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How Can I Help My Dog Recover from a CCL Surgery?

by Jen April |

If you’re wondering what it’ll take for a dog ACL recovery, you’re not alone. ACL/CCL injuries are common in dogs. Sometimes it makes sense for a dog to have surgery and sometimes it doesn’t. Much like people, it depends on your dog’s overall health and age.

In this article, you’ll discover what you can expect from dog ACL recovery. You’ll also discover why the ACL isn’t the right term (because pups don’t have ACL’s.)

Here's what I mean. If you’re a sports enthusiast, you may be familiar with the ACL ligament. ACL is short for anterior cruciate ligament and it’s the name given to the tissue that stabilizes your knee. The canine version is a CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) and it works in a similar way.

Like the ACL, the CCL is tissue that connects the thigh and lower leg. In dogs, it’s a slightly different type of ligament in those hind legs because their hind legs are made differently than ours.

When the CCL is damaged, your dog may limp or show other mobility issues. However, just because your dog starts limping, that doesn't mean a CCL injury. It could also be an ankle injury or a hip problem.

A veterinarian surgeon is a specialist who can usually tell if your dog has a CCL injury by a simply physical exam. Sometimes, you may not even notice your dog has a slight limp, especially since a CCL tear is usually a gradual breakdown rather than a dramatic event. For example, if your dog slowly stops wanting to get on the bed or starts favors one leg over the other, that can be a sign.

What Are the Treatment Options for CCL Surgery in Dogs?

Surgery, physical therapy, and pain management are all typical treatments for CCL though it depends on the dog. 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.

There are two types of CCL surgery for dogs:

  • tibial plateau leveling osteotomy often called TPLO surgery
  • Extracapsular surgery restores knee stability.

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 faster.

Now, surgery isn’t for everyone. Dogs who have hip problems or additional spinal or joint issues, may not recover well. Your veterinarian can help you make a good decision for your dog.

Non-Surgical Options for CCL Tears in Dogs

Sometimes, surgery isn't the best option. Non-surgical options for CCL tears include long-term pain medications, physical therapy, braces, and stem cell treatment.

  • Weight Loss -- Extra pounds put additional pressure on the dog’s joints so if it’s warranted, the pain may be managed with a combination of weight loss and other methods.
  • Pain Medications -- a prescription of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can take the edge off
  • Rest - reducing activity will help prevent further injury
  • Physical therapy -- rehabilitation and hydrotherapy (water therapy) benefits many dogs with CCL injuries. Both can improve the dog’s range of motion as well as slow the progression of other concerns like arthritis.
  • Stem-cell therapy -- these are cells are chameleon-like in that they can become cartilage, bone, joint or nerve cells. They reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to help relieve pain.
  • Braces -- Dog braces need to immobilize the knee and the ankle of the dog. These can help the dog feel better but it’s important to buy a brace that’s designed specifically for dogs for the best results.

What Can Dog Owners Expect from CCL Surgery for Dogs?

Every owner has a different expectation. Some owners are happy if the dog can hop onto the couch and go for short walks with comfort. Others expect dogs to be running partners.

Since every dog (and their person) is different, your veterinarian will help you set expectations for your pup. That said, many dogs are up and around within 8 weeks if you follow the recommended post-operative care.

One thing that’s important for dog owners to know is that CCL injuries don’t heal. They don’t heal because the ligament has no blood flow and blood carries nutrient-rich oxygen.

Instead, it’s a matter of controlled expectations and following the surgeon’s recommendations to help the dog feel it’s best. Exercise restrictions are key in CCL surgery recovery. Your dog won't be able to visit the dog park or go on extended walks for approximately two months.

However, physical therapy can help your dog regain their mobility quicker. If you can incorporate underwater treadmill walking in your dog's after care, that will help.

You'll also want to be sure you keep your follow up appointments.

In conclusion, a CCL surgery is a routine procedure for dogs. If your veterinarian recommends it, then you can feel comfortable that it's likely to benefit your pup. You will need to confine your dog for roughly 8 weeks after CCL surgery. A specially made dog sleeve can help.

If it's not a good option for your dog, there are non-surgical options.

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