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What to Expect From Your Dog's Knee Surgery

Does your dog have a torn cruciate ligament (ACL)? If so, knee surgery will likely be necessary to reduce pain and restore your dog's comfortable mobility. Below, our Modesto vets explain 3 common knee surgeries used to repair cranial cruciate ligament injuries in dogs.

Knee Injuries in Dogs

Healthy and pain-free knees are essential for your dog to live an active lifestyle. While there are a number of high-quality dog foods and supplements that your vet can recommend to help keep your dog's joints in good condition, cruciate injuries (or ACL injuries as they are sometimes called) can occur and cause your dog a great deal of discomfort.

What is the Cranial Cruciate Ligament in dogs?

The dog's cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in the leg that connect the shin bone to the thigh bone and allows for proper (pain-free) knee function.

Knee pain stemming from a torn cruciate can come on suddenly during exercise but is equally likely to gradually develop over time. If your dog has injured their cruciate ligament and continues to run, jump and play then the injury may quickly become much more severe. 

What causes knee pain in dogs?

If your pooch has a torn cruciate, pain is caused by the knee's instability and a motion called 'tibial thrust'.

Tibial thrust is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee, causing the shinbone to “thrust” forward in relation to the dog's thigh bone (femur). The forward thrust movement occurs because the top of the tibia is sloped, and the dog's injured cruciate cannot prevent the unwanted movement from occurring.

What are the signs and symptoms of a knee injury in dogs?

If your dog is suffering from an injured cruciate and experiencing knee pain, they will not be able to run or walk normally and will likely display other symptoms such as:

  • Difficulties rising up off of the floor (particularly after rest, following exercise)
  • Pronounced limping in their hind legs
  • Stiffness following exercise

What treatments are available for dogs with a torn cruciate?

Cruciate injuries rarely heal without treatment. If your dog is showing signs of a torn cruciate it's important to make an appointment to see your vet and have the condition diagnosed, so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe. Often dogs with a single torn cruciate will quickly go on to injure the second knee.

If your dog is diagnosed with a torn cruciate your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries to help your canine companion regain normal mobility. It's important to note that not all vets perform these surgeries, and in some cases, your pup may be referred to a veterinary surgeon for treatment

ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization

Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization is often used to treat dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing tibial thrust with the help of a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes the dog's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia. This allows the cruciate time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is a relatively quick and uncomplicated procedure with a good success rate in small to medium-sized dogs.

TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy

TPLO is a reliable treatment for a torn cruciate and aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's cruciate. This treatment involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (the tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. Finally, a metal plate is added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen over the course of several months following TPLO surgery.

TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement

TTA is similar to TPLO and involves surgically 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 up and forward. This surgery prevents much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. As with TPLO surgery, a bone plate will be attached in order to hold the front section of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. Dogs with a steep tibial plateau (angle of the top section of the tibia) tend to be excellent candidates for TTA surgery.

Which type of knee surgery is right for my dog?

After a thorough examination of your dog's knee movement and geometry, your vet will consider your dog's age, weight, size and lifestyle, then recommend the treatment that's best in your dog's case.

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

The truth is that healing completely from knee surgery is a long process. While many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or more. In order to get your dog back to normal activity levels be sure to carefully follow your vet's post-operative instructions. Allowing your dog to begin running and jumping before the knee has completely healed could lead to re-injury.

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.

Is your dog showing signs of a torn ligament? Contact our Modesto vets today to book an examination for your pup.

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