Recognizing and Treating Torn ACLs in Dogs
You've probably known at least one human who tore their ACL. This ligament in the knee is one of the most common ones to be sprained and torn by athletes. But did you know that dogs can also tear their ACL? Larger, athletic dogs like German shepherds and Rottweilers are most prone to this injury, but ACL tears can occur in any breed. As a dog owner, you should learn to recognize the signs of an ACL tear, and you should also know how vets treat this injury.
Signs of a Torn ACL
In a dog, the ACL is found in the hind leg in the forward-facing joint just under your dog's hip. This joint is technically called the stifle, but some dog owners refer to it as the knee. It is equivalent to the human knee in anatomy because it has a patella and the same ligament arrangement as the human knee, including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which runs across the front and inside of the joint. Knowing this, it makes sense that the key sign of a torn ACL is hind leg lameness.
Dogs with torn ACLs may also experience these more specific symptoms:
- Stiffness in a hind leg that is most noticeable after resting
- Sticking one hind leg out to the side as they walk
- Clicking noises that occur with each step
- Trouble jumping into furniture or going up stairs
Treating an ACL
If you suspect your dog may have a torn ACL, reach out to your vet. This injury is easy to diagnose with an ultrasound, which is a painless imaging technique.
If your vet does find that your dog has a torn ACL, they may first recommend conservative therapy to see if the tear heals on its own. This therapy may involve wrapping, icing, and resting the sore joint. It may also include physical therapy exercises to help strengthen your dog's stifles. The vet may also give your dog a cortisone shot in their stifle to help speed the healing process.
If your dog's ACL does heal within a couple of months of conservative therapy, then your vet may recommend surgery. The surgery will involve not only repairing the torn ligament but also reshaping the joint to reduce strain and prevent another tear going forward. Most dogs recover well from this surgery and are fully healed within a few months.
Torn ACLs are quite common in dogs, but the good news is that these tears are quite treatable. Reach out to an animal hospital if you suspect your dog might have this injury.