Can A Dog Retear Its ACL After Surgery? A Complete Guide

It’s the worst possible scenario imaginable for any concerned dog owner:

Your pup has just made it through ACL surgery, medication, and months of physical therapy, when you notice it limping again on its injured leg.

Exasperated, you wonder to yourself, “Can a dog retear its ACL after surgery?”

Depending on the treatment that you chose for your dog to repair their ACL initially, it may be possible for the ligament to become reinjured through movement or natural deterioration.

In the case that you elected for your dog to undergo TPLO surgery, it is physically impossible for the ACL to become injured again since any and all cruciate ligament remnants have all been removed! You can’t retear what’s no longer there, after all.

However it is still possible for other soft tissues around the knee stifle, such as the meniscus, to get injured even after surgery.

That’s why it is so important to carefully listen to vet instructions, keep your dog at a healthy weight, and refrain it from unnecessary movements in the months following surgery. Doing so will increase the likelihood that it recovers properly and minimizes future injury risk.

What Is The ACL?

ACL rupture diagram

The ACL, anterior cruciate ligament, is a ligament in the knee that connects the femur with the tibia and helps keep the knee in place. In animals, it is properly called the CCL, or cranial cruciate ligament.

In humans, the ACL is known for getting torn during spots and intense movements. A torn ACL will result in severe pain and often swelling of the knee area.

A dog’s ACL and your ACL are incredibly similar – they both have the same purpose. A tear in your ACL would be the same as it would be for your dog. An ACL tear leaves your dog unable to bear weight on the affected knee, and is intensely painful.

There are many causes, symptoms, and cures for an anterior cruciate ligament tear in your pup. Continue reading to determine whether your pup may be suffering from a newly torn or re-torn ACL.

Why Does A Dog Tear Their ACL?

Fat beagle lying on the beach

In humans, a torn ACL is often the result of a sport or traumatic injury. In dogs, while that can also be the case, it’s more common for the joint to be worn down simply over time instead.

The constant movement throughout a canine’s lifetime can build up and result in a gradual tearing of their ACL.

Factors like excessive weight, insufficient movement, and playing too hard can add to the stress on your dog’s joints.

After many years, your dog may simply have worn down the ligament, resulting in an ACL or CCL tear. It’s also possible that your dog tears its ligament abruptly while running or jumping.

Dogs will always attempt the 100m sprint or the 2m high jump whenever a distant object piques its interest.

That’s how my dog Max tore his ligament the first time round- chasing rabbits out in the field!

You may be wondering — if your dog tears it once, is it possible for your dog to re-tear their ACL after surgery for a second time? Continue reading to find out more about treatment, options, and possible re-injury.

How to Tell If Your Dog Tore His ACL

Black and white dog lying on ground

Similar to humans, your dog can get injured easily. A torn ACL for your dog is similar to how it would be for you.

But can a dog tear a repaired ACL? Unfortunately, even if your pup has had ACL knee surgery, it is possible for it to re-tear.

A common symptom of an ACL tear is the inability to walk on that leg. With a torn ACL, your dog will be unable to bear weight on his hurt leg. If you notice your dog walks with a limp or is hobbling around especially on its hind leg, make sure to take him in to get checked out.

Another common symptom is if your dog has trouble getting up from a lying position. With a torn ACL, your dog may not be able to support himself with a hurt leg.

Along with the other symptoms, swelling of the knee joint is also a tell-tale sign that your dog has torn his ACL. If your dog has noticeable swelling as well as a limp, he may have injured his ligament.

If your dog is moving less, getting around less smoothly, and seems uncomfortable, there is a change he has done damage to its knee. Taking your dog to regular vet check-ups and being aware of his general health is vital to ensure you always know what’s going on with your pup.

Which Dog Breeds Are More Prone to Torn ACLs?

Which Dog Breeds Are More Prone to Torn ACLs?

According to vets, breeds like Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Rottweilers are more prone to tears in their ACL’s. The reason as to why these breeds are more likely to have an ACL injury remains contested.

It was also noted that being overweight, regardless of breed, was a contributing factor to ACL tears.

Larger dogs are more likely to have more serious injuries from a torn ACL as they bear more weight in general.

An overweight dog is even more at risk, as the extra weight can affect their hurt knees. Making sure your dog remains a healthy weight and gets enough exercise is vital in having a pup without major knee issues.

What Age Dogs Tear Their ACLs?

It’s not uncommon for older dogs to have ACL issues due to the prolonged wear on their joints. The most common reason for a torn ACL in dogs is extensive degradation over time.

Though it is common to see a torn ACL in older dogs, younger dogs are not immune either. The traumatic ACL tears from fast movements are likely to be seen in a young, energetic dog.

How to Treat A Torn ACL In Dogs

Max with cone on after TPLO surgery

The primary fix for a torn ACL in your dog is CCL surgery or TPLO surgery.

Your dog will most likely need to do physical therapy to gain full movement back in their ACL and make sure it heals appropriately. Surgery can be expensive if you don’t have a pet insurance plan for your pup.

Smaller dogs are more likely to repair their torn ACL without surgery, as their lighter weights exert less pressure on their joints.

Consider your dog’s breed when deciding how to treat their injuries. If you have a large dog surgery may be a more convenient option, as your dog’s heavier weight may result in a retear.

Is Surgery Necessary?

Though surgery is the most common course, there are often other options to consider that may heal your dog. As with humans, it may be possible for your dog to heal without surgery, though every case is different.

Surgery can be pricey and is not a guaranteed fix. If surgery is not the option for you, consider other things such as having your dog take it easy for a while in hopes of reducing inflammation around the ACL.

