to normal activities can take 16 weeks or more.

Following your vet's post-operative instructions carefully will help your dog to return to normal activities as quickly as safely possible, while reducing the risk of re-injuring the knee.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

To learn more about surgery options for treating your dog's knee injury, contact our Tucson vets to book an appointment today. At Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson, our veterinary surgeon performs advanced surgery while putting your pet’s safety and comfort at the forefront.

Can surgery fix my dog's knee problem?

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