Dogs have knees that are similar to human knees. They have a knee cap and ligaments which attach the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). There are two ligaments, the cranial (anterior) and the caudal (posterior). The two ligaments cross each other to hold the bones in place. In dogs with a cruciate injury, the kneecap becomes inflamed or the ligaments rupture. The most common cruciate injury is to the cranial ligament.
How do I know if my dog has a cruciate injury?
If your dog has a cruciate injury, he will limp and most likely whimper in pain. He may have a hard time getting in and out of a sitting position.
Is a canine cruciate injury serious?
Yes, it can be serious. The best case scenario it is a slight inflammation and with rest it will heal. The worst case scenario means surgery and recuperation time.
How will the vet determine if the ligament is torn?
The vet will feel the dog’s knee and determine as much information as he can. Vets are familiar with how a dog walks when the curciate has been injured. An x-ray will be taken.
What happens next?
If it is recommended that the dog needs surgery, the vet will explain the details of the procedure.
How is a canine curciate injury fixed?
Surgery is performed to repair the injury. The dog will not be allowed to have food or water the day of the surgery. Take the dog to the vet at the scheduled time. The dog will be sedated. The vet will make an incision on the outside of the leg involved. The incision can be about 8 inches long on a large dog. The ligament is no longer good, and the vet needs something to replace the ligament with. In most cases mono-filament line is used. Yes, it is basically fishing line that is used.
How long does the operation take?
The procedure will take approximately one hour from start to finish. The time under anesthetic is around 30 minutes. The dog will spend some time in recovery. Your vet will advise you as to when you can take the dog home.
What happens when I take the dog home?
The dog will walk, but not on all fours. He will not use the leg that was operated on. The vet will tell you to keep the dog clam and don’t let him jump up on the furniture. You will be told to take the dog outside on a leash and to bring the dog back inside as soon as his ‘business’ is finished. You need to keep the dog from using the leg as long as possible. You will be given some type of pain medication for the dog. You will have to watch out for signs of infection.
How long until the dog recovers from this?
Within a week the dog will be putting his weight on the leg and within a few weeks should be walking normally. Remember, some dogs heal faster than others.
Will this happen again?
It won’t happen to the leg that was operated on; mono-filament is very strong. But 9 times out of 10 after it happens to one knee, it will happen to the opposite knee.
How do I know so much about canine cruciate injury?
When Abby was 3 years old we were in the woods. She did her fair share of running and jumping over dead trees and through creeks. All of a sudden she yelped and began to limp. It was obvious she was in pain. It was a Sunday, so she didn’t get to the vet until the next morning. She limped, but did not appear to be in agonizing pain. As soon as we told the vet what happened, he said it was a curciate injury. He did an exam and after putting all the information together, he said surgery would be required.
At that time Abby weighted 92 pounds, overweight! The vet said we needed to get 20 pounds off of her to aid in her recuperation. She had her surgery; we picked her up the next day. By that evening, against the vet’s orders, she was walking on all fours. She limped very slightly, she’s a tough dog! The bill for that procedure was $648. Of that amount $500 was the actual surgery. The incision on her left leg is about 8 inches long and it runs down the outside of her leg.
To help with her recovery, we kept on ‘diet’ dog food for three months. During that time period we moved to another state. Abby had her first vet visit in the new area and weighed in at 65 pounds; she was underweight. We fattened her up slowly to a level where she still is today, between 75-80 pounds.
Two years after the first surgery Abby began to limp and cower. Yes, it was the other knee. She went through the same operation. This vet was more modern and he had a better dog-side manner! Her incision is shorter, and her recovery time was faster. The total cost for this second surgery was $448.20. Of that amount $300 was the actual surgery, $200 cheaper than the operation on the first leg. I asked the vet if either of those knees could blow out again. He said that if she got hit by a train her knees would hold together.
Summary: Abby went through two anterior cruciate surgeries. She came out with two different length incisions and different recuperation periods. The second vet used more modern techniques, but the outcome was the same. She is held together with mono-filament, and she has had no further knee injuries or problems with her knees.
If you suspect your dog has a cruciate injury, call the vet as soon as you can. If surgery is recommended, have it done. Don’t let your dog suffer needlessly. Within a few weeks after surgery your dog will be back to his or her old self. You can take Abby’s word for it.
Personal knowledge and experience
Hopewell Veterinary Group
Mountain Home Veterinary Hospital