A torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is one of the most common injuries in the canine world. Most dogs like to run, jump and move around the house and backyard. These activities are necessary for the dog’s physical and mental health.
A torn ACL is an injury that can make these activities painful or, in severe cases, put a complete stop to them. Depending on the degree of the injury, the dog may limp while walking or develop a chronic issue like arthritis.
In some cases, the dog’s quality of life might be severely affected. It may not fare well even after getting treated for the condition. Then you will have to deal with the question of when to put a dog down with torn ACL.
The article will look at ACL, its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and when you should consider euthanasia for your pet.
- What is ACL?
- What Does Torn ACL in Dogs Mean?
- When to Put a Dog Down with Torn ACL?
- What Symptoms Do Dogs with Torn ACL Show?
- What are the Causes of ACL Injuries?
- What Treatments Can Dogs Undergo with Torn ACL?
- What is the Success Rate of an ACL Surgery?
- Can Dogs Possibly Recover from ACL without Surgery?
- How to Care for Dogs with Torn ACL?
- Are Some Dog Breeds Predisposed to ACL?
- Can ACL Injuries be Prevented in Dogs?
What is ACL?
ACL is a crucial part of the knee structure. It is responsible for providing support and stability to the knee.
The bone above the knee is known as the femur. The bone below the knee is known as the tibia. The ACL is a connecting tissue that connects the bones above and below the knee. The placement of the ACL ensures the dog’s tibia does not pop out from under the femur.
As dogs do not unbend their knees while standing, like humans, the ACL undergoes additional stress.
What Does Torn ACL in Dogs Mean?
ACL is known as Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) in the canine world. These injuries could be minor in dogs, but without diagnosis and treatment, the condition can progressively worsen, leading to a tear. The injury could also result from the dog hurting its knee joint during high-intensity activity.
When a tear occurs, the dog will go lame in one of its hind legs. You will see the dog limping or dragging itself. Putting pressure on a torn ACL can be painful for the pet.
The knee joint does not have any interlocking bones holding it together. Instead, it is a bunch of ligaments that hold the knee and aid its back and forth movement. The ACL tissue can get torn due to trauma or due to ligament degeneration.
The vet will perform a diagnostic test called the cranial drawer sign. If the tibia abnormally pops in front of the femur, it means the knee joint has come loose. The test can be painful, so the vet may give the dog a sedative before.
When to Put a Dog Down with Torn ACL?
Putting down a pet is never an easy decision to make. Understandably, you would want to do everything possible to keep the dog healthy and safe.
The decision to put down the dog should consider factors like symptom severity, treatment options available, age, health, and quality of life.
For smaller dogs, it may be comparatively easier to manage the symptoms. But for medium to large-sized dogs, the pain could be on the severe end.
If you opt for a treatment option like surgery, the success rate greatly varies. Post-operative care is difficult. The dog needs to have restricted movement for six to eight weeks. And regardless of the method used to stabilize the knee, the dog is likely to develop arthritis as it ages.
If your dog is already suffering from other health concerns, a condition like arthritis can worsen its quality of life. If the dog cannot walk, get up on its own, or is in too much pain, it is cruel to disregard euthanasia just because you are not ready. A dog should be able to perform basic life functions like standing or gulping water.
The vet will advise to put down a pet only after careful consideration of its health condition. Also, consult with your family members. Seek help from your immediate community. If the dog is in pain and unable to perform basic life functions, it is time to let it go.
What Symptoms Do Dogs with Torn ACL Show?
The symptoms a dog will experience depend on the severity of the tear. For example, if it is a minor injury, the dog will have discomfort or pain while walking. Limping is the visible symptom of this injury. As the dog is in pain, it will avoid putting pressure on the particular leg, especially in case of a major injury, the hind leg weakness or lameness.
If the injury is left untreated and the dog’s movements are not restricted, the injury can turn severe. It can lead to sudden pain, swelling of the knee, instability, and change in walking gait.
Over time scar tissues will develop and cause immobility in the dog. The condition may take time to aggravate, but the dog’s quality of life will degrade in the process. The dog can be unwilling to go on walks, limit playing with you, or avoid going outside.
What are the Causes of ACL Injuries?
Some of the common causes of ACL injuries are as below:
- Not Enough Exercise: If your dog is a couch potato, that could be one of the causes of ACL injuries. For example, if the dog is not getting enough exercise, its muscles and joint will grow weak with time.
- Obesity: The knee joints of an obese dog will go through additional stress than a healthy dog’s. Over time the additional weight can lead to weak joints, which may give out while performing simple tasks like running or jumping.
- Trauma: It is possible that the dog can find itself on the other end of a bad accident. The ACL can get torn when the dog plants its hind legs while the body continues to move forward.
- Extreme Activity: We understand you may want to tire the dog out. But, extreme activity in a short span can do more harm than good. Your dog may need an hour of exercise every day, do not cram those 7 hours of the week into two days.
What Treatments Can Dogs Undergo with Torn ACL?
If you see the dog is limping, swelling of the knee, changed gait, or lameness, it is best to get it examined by the vet. In case of minor injuries, restricted movements and leg braces can help, but let the vet make that decision. Untreated partial ACL tears often lead to complete tears.
