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Cruciate ligament rupture in dogs (symptoms, causes, tips)

Your dog has a cruciate ligament rupture? What are the symptoms of a cruciate ligament tear, what types are there, how they are treated and other tips I have compiled for you in this post. In addition, for this article we have Advice from veterinarian Emin Jasarevic obtained. Note: This article is written for the german country.

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A cruciate ligament tear is one of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs. It is a partial or complete tear in one or both ligaments. 

What is a cruciate ligament rupture in dogs?

The cruciate ligament consists of two important tendons in the knee joint. Both ligaments cross in the center of the knee joint, from where they get their name. They consist of a concentration of elastic fibers that run side by side. In addition, they are connected by stabilizing connective tissue.

Anatomically, there is an anterior and posterior cruciate ligament. Both tendons connect the lower leg with the thigh. With the help of muscles and connective tissue, they ensure the mobility and stability of the knee. 

By limiting the extensor movement of the tibia, the tendons guide and stabilize the joint during movement.

Recognize the symptoms in time

In unfavorable conditions for the cruciate ligament, an injury can occur in the form of a tear. The medical profession also refers to the phenomenon as a Cruciate ligament rupture.

In this case, the fibers of the ligament are either partially damaged or completely severed. If the damage is partial, only individual fibers are affected and early treatment is usually successful. However, a restriction of mobility and stability must be expected.

The most frequent damage occurs in the anterior cruciate ligament. This is caused by heavy strain compared to the posterior ligament. Excessive wear due to age, exaggerated or incorrect movements are also reasons. 

It is believed that defective changes in the skeleton, here especially in the limbs and in the joints as well as Disturbances in blood circulation are the triggers. On the other hand, a genetic predisposition can also be the reason for a cruciate ligament tear.

The first recognizable symptom of a cruciate ligament tear is the sudden onset of restriction of leg movement to the point of lameness. You can recognize the injury if your charge drags one leg behind, limps, or only puts proper weight on one of the two hind legs.

It often happens that at the beginning of the injury, your pet does not continuously restrict movement on the affected leg and always moves normally. Sometimes pain only increases as the condition progresses and your four-legged friend reacts with misbehavior. 

Therefore, it is important to pay attention to changes in movement behavior, to examine the knee joint for swelling if necessary, and to visit the doctor.

Treat early

Early treatment of a cruciate ligament tear is crucial for good healing. If the treatment is done too late or not at all, an imbalance in the use of the leg occurs. This is followed by excessive stress on other joints.

Accompanying damage of a neglected rupture often occurs to the meniscus, i.e. the cartilage in the knee. In this case, the organic shock absorber has been overstressed by the continued instability of the knee and has also been damaged.

Sometimes you can even hear the damage and notice an unusual cracking sound coming from your quadruped's knee joint as he walks.

The consequences are severe pain and an increasing restriction of movements. Over time, it comes to a Osteoarthritis in the knee joint and Inflammations and a Muscle degradation to this.

At the latest now your protégé severe pain and Restrictions on movements. Soon he can't walk at all and his zest for life is waning.

The two forms of cruciate ligament rupture

Medicine distinguishes between a degenerative or traumatic rupture. 

The Degenerative form can occur if too high demands are constantly placed on the anterior cruciate ligament. This stresses the fibers to such an extent that they eventually tear. Particularly affected by this are furry noses with a heavy and very large build. This is because the joints are permanently under a lot of strain.

If it is a traumatic cruciate ligament tear, the damage occurred due to an accident or a very strong stress on the tendons. This includes, for example, jumping too high and too far, as well as hard landings.

Such actions often entail unsteady pawing or wrong movements of the leg and put enormous stress on the knee joints. 

In most cases, only a few fibers of the cruciate ligament tear at the beginning of an injury. Only if no treatment is given do more and more fibers come loose and the ligament tears completely.

However, direct, complete rupture is rare and suggests preexisting damage. If rapid treatment of the injury does not follow, the unilateral stress will affect the second cruciate ligament.

Also, infections and inflammations can develop and put additional strain on your immune system.

When does your dog need to see a doctor?

Once you notice restrictions in your charge's leg movements and they still exist after three days, you should see a veterinarian.

If your four-legged friend feels pain, he usually indicates it by squeaking and limping. If he can hardly use the affected leg or refuses to walk, you should take him to the doctor immediately. 

Overweight and large dog breeds are the most affected by the condition of cruciate ligament rupture. For example, Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Staffordshire Terrier, Boxer and Golden Retriever. 

In both cases, avoid excessive movement and long walks until the conspicuous behavior is resolved.

The diagnosis of cruciate ligament rupture

In order to make an accurate diagnosis of a rupture in a dog, the veterinarian must examine it orthopedically. To do this, he performs various test procedures. 

If the condition is a tear of the anterior sacrum, the quadruped will exhibit what is known as the drawer phenomenon. 

The physician uses the so-called "Drawer Tests" the altered mobility of the knee joint and thus the ligament tear. To do this, he holds the thigh firmly and tries to push the lower leg forward. 

If he can perform the movement strongly backwards, this indicates a tear in the posterior cruciate ligament. If osteoarthritis has already manifested itself in the knee joint, this makes a clear diagnosis more difficult. 

Likewise, thickening of the knee can feign supposed stabilization and the examination procedure becomes useless. 

