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What is a Dog CCL Injury?

by Geoff Works |

Many pet owners visit veterinary clinics and ask, “what is an ACL injury in dogs?” While it is one of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs, many people still have little to no knowledge about what it is.

Fully understanding what a dog ACL injury is can spell the difference between your dog living a comfortable life and a painful one. After all, as pet owners, always want to provide the best for our furry friends.

Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about ACL tears, including its symptoms, causes, treatment, and more.

Dog CCL vs ACL

You might have read about or heard your veterinarian use CCL or ACL numerous times and asked yourself if they’re the same thing. The simple answer is that both types of injuries have similarities and differences. Before you go scratching your head, let’s take a closer look at both conditions.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is located in the middle of our (human) knee and is the thin tissue that connects the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shinbone). Some athletes might have heard about this ligament because it is often prone to injury, especially during sports.

On the other hand, the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is the canine version of the ACL. This is why both terms are sometimes used interchangeably. After all, the way the skeletal system is structured in humans and dogs is roughly the same. In particular, the same bones can be found in the exact location for humans and dogs. For example, the elbows in both humans and dogs are composed of the humerus, radius, and ulna.

However, the significant difference between these two injuries is how they occur. ACL tears typically happen because of acute trauma resulting from sudden movement such as jumping or making sharp turns. On the other hand, CCL injuries happen gradually because of continuous activity that can cause a tear. Sometimes, the cause could be traced to a congenital knee condition known as patellar luxation.

Symptoms of ACL in Dogs

Early detection of an ACL injury in dogs is best for preventative treatment. Keep a close eye and watch out for the following symptoms of ACL in dogs:


Lameness is the inability of your dog to use one or more limbs. It can affect dogs of any age, from puppies to senior dogs, and can happen suddenly without warning. When your dog’s limbs become lame, they may experience severe discomfort and may be unable to put their foot down at all.

Alternatively, some dogs may experience on-and-off lameness or it could worsen over time. They may get better with enough rest, but the lameness will persist when they become active again.

Favoring one leg

Dogs sit on their hind legs or lie down to rest after standing on all fours. Those who have an ACL injury sit abnormally with their leg uncomfortably stretched or sticking out instead of being tucked in. This could be a symptom of a CCL tear in dogs because they’re unable to fold their knee due to the pain.

Stiffness in both legs

Around 60% of patients who have a CCL injury in one of their knees will also develop it on the other within two years. If the injuries happen simultaneously, it could cause stiffness in your dog’s hind end. When this happens, they may prefer to lie down and stay still because moving and getting up take too much energy and effort.

Thick and swollen knees

CCL injuries in dogs are usually accompanied by inflammation, pain, and tenderness in the affected leg. Detecting a swollen knee is easy because they look larger than normal. Over time, scar tissue can develop as the body naturally heals itself.

Clicking sounds

Apart from paying attention to the visual signs, pet owners should be attentive to the noises their dogs make. After all, clicking sounds are another dog CCL injury symptom. And you may hear these “clicking” sounds when you take your pet dogs out for a walk.

Unstable knees put a lot of pressure and stress on the joint. Moreover, it causes an imbalance in weight distribution because more weight is placed on the “healthy” leg.

The most affected part of this abnormal knee movement is the meniscus, a piece of cartilage found between the femur and tibia. It allows the smooth and natural gliding movement of the femur with the top of the tibia. The unnatural motion of unstable knees can result in the meniscus being torn or injured.

Causes of ACL in Dogs

Below are some factors on what causes ACL tears in dogs:

Weight and Age

Just like humans, putting on a few extra pounds puts a lot of strain and stress on a dog’s knees. After all, knees carry your body’s entire weight. Simple accidents like a slight misstep can immediately cause minor trauma.

Moreover, age plays a vital part in ACL injuries in dogs. The older a dog gets, the stiffer their joints become. Just like humans, senior bones can weaken over time.

Previous CCL Injury

A previous injury could put your dog at risk of another CCL tear. Improper post-surgery recovery and the lack of physical therapy are some possible causes of recurrence.

“Weekend Warrior” Lifestyle

Your lifestyle has a severe impact on your dog. Think about it: most people are busy during the weekdays because of school and work that they only have free time during the weekends.

Most people don’t have the time and energy to take their dog out for a walk after arriving home, for example. But failing to give your dogs the regular exercise they need can contribute to their risk of injury because it weakens their muscles and ligaments.