In the case of smaller dogs with restricted movement, the condition may improve over a period of six to eight weeks. But this does not mean the dog is cured. An injured ACL will lead to issues such as pain, arthritis, and decreased range of motion as the dog ages.
Non-invasive methods may work on dogs weighing less than 30 pounds. But, again, this does not guarantee the dog will go back to normal. The knee can still undergo degenerative issues.
Some treatment options available for dogs with torn ACL are:
1. Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Smaller dogs can be given medications to manage the pain and help with the healing process. The vet may prescribe medications for a period of six weeks to two months—post which, the vet will start the dog on a regime of light exercise and therapy.
2. Weight Loss
If obesity is the cause of the ACL injury, the vet will recommend weight loss. If the dog is medium or large-sized, losing weight may not suffice. The vet can suggest a healthy diet and other supplements. You will have to be strict with the dog’s diet and keep it away from greasy and fattening foods.
Early detection and surgery work best in the case of ACL injuries. It can lead to quicker recovery and decreases the chances of the condition progressing. The different types of surgical techniques available to treat a torn ACL are:
- Extracapsular Repair
- Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)
- Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)
The recovery period after surgery can be anywhere from two weeks to three months, depending on the technique used and the unique condition of the dog.
What is the Success Rate of an ACL Surgery?
ACL surgery has excellent success rates. If the condition is detected and operated on early, the surgery offers a success rate of around 80% to 90%. That is a generalized rate based on optimistic health conditions. The actual rate for your day may vary. The vet will be able to explain it better.
Even with a good success rate, surgery may not be the best plan for the dog. For example, if the pet has underlying health conditions or is a senior dog, the vet may not recommend surgery.
During the operation, the dog will be administered anesthesia. However, not all dogs can be given anesthesia without any complications. Senior dogs may experience side effects like low heart rate, low blood pressure, or prolonged recovery.
Can Dogs Possibly Recover from ACL without Surgery?
There is no simple answer to this query. It depends on the condition of the pet and the severity of the tear. For example, if it is a small dog with a minor tear, then you can employ methods such as restricted movement, therapy, massages, medications, and leg braces.
The recovery process, though, would be long. You will have to restrict the dog’s movement for a few weeks. So, you will have to be around to tend to its needs. The combination of exercise and therapy may well have to be carried out for a few months. You will have to be patient with the recovery.
In the case of larger dogs, these treatment methods may not be effective. It may help manage the pain, but the dog may not be entirely cured. Its condition can degenerate over time and reduce its quality of life.
How to Care for Dogs with Torn ACL?
The type of post-operative care will depend on the type of surgery. For example, in the case of TTPO or TTA, the restricted movement may last for three to four weeks. You may have to restrict the dog’s movement for six to eight weeks in other cases.
If you are not around to keep an eye on the dog the whole time, it will be best to keep them in a crate. Make the inside of the crate comfortable. Put in a nice bed, and its toys in. Always have fresh water close by, so they do not have to walk every time they are thirsty.
Giving the dog an elevated bed might be a good idea to reduce pressure on its hind legs. When the dog starts walking again, make the task easier for it around the house. For example, put ramps that will help the dog walk up to elevated surfaces. It is best to avoid unnecessary pressure on the legs even with surgery.
Are Some Dog Breeds Predisposed to ACL?
Yes, that is the case. Recent studies have found that some dog breeds are more predisposed to ACL than others. After a torn ACL, redistributing their weight while walking or jumping may not be easy for larger dogs. Compared to smaller dog breeds, the pain they undergo is also severe.
Here are dog breeds that have higher chances of developing ACL injuries:
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- American Staffordshire Terriers
With their quality of life affected, the question of when to put a dog down with torn ACL can be more frequently faced by pet parents of larger dogs.
Can ACL Injuries be Prevented in Dogs?
As dogs age, they may develop issues with their joints and muscles. This can happen in healthy dogs as well. It is a condition that you may not be completely able to prevent during old age.
Though there are a few tips you can consider to keep the dog healthy for a longer period. An appropriate amount of exercise can help work the joints. The dog should not be a couch potato, nor should it be allowed to indulge in extreme activity in a short span.
Develop a routine where you take the dog out for a walk every day. Consider enrolling the dog in a doggy daycare if you are busy with work. Do not try to pile up the exercises for the week into one weekend.
Monitor the weight of the pet. Feed it a healthy diet. If you are unsure about the dog’s diet, consult with the vet. They can provide you with a customized plan. Do not give the dog greasy and fried food. Table scraps are not meant for the dog.
When to put a dog down with torn ACL? Ask yourself questions like – Is the dog able to walk? Is it able to eat? Is it able to sleep through the night without any pain? If no, then it may be time to put the dog down.
A dog should be able to perform basic functions to enjoy a decent quality of life. If it cannot even get up on its own, it is an indication that the dog is in extreme pain. When talking to the vet, clearly ask them about treatment options and their success rate.
If the success rate is low, putting the dog through an invasive and exhaustive treatment like surgery can be cruel.
Talk to family members and friends. Seek professional help if required.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.