In this case, the doctor applies the so-called "Tibia Compression Test" on. In doing so, he holds the knee joint in the extended position as well as the thigh and flexes the ankle joint. If there is a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament, the tibial head moves forward and a translational movement occurs. The test can be performed lying on the side and standing up. 

If the physician instead applies the Lachman test he bends the knee to 20-30 degrees. He then grips the lower leg with both hands, presses the index fingers into the hollow of the knee and pulls the lower leg towards the abdomen. An existing cruciate ligament tear can be determined by the displaceability of the lower leg. 

Depending on the degree of the disease or restriction and the expected pain, the darling receives anesthesia. A painless examination takes away the fear from your furry nose and protects him from further problems.

Apply the right operation


Is the diagnosis of a torn cruciate ligament not certain or your dog has only a relatively minor restriction of movement? Then some veterinarians start the treatment with painkillers and anti-inflammatory injections.

However, if it is a rupture, the treatment method hardly brings success in the long run and surgery becomes necessary. 

Before that, the doctor takes an X-ray and finds out the exact condition of the knee joint and the type of tendon damage. He also needs the image for the correct performance of the operation.

In some cases, a CT or MRI is needed before surgery to assess the exact condition of the cruciate ligaments and joint damage.

Which of the methods, is the best for your pet, depends on his constitution and the injury. Among the proven methods are: 

Dhe belt replacement: This is a common support for small breeds of dogs outside the knee joint. The treatment focuses on the self-healing of the cruciate ligament.

The risks of the method are low. However, the ligament may tear again and follow-up treatment may be necessary.

The TTA (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement): This procedure is intended for large and heavy breeds of dogs. During this procedure, the doctor uses a product from biomechanics and thus ensures the stability of the joint. The regeneration takes a longer time, but the chances of recovery are good and lasting.

TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy): This medical procedure is mainly used for very large and heavy breeds of dogs. The doctor places implant plates in the patient's joint. The plates provide controlled mobility and stability of the thigh and lower leg.

The regeneration takes longer time, but even here the stability of the knee is quite safe, and your furbearer can put good weight on his leg again later.

Before the operation, your dog will be put under general anesthesia, which is why he usually does not feel any pain and does not notice anything of what is happening. 

The price of the surgery depends on several factors. They are the method, the constitution of the patient, the materials used and the surgeon himself.

As a guide, average prices for the usual three methods:

  • A belt replacement costs from 700,- €.
  • The TTA method costs from 1.900,- €
  • The TPLO method costs from 2.100,- € 

After the procedure and a rest period, your pet should hardly put any weight on the knee joint and must rest it for a few weeks. Applied bandages support the joint during movements.

A Physiotherapy helps strengthen the muscles and stabilize the joint.

As a rule, healing is completed after four to six months. 

The cruciate ligament has completely grown together and is properly loadable and your dog is almost back to his old self. In the future, you should ensure an ideal body weight of your quadruped and watch out for wrong movements.

Use alternative healing method?

For some furry noses, the risk of such an operation is simply incredibly high. Especially in chronically ill, stress-sensitive, still young or already older animals problems can occur. Common reasons for an alternative healing method are heart diseases and intolerances.

The methods rely on the dog's self-healing powers. The damaged cruciate ligament is supposed to grow back together on its own. The veterinarian helps by giving the patient a Painkiller injects and prescribes additional drugs. 

The movements of the four-legged friend are severely restricted and limited only to what is really necessary. 

He may only go for short walks and only until he starts to limp. It may take at least six weeks until successful self-healing. 

If your pet refuses to walk at all and is tormented by severe pain, he probably needs different medication and more rest. Regular check-ups by the veterinarian are important. 

It is also important to ensure that the menisci are not damaged. To do this, you should watch out for atypical movements and swellings. 

If necessary, the doctor will apply a special bandage. In the worst case, the healthy cruciate ligament can tear even more. If you want to be absolutely sure for a healing, you should talk to the doctor about another therapy or an operation.

Frequently Asked Questions

The cruciate ligament consists of two tendons that run across the knee. Through them, the knee joint is guided and stabilized. The ligaments enable movement through the muscles in the first place.

You can recognize a cruciate ligament tear by the fact that your dog has pain when walking. He will whimper and whine. Also, the movement of his leg is restricted, you can tell by the limping or dragging of the paw.

If you suspect your dog has a torn cruciate ligament, there is nothing you can do for him except take him to the vet as soon as possible. The faster the treatment, the better the chances of recovery.

Recommendation from the vet

Prevention is the best medicine!

A cruciate ligament tear can be avoided in many cases. It is good if your protégé warms up before playing and the muscles become elastic. He should run only on non-slip floors and not bounce on hard ground.

In addition, excessively high and wide jumps as well as too long or fast running actions are to be avoided. Extensive pauses between movements relax the muscles and tendons.

You should take the first signs of a change in the musculoskeletal system seriously and observe them. If your four-legged friend receives treatment early on, he will suffer much less physically and emotionally. You can also save on veterinary costs later on.

With the right attitude, the protégé remains healthy and enjoys life.

Veterinarian Emin Jasarevic
Veterinarian Emin Jasarevic

I am a veterinarian and writer on animal health topics. Animals are my passion, and it is my personal goal to create medically accurate articles and videos to educate pet owners as much as possible.

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