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Dog Knee Surgery: What to Expect

Dog Knee Surgery: What to Expect

Does your dog have a torn cruciate ligament (ACL)? If so, your vet probably recommended knee surgery to reduce pain and restore mobility. Here, our Pflugerville vets explain 3 common knee surgeries and what owners should expect during them.

Knee Injuries in Dogs

A dog's active lifestyle is contingent on healthy and pain-free knees. Your vet can recommend a number of high-quality dog foods and supplements to help maintain your pup's joint health. However, cruciate injuries (sometimes called ACL injuries) can occur and cause your dog a great deal of discomfort.

What is the Cranial Cruciate Ligament in dogs?

The dog's cranial cruciate ligament (CCL, ACL or cruciate) is one of two ligaments in the leg that connect the shin bone to the thigh bone. This ligament is crucial to knee and joint function.

A torn cruciate can cause sudden pain during exercise, but this pain can also develop slowly over time. If your dog has injured their cruciate ligament and continues to run, jump and play then the injury may quickly become much more severe. 

What causes knee pain in dogs?

A dog with a torn ligament in their leg will experience repeated pain when they move their leg. The motion causing this pain is called the "tibial thrust," which is a sliding motion caused by the transmission of weight up the dog's shin bone (tibia) and across the knee, causing the shinbone to “thrust” forward. The forward thrust movement occurs because the top of the tibia is sloped. The injured/damaged cruciate cannot stop this movement from occurring.

What are the signs and symptoms of a knee injury in dogs?

A dog with a torn ligament or knee pain will often display symptoms such as:

  • Resistance to running
  • Refusal to jump or crying out after jumping
  • Difficulties rising up off of the floor (particularly after rest, following exercise)
  • Pronounced limping in their hind legs
  • Stiffness following exercise

What treatments are available for dogs with a torn ACL?

Cruciate injuries require treatment to properly heal. If your dog is diagnosed with a torn cruciate/ACL, your vet is likely to recommend one of three knee surgeries:

  • ELSS / ECLS - Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization. Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization is often used to treat dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds and works by preventing tibial thrust with the help of a surgically placed suture. The suture stabilizes the dog's knee by pulling the joint tight and preventing the front-to-back sliding of the tibia. This allows the cruciate time to heal, and the muscles surrounding the knee an opportunity to regain their strength. ELSS surgery is a relatively quick and uncomplicated procedure with a good success rate in small to medium-sized dogs.
  • TPLO - Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy. TPLO is a reliable treatment for a torn cruciate and aims to reduce tibial thrust without relying on the dog's cruciate. This treatment involves making a complete cut through the top of the tibia (the tibial plateau), then rotating the tibial plateau in order to change its angle. Finally, a metal plate is added to stabilize the cut bone as it heals. Your dog's leg will gradually heal and strengthen over the course of several months following TPLO surgery.
  • TTA - Tibial Tuberosity Advancement. TTA is similar to TPLO and involves surgically separating the front part of the tibia from the rest of the bone, then adding a spacer between the two sections to move the front section up and forward. This surgery prevents much of the tibia thrust movement from occurring. As with TPLO surgery, a bone plate will be attached in order to hold the front section of the tibia in its correct position until the bone has had sufficient time to heal. 

After a thorough examination of your dog's knee movement and geometry, your vet will consider your dog's age, weight, size and lifestyle, then recommend the treatment that's best in your dog's case.

How long will it take for my dog to recover from ACL surgery?

The truth is that healing completely from knee surgery is a long process. While many dogs are able to walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or more. In order to get your dog back to normal activity levels be sure to carefully follow your vet's post-operative instructions. Allowing your dog to begin running and jumping before the knee has completely healed could lead to re-injury.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs knee pain or a torn ligament? Contact our Pflugerville vets today to book an examination.

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