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
- German shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
Most Common Causes of Cruciate Ligament Injuries
Acute 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.
Dogs with other knee problems such as a luxating patella are also more likely to rupture their cruciate ligaments.
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.
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.
Vet visit follow-ups, prescription medication, and even physiotherapy can all factor into the price.
The cost will typically range from $3,100 to $11,000 depending on the type of surgery required and other things such as where you live and the breed of your dog.
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 issues become pre-existing.
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.
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!