From falling to accidents, knee injuries can affect our furry friends when we least expect it. Here, our vets in Madison share some information about the signs and causes of knee injuries in dogs and the different types of surgery that can help repair a knee injury.

When a Dog Experiences a Knee Injury

Your dog's CCL, or cranial cruciate ligament, behaves much like a human's ACL. Because these types of injuries happen so often, orthopedic surgery is one of the types most commonly performed on dogs.

These injuries can be caused by acute onset (sudden injury