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Cruciate Ligament Tear in Dogs

If your dog suddenly starts limping or has difficulty putting pressure on his back legs, there’s a good chance that your pup tore his cruciate ligament (similar to the common ACL tear in humans).

The cruciate ligament connects the femur to the tibia at your dog’s knee joint.  The cruciate ligament helps stabilize the dog’s knee joint by keeping the tibia in its proper place.

A partial or common tear is one of the most common orthopedic problems in dogs.  Not only is it painful for your pup, but it can be very expensive to treat.

The Most Common Symptoms of Cruciate Ligament Tears

  • Slight lameness
  • Swelling in the inner knee area
  • Inability to put weight on the affected leg

Which Breeds Are Most Susceptible to Cruciate Ligament Tears?

Larger breeds are typically the most common to get CCL injuries:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • Newfoundlands
  • German shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Rottweilers

Most Common Causes of Cruciate Ligament Injuries

dog with leg injuryAcute Trauma to the Knee

Acute trauma to the knee will usually happen when your dog is running and suddenly changes direction.  This action puts most your dog’s weight on his knee joint and it can put undue stress on the cruciate ligaments.  Your dog will probably start to limp as a result.

And it could even happen if your dog jumps on the curb quickly and doesn’t land correctly.


As mentioned above, certain breeds are pre-disposed to Cruciate Ligament injuries.


As dogs age, their tendons are weaker and in some dogs, this can affect their walking and knees just as it does in humans.


A chronic form of cruciate ligament damage can be from the weakening of the ligament as a result of arthritis.  At first, the ligament is either partially torn and then with continued use, a complete tear occurs.


Overweight dogs, just like humans, are more likely to develop cruciate ligament tears.  The more weight that is put on their knees, the more likely it will be to tear.

Luxating Patella

Dogs with other knee problems such as a luxating patella are also more likely to rupture their cruciate ligaments.

Diagnosis of Cruciate Ligament Tear

Your veterinarian will complete a full physical exam of your dog first.

Then, X-rays are usually taken to see the extent of the cruciate ligament damage and rule out other causes of the lameness in the legs.

The X-rays will help your veterinarian to see if there is arthritis or fluid in the joint.  And if any bones pieces broke off when the ligament was torn.

Your vet will also perform what is called an anterior drawer sign.

The vet will hold your dog’s femur.   If the tibia has the ability to pull forward in a motion that is almost like a drawer being opened, this usually means there is a cruciate ligament tear.

Cruciate Ligament Tear Treatment

Depending on the severity of the tear, there are a few options that your vet will consider:

Partial tears will usually heal on their own if you limit your dog’s activity.

Complete tears will need surgery.

There are different surgeries to stabilize the knee joint after a cruciate tear:

Lateral Extracapsular Suture

In a lateral extracapsular repair, the surgeon will typical remove fragments of the torn ligament and repair the menisci if necessary.  The menisci act as shock absorbers between the femur and tibia.

Then an artificial ligament will be placed outside the joint capsule of the knee joint.

This surgery is most effective in small dogs or those under 60 pounds.

A Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

With a TPLO surgery, a different portion of the tibia bone is cut, it is then rotated and stabilized.  Since the tibia is cut where the weight is usually placed on the femur, the idea is that there isn’t any need for a cruciate ligament.

This is a long, complex surgery that usually requires an orthopedic specialist.  It can be very expensive but also very effective in larger dogs.

What Is The Cost Of Cruciate Ligament Surgery?

When considering the cost of Cruciate Ligament surgery, it is not only the surgery that costs money but also the post-operation care.

There are the extra costs that might be necessary for such things as the follow up veterinary or specialist visits, different medications, and the post-rehab therapy that will factor into the cost.

The cost of the surgery usually ranges from $3,100 to $11,000 depending on the type of surgery required and other additional things which could be your dog breed and even the city or state in which you live.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Cruciate Ligament Tears?

Yes, but you need to insure your dog before any tear or CCL injury occurs.

And, 60% of dogs that tear one cruciate ligament will also tear the one in the other knee.

That’s why pet insurance is so important to get when dogs are young before any of the health issues become pre-existing.

If your dog is a breed that is more likely to develop a CCL tear, pet insurance is really worth the cost.

A plan like Healthy Paws, can save you up to 90% of the surgery costs and can even help with some of the rehabilitation and post-op costs.

Dog Ligament Tear Recovery

It is important that you limit your dog’s activity for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.

Many dogs will receive physical therapy after surgery to help the recovery and to reduce any complications that might occur.

Depending on the severity of the surgery, your dog should be able to be fully functional in three months.

If your dog has arthritis, weight management is very important.

Supplements such as glucosamine/chondroitin may help delay the onset of arthritis in your dog and help with bone strength.

Final Thoughts on Cruciate Ligament Tears

While cruciate ligament tears are painful to dogs, surgery can help relieve the pain.

If your dog is a breed that is pre-disposed to a CCL Tear or even just a bigger dog, pet insurance can be a serious help and money saver.

Especially if your poor pup has to have both knees repaired!

Just make sure to sign up for a plan while your dog is young and before this issue occurs.

If you are looking for a new pet insurance plan or just want to change to a new one, our top 10 pet insurance companies is a great place to start!

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