Sometimes, when pet owners have the time to go out (like during the weekends), they tend to overdo it. This can happen when they go for a hike or perform strenuous activities, for example. This abrupt change in a dog’s sedentary lifestyle could end up overexerting them.

Repetitive Stress

Some of your dog’s natural physical movements can result in an ACL tear, like when they change directions abruptly when moving or jumping and landing on their feet. Dogs with high activity levels are at risk of wearing and tearing their joints. Although your dogs are naturally active and free-spirited creatures, pet owners should still monitor their activity to keep them safe from any accidents.

Genetics: Is Your Dog at Risk?

Would you believe that genetics can put your dogs at risk of developing an ACL tear? According to studies, certain breeds are naturally prone to this orthopedic injury. And the reason behind it could be their shape or structure, or the way they walk.

German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and St. Bernards are some breeds genetically prone to an ACL injury. Both large and small breeds are no exception to ACL injuries.

Preventing ACL Injuries in Dogs

An ACL injury can be very uncomfortable and can affect your dog’s day-to-day life. Prevent the condition with these simple tips:

  • Give your dog daily exercise. Exercising daily can keep their bones and muscles strong and healthy. Exercise can come in the form of walking, playing catch, and climbing up and down the stairs. Always remember that the bigger the breed, the more movement it needs.
  • Avoid a “weekend warrior” lifestyle. Prepare your dog if you’re going to do something strenuous over the weekend. Keep physical activity consistent so their body can handle the extra stress.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Prevent your dog from becoming overweight by maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. Include protein in their diet to encourage tissue repair and give them healthy oils like Omega-3 to protect their joints. Be careful about what you feed them and keep an eye on how much they eat, however. For example, larger breeds require more dog food than their smaller cousins.
  • Keep a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight for your dog reduces their risk of an ACL injury. After all, a healthy weight lessens pressure on the joints.
  • Try swimming. Swimming is a full-body workout. Moving in the water won’t be that strenuous for your dog because of the buoyancy of water. Swimming also builds the muscles around the joints and stabilizes the knee.
  • Schedule annual check-ups. Visiting your veterinarian keeps your dog in top health and ensures their systems are functioning properly.
  • Wait 12-30 months before spaying or neutering your dog. These surgeries delay the closure of your dog’s growth plates. When growth plates stay open for longer, they could cause the tibia to grow longer than the femur. Dogs with longer limbs are at a higher risk for injury.
  • Say no to high jumping. There’s a reason why basketball and volleyball players are prone to tearing their ACL. Hyperextension in the knee occurs during a bad post-jump landing, which is the same with dogs. So train your dog to avoid high jumping.

Treatment Options

Dog CCL injuries are often treated through these four common surgical procedures.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

TPLO is one of the most popular CCL injury treatments in dogs. They are the best option for large breeds but can also be a good option for medium-sized and small dogs. TPLO changes the angle of the tibia so that the ligament is no longer needed. The veterinary surgeon uses a plate and screws to stabilize the tibial plateau. This surgery in dogs differs from an ACL treatment in humans where the ligament is repaired instead.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

In a TTA procedure, the top of the tibia is cut and moved forward. Its new position is secured into place using a plate. TTA uses the pull of the quadriceps muscle to stabilize the joint by changing the shape of the knee. Instead of repairing the torn ligament, this procedure replaces its function.


Another treatment for CCL injuries in a dog is called arthroposcopy, which is a minimally invasive procedure to examine the knee. The process gives vets a detailed assessment of the injury while avoiding any risk and discomfort that often comes with traditional and more “open” surgical procedures. Vets get a better visualization of the injury by using an arthroscopic camera that’s inserted into your dog through a small portal incision.

Extracapsular Lateral Suture

Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization is often recommended for small to medium-sized dogs, especially those that weigh under 20 pounds. This procedure stabilizes the knee from the outside of the joint. It uses mono-filament, a single fiber plastic line, to pull the joints tight and improve stability. The suture is externally placed in the same orientation as the original ACL ligament.

Protect Your Dog from a Dog CCL Injury

It’s normal for pet owners to ask what is an ACL injury in dogs. By arming yourself with the right knowledge, you can prevent your dog from encountering an ACL tear because you know what the injury is, as well as its causes and symptoms.

Moreover, you can take preventive measures to ensure that your dog is fit and healthy so they can live a happy life with you. But even if they get an ACL injury, they can recover easily as long as you choose the right treatment plan and leg protection device to aid in their recovery.

Learn more about CCL injuries in dogs by visiting our website.

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