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ACL mishaps create agony for dogs and their owners

photo of German Shepherd dog lying on white background“Cute” is what dogs do best. It’s adorable the way they jump, run, twirl, wrestle, lunge, chase, dig, wiggle, and pull. All those delightful maneuvers can be tough on canine knees. For dogs, that means a sprain or tear of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) which stabilizes the knee (stifle) joint. When it comes to veterinary orthopedics, CCL injuries are the most common. A rupture of the CCL can cause dogs and their owners discomfort and distress.

The CCL in dogs, known as the ACL in humans, is vitally important to knee stability. Inside the knee joint, two ligaments cross and support the upper femur and lower tibia and cartilage cushions the joint. The CCL keeps the tibia in place and the knee steady and secure. Antics, aerobics, accidents and more can cause everything from a mild strain to a severe injury to these important ligaments.

It’s not surprising that bigger dogs such as Bernese Mountain dogs, Bullmastiffs, Chows, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Labs, American Staffordshire terriers, and Saint Bernards rack up more CCL problems because of their activity levels and their builds, but there are other risk factors:

  • “Fixed” female dogs lack some hormones that might protect the knee joints.
  • Overweight dogs, male and female: the extra pounds mean extra stress on joints.
  • Inactive dogs, like people, can suffer injury because of lack of muscle tone.
  • Aged dogs’ joints degenerate and leave them vulnerable.

There really is no way to predict knee problems or to protect your dog from them. All dogs, large and small, can have accidents; a simple trip or fall can cause CCL issues. The bad news is animals that have ruptured one CCL are more inclined to rupture the opposite side in 1 to 3 years.

If you suspect your dog (or cat) has a CCL problem, look for these symptoms:

  • A hint of lameness in a hind leg that continues for days
  • Swelling of the knee
  • Weakness or instability in a hind leg
  • Sudden lameness and pain in a hind leg

If you observe these symptoms, it’s time to take your pet to Whitworth Animal Clinic for a thorough examination and diagnosis. X-rays cannot show ligament damage, but they can tell if other parts of the knee joint are damaged or if there is another cause for the lameness. Dr. Whitworth is known throughout Alabama as an empathetic and knowledgeable veterinarian who can be trusted to give your pet excellent care.

Untreated, CCL injuries will lead to permanent damage and degeneration of the joint. When the CCL is torn, the entire leg is unstable, and the bones rub and cause inflammation. Minor sprains may be able to heal with rest, therapy and anti-inflammatories. However, surgery is required in many cases. It’s important to diagnose and treat the problem as early as possible to avoid putting extra strain on the opposite knee and to make sure recovery is as quick and complete as possible. Procrastinating treatment can have dire consequences on your dog’s mobility.

There are several types of surgery to treat CCL tears or ruptures. Dr. Whitworth will discuss your options in detail and guide you depending on the size of your dog and the type and extent of the injury.

The recovery period after surgery can be as hard on the owner as it is on the pet. Activity must be severely limited; the only place your pooch can run is in his dreams. Doggy therapy either at home or in a professional setting is critical. Long walks—on the beach or otherwise—are forbidden for months and the patient will need to be carried up and down stairs. The good news is that with surgery and several months of tender, loving care, your pet will be ready to resume his role as your companion and protector.

If your dog or cat is in pain, it may be a torn Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL). Dr. Charles D. Whitworth in Madison, Alabama, will carefully examine your cat or dog and get the treatment he or she needs to regain health and vitality. Call the office today to make an appointment.

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