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Dog ACL Recovery: What You Can Expect

by Jen April |

If you’re wondering what it’ll take for your dog’s ACL recovery, you’re not alone. ACL/CCL injuries are common in dogs and if left untreated, they can cause a lot of pain for your pup. It’s important to work closely with your veterinarian to diagnose your dog properly and work out treatment options.

Your Dog's ACL is Really a CCL

Let me explain.

For example, if you’re an athlete or watch a lot of sports, you may be familiar with the idea of a torn ACL. The ACL is the ligament that supports your knee and connects your thigh with your lower leg. That means, when it’s damaged, it can mean your pet limps or “favors” one leg over the other. Yet, there’s a different terminology that’s important. Dog’s don’t have an ACL. They have a CCL.

ACL is short for anterior cruciate ligament and it’s the tissue that stabilizes your knee. Dog’s have a different type of knee which you can see by looking at the hind leg. It’s similar to a backward “v” and it has a different type of ligament. The canine version is a CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) and it works in a similar way to the ACL in that it stabilizes the knee joint.

As a result, a lot of people call it the ACL and refer to damage as an ACL tear.

Regardless of what you call it, your dog’s recovery will depend on what treatment you choose.

What Are the Treatment Options for CCL Surgery in Dogs?

Surgery, physical therapy, and pain management are typical treatments for CCL though it depends on the dog of course. If the dog is younger and in overall good health, CCL surgery can be the best option to help the dog regain normal leg use and eliminate the pain.

The two most common types of CCL surgery for dogs:

  • tibial plateau leveling osteotomy often called TPLO surgery
  • Extracapsular surgery (sometimes called lateral suture)

The TPLO procedure is common. It basically redesigns the knee and eliminates the need for the ligament. This can be the best option for many dogs as they recover rapidly with less long term progression of arthritis.

Now, surgery isn’t for everyone. Dogs who have hip problems or additional spinal or joint issues, may not recover well and CCL surgery isn’t a miracle cure. The best way to gauge your dog’s treatment options is for a physical evaluation by a veterinary surgeon. They’ll review the way your dog walks and the way those hindlegs feel among other touchpoints. Your veterinarian will also talk you through realistic expectations following ACL recovery.

Alternatives to CCL surgery include pain medication, weight loss, physical therapy, and even rest. If you do opt for the CCL surgery, then there will be an extensive recovery period.

Your Dog’s CCL/ACL Recovery Process

Recovering from ACL or CCL surgery requires a lot of supervision from your dog. In the first couple of weeks, they won’t be able to put weight on the recovering leg so you’ll need to help support your dog’s weight in going outside or moving around. Gradually, you can help them rebuild their strength but it can take three months before your dog is fully recovered.

During some of that time, your dog will need assistance going up and downstairs and other help. You should expect exercise restrictions going forward and there will be follow up appointments with your surgeon to make sure your dog’s recovery is going well.

Your veterinarian will share more specific details that pertain to your dog should you choose to have the surgery.

If your dog does have the CCL surgery, you can use a special dog sleeve protection to keep your dog from chewing or licking the leg while it recovers. Otherwise, you’ll have to use the dreaded “cone of shame” and no one wants that!

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