Football players, skiers, ice hockey players, and other athletes are not the only ones who can be sidelined by a knee injury. Just as athletes can tear their ACL and other knee tendons and ligaments during activities, your pet can also end up with a knee injury. Like human beings, pets have two cruciate ligaments within their knees that form a cross (which is where the name “cruciate” is derived). Like with humans, the front ligament is the one that gets injured and although often referred to as the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (“ACL”) it is technically the Cranial Cruciate Ligament (“CCL”) in our four-legged friends. Unlike humans where the injury onset is typically traumatic from sports, the onset with pets is frequently a gradual weakening of the ligament over time that is partly due to genetics with certain breeds having a higher incidence of needing pet knee surgery. At Continental Animal Wellness Center we have a team of highly skilled veterinarians with the proper training for performing dog knee surgery services in Flagstaff, Arizona. Pets are our family and there is nothing more stressful than seeing your pet injured and not knowing what is wrong because they cannot tell us. We put together this guide to help our fellow pet moms and dads know what to look for regarding knee injury.
Symptoms of a Knee Injury in your Pet
The CCL ligament stabilizes the entire knee and it prevents the tibia from shifting forward and the femur from shifting backwards. With a torn ligament, the joint becomes unstable causing discomfort and the following symptoms:
- Lameness: Your pet will start limping and may become so uncomfortable they will not put their foot down at all to bear weight on it. Onset can be gradual in which some pets may show on-and-off lameness over weeks or months. As a pet owner, you may be confused because your pet seems to get better when they rest but then becomes lame again when active. Onset can also be acute, where you hear a cry when your pet is playing, they immediately are lame, and it does not get better.
- Abnormal sitting: If your pets’ sitting posture changes, this can be a sign of pet knee injury. Your pet may sit or lie down with one leg sticking out to the side because it causes them discomfort to bend their knee.
- Stiffness in both back legs: Most often, pet owners notice lameness in one leg first, but around 60% of pet knee surgery patients end up requiring dog CCL surgery in the other knee within two years. A CCL tear in dogs can sometimes happen in both knees at the same time and your pet will appear “stiff” in their hind end. Your dog may be reluctant to go for their normal walk or even get up off their bed at all.
- Knee thickening and swelling: A dog torn CCL results in inflammation, swelling, and scar tissue that will develop in the area over time. This can result in the injured knee appearing bigger than the other non-injured knee.
- Clicking: When your pet walks you may hear an actual “clicking” sound. The cruciate ligament in dogs stabilizes the knee and when injured, more stress is placed on other tendons and ligaments in the joint. The meniscus can also become torn or injured and can create a clicking sound and significant lameness is typically present when this shock-absorbing pad of cartilage is injured.
Any time your pet is displaying any symptoms of discomfort it is crucial to get a proper diagnosis right away from your vet as soon as possible to prevent further damage and pain. Do not delay in scheduling an examination with your veterinarians at CAWC!
Facts about Pet and Dog Knee Surgery
Having your pet diagnosed with a knee ligament tear is a very scary time as a pet owner. Unfortunately, if your pet presents with a ligament tear, surgery is the only long term option for stabilizing the knee. Everyone wants to know what pet knee surgery consists of and what cruciate ligament dog surgery costs. All surgeries begin with an exploration of the knee joint to remove any and all torn ligaments. There are three types of surgical techniques being used in modern veterinary medicine for pet knee surgery and they are as follows:
- The extracaspular suture repair: At CAWC we perform this procedure on pets weighing 50 pounds or less. A suture material is used to temporarily replace the torn ligament in the same diagonal direction that it was originally so the cranial drawer movement is minimized. Eventually, this false ligament may break, especially in larger dogs. The theory behind this is that your dog will build up scar tissue around the temporary ligament and will act as a long term stabilizer.
- Tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA): At CAWC we perform the TTA on all large breed dogs, especially those who are very active. With this surgery, the patellar tendon attachment on the tibia is moved forward and the tibia bone is cut, which allows the quadriceps muscle to take on the normal workload of your dog’s torn CCL. The patellar tendon is one of the strongest in the body and it is supported by the quadriceps, which is one of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body. By altering the biomechanics of the knee joint the patella tendon and quadriceps are used to stabilize the knee long term. With this procedure, we expect a return to full function when followed by proper recovery and rehabilitation.
- Tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO): In a normal knee, the top of the tibia slants at a backwards angle which allows the femur to slide backwards down the slope. When the ligament is torn the sliding causes pain. TPLO removes the backwards slant, stabilizes the knee, and changes the way the quadriceps muscle pulls on the tibia as it takes on the job of the torn ligament.
Discussing which type of procedure is right for your pet is one to have with your veterinarian. A major consideration for many pet owners is the price. What does cruciate ligament dog surgery cost? Pet owners should anticipate paying from $1,200 to $5,500 depending on which type of procedure is chosen and who is doing the procedure. If you have pet insurance, your dog’s CCL surgery may be covered to some extent, so examine your contract to see what you will be responsible for paying. Talk to your veterinarian about the best surgical option for your budget, as each dog is an individual and should be treated as such.
Recover from Knee Surgery for Dogs and Pets
Recovery from knee surgery lasts a total of 8 weeks and is broken into two phases. Phase one is rest and healing. Phase two is rehabilitation. During the first two weeks, your pet is resting and healing. You will need to keep your pet in a kennel with an e-collar on to limit their activity and promote healing. When outside of the kennel you must keep your dog on a leash at all times and walks should be very short to use the bathroom 2-3 times per day. During the third and fourth weeks post-operation, the incision should be fully healed and you can begin to increase the length of your dog’s walks. You should also begin to incorporate massage and passive range of motion exercises as prescribed by your veterinarian. Your pet should still be confined in their kennel when you are not actively doing these other activities.
Phase two is about rehabilitation and it lasts four weeks. CAWC partners with The Rehab Nook for hydrotherapy and we also offer cold laser therapy. During this phase, you will allow your dog to gradually increase their activities so they can rebuild muscle. Your pet should still live in their kennel, but walks can continue to increase in distance and frequency. Taking your dog on longer leash walks is how to gradually increase time on their paws while prohibiting running, jumping and playing. At the end of the 8 week period, all restrictions are lifted and your dog can return to mild off-leash activity in an enclosed area with no other pets around.
Questions? Contact Us To Learn More About Pet and Dog Knee Surgery
We understand that pet knee surgery is scary for both you and your pet. At Continental Animal Wellness Center, we have a team of experienced veterinarians. They will be with you every step of the way from examining your pet assessing if they have a torn ligament, discussing what type of procedure is best for your pet, performing the operation, and rehabilitation recommendations. We serve both large and small animals and we are Flagstaff’s trusted veterinary wellness clinic. Our mission is to provide extraordinary medicine and diagnostics with a focus on excellence in care and service. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for your pet.