A cruciate ligament injury can occur in dogs for several reasons. Sometimes, it is simply the result of an athletic injury in a healthy dog. Landing “wrong” when running or jumping could cause this. Overweight or obese dogs are more prone to this type if injury, since their extra weight may cause weakened joints. Additionally, some dog breeds are predisposed to cruciate ligament injuries. While cruciate rupture cannot always be prevented, keeping your dog at a healthy weight and providing plenty of exercise (not too strenuous) can minimize the risk.
Sudden lameness in a rear leg is often the first sign of injury. If the injury remains unaddressed, arthritic changes can begin quite quickly, causing long-term lameness and discomfort. If your dog shows signs of pain or lameness, it is best to have your vet do an exam within a couple of days.
Your vet will perform an orthopedic examination, trying to isolate the pain to a specific area and ruling out injury to the foot, hock or hip. A manual examination or x-rays can usually define the cause of the limping.
While most dogs with cruciate injuries require surgery, a small number will improve with conservative treatment: several weeks of cage rest with short walks for elimination needs. A knee brace or anti-inflammatory medication may be used. If the injury is not severe cage rest may be sufficient.
Severe cruciate tears will require surgery for a complete repair. However, there are different surgical approaches, each with its pros and cons. A variety of surgical approaches are possible. Which is best for your dog should be discussed with your veterinarian. Regardless of the surgery type, a post operative resting period of eight weeks or more is crucial to the healing process. In addition, physical therapy may be recommended and can be extremely successful for long term recovery.