An alternative is to use prescribed medications to help your dog deal with the pain and limping. In some situations, vets may present a course of action where scar tissue is allowed to build around the joint over time.

There are also knee braces available that can be used to help support a dog’s torn ACL without need for surgery. Though your pup may appear to return to normal after a while of staying off his injured knee, with resumed activities, you may notice degradation.

It can be challenging to keep your pup less active, both after surgery or without it, especially if you have an energetic breed. Ensuring your dog doesn’t injure the ACL further is important in repairing their injuries, so a hiatus from running and jumping may be in your pup’s future.

Can A Dog Retear A Repaired ACL After Surgery?

Brown dog holding frisbee on beach

You may be wondering, can a dog retear its ACL after surgery? As with humans, again, there is a chance that your pup may tear the repaired ACL unless it underwent TPLO surgery.

Like what your doctor may say to you were you to have ACL surgery, follow-up and physical therapy are crucial in ensuring your knee repairs itself as best as possible and prevents another injury.

Veterinarian offices offer physical therapy for dogs post-surgery as a way to strengthen their injured knees. It may even be necessary for you to change your dog’s entire routine post-surgery to give their knee the best chance of healing.

Ensuring your dog maintains a healthy weight and exercises regularly post-surgery (once wholly healed and cleared by their vet) is a sure-fire way to help them recover and remain healthy.

Some activities your dog may have enjoyed pre-surgery such as fetch and jumping for frisbees may be a thing of the past.

The constant stop-and-start of these activities put a lot of pressure and stress on your dog’s knees. If your dog already suffers from a torn ACL, these games may need to be eliminated from their play-time routine.

Injuries In The Other Legs

It’s very common for a dog’s other leg to suffer if they’ve torn an ACL previously. For example, if a dog has had an ACL injury on its left leg, it’s unfortunately quite likely that the right leg will be injured at some point as well.

It’s been found that between 30% and 50% of dogs with one torn ACL will tear another within a short timespan.

When one paw is injured, your pup may lean heavily on the other for support. If your puppy keeps this up for a long time, the uninjured leg can begin to degrade as well, especially if your dog is overweight.

It’s crucial to get your dog’s torn ACL taken care of, as having two torn ACL’s will leave your pup even more immobile than one. If you wait long enough for your dog to tear both at once, they will have many more complications and trouble getting around.

Is Surgery Worth It?

Dog recovering after ACL surgery

If you have the funds, surgery is going to be worth it for your pup.

Medical intervention will almost certainly mean that your dog will be able to run, jump, and enjoy all of the things they did pre-surgery. While you may follow the non-surgery options to help your dog heal, there is less of a guarantee that your dog will get back to its old self.

If your dog is still relatively young and has a lot of energy, it can be frustrating for them not to get around like they were once able to. Surgery may be the best option for a high-energy pup who wants to move.

If your dog is reasonably old and doesn’t get around much anyway, they may be able to get away with other options. Physical therapy and less movement may be possible for an older or otherwise sedentary dog.

Will My Dog Recover Fully?

It’s said that almost 90% of dogs can return to their regular routine after surgery. If you’re worried about your pup getting back to normal, surgery is most likely the best option to get them there.

How Long Does It Take For A Dog’s ACL To Repair After Surgery?

How Long Does It Take For A Dog's ACL To Repair After Surgery?

Sometimes, what you might assume is a retear is just part of your pup’s recovery post-ACL surgery. Ligaments take a while to heal, so keep this loose timeline in mind while monitoring your pet after leaving the vet.

First Two Weeks

For the first two weeks after surgery, your dog will not be doing much.

They can walk for short bursts on a short leash, but ideally only to go to the bathroom. These walks should not be for exercise in any way. Your dog will most likely be wearing a cone around his neck so that he doesn’t bite his incision.

During this time, you will keep an eye on your dog’s wound and make sure he is comfortable.

He should not be getting much movement in but instead be trying to rest and heal. After the first few days, your dog may begin physical therapy either at home or at the vet. Consult with a vet about the best course of action regarding your dog during this time.

Two Weeks – Six Weeks

Your physical therapy with your dog may become more intentional after the two-week mark. Your dog may now be able to bear more weight on their knee around this time, allowing for more exercises to be performed.

Your dog may still take shorter walks for bathroom breaks, but otherwise, they should remain inside. They should also still refrain from any quick movements and should avoid jumping or running especially.

Six Weeks Onward

Depending on what your vet says, your dog may be able to walk at a slightly brisker pace by this point.

You should still limit activity and watch your pup. You will continue your physical therapy with your dog at this time. Slowly, over time, you may integrate more movement into your pup’s routine.

Finally, after a couple of months, your pup may be able to start jumping/running more after consulting with your vet. Eventually, your dog should be able to make a full recovery and enjoy the same things he used to.

A Summary: My Dog is Limping Again After ACL Repair Surgery!

If you’ve ever wondered, “Can a dog retear its ACL after surgery?”– hopefully this article has brought some (admittedly nuanced) clarity.

While surgery is a means to an end, it isn’t a guarantee. Your pup can still face some complications afterward. If you notice your dog limping again after ACL repair, it’s wise to contact your veterinarian for advice.

Even though it’s not possible for the ACL to become injured again if your dog had TPLO surgery (since there would be no more cruciate ligament segments to injure), it is possible for other parts of the knee to suffer damage.

You must follow the aftercare instructions to a tee to help ensure that your pup has the best chance of healing. Swelling and discomfort will be common symptoms for your dog for quite a while post-surgery, so make sure to monitor them closely.

Limping doesn’t automatically mean that your pup tore his ACL again. While there may be other reasons, such as discomfort or uneasiness about bearing weight again, checking with your vet is the only way to ensure your pup is healthy.

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