A few times a week, I encounter a dog that has been lame for a while and is not getting any better. The most common cause is a tear of one of the ligaments in the knee (the cranial and caudal cruciate ligaments). These ligaments allow forward and backward movement of the stifle and limit side to side movement. In acute (sudden) injuries, the dog was usually running and went to turn quickly putting a lot of stress on the knee. A more chronic injury is when the ligament tears or stretches but does not fully rupture.
A cranial cruciate ligament tear can happen to any dog; however, obese dogs and dogs with other diseases of the knee (locating patellas) are predisposed. Additionally, dogs that tear one side are at higher risk of tearing the other side.
This injury is typically diagnosed by taking a good history, doing a physical exam, palpating the knee, and taking an x-ray.
Surgery is the only way to repair this type of injury; however, small dogs <20lbs could heal to some degree with strict confinement. Larger dogs should have surgery to stabilize the joint and prevent continued pain. Your veterinarian will be a great resource to discuss options.
There are several types of surgeries that can be done to stabilize the knee. Discussing what type of repair your dog should have is best done with your surgeon. Ideally orthopedic surgery should be done by a board certified veterinary surgeon. This will offer the best possible outcome and also ensure that if complications arise your pet will be in good hands to work through it.
This surgery is a tough one to recover from you should be prepared to have your pet confined for 6-8 weeks. This mean using a crate, E-collar, and finding ways to keep your pet entertained until they can exercise again.
Food puzzles are a great way to help your pet with recovery – this will offer stimulation while still restricting exercise. Sometimes it is helpful to have sedatives to give your pet during the recovery period, if you think it will be difficult to keep you pet calm the entire time.
Surgical repair can be expensive ($3500- 4500)! If you have health insurance for your pet this surgery will be covered (provided there was no pre-existing conditions preventing coverage). If you do not have insurance, you do have a little time you can save for this surgery. It is not an emergency; however, quick repair will resolve pain, reduce the formation of osteoarthritis and reduce strain on the opposite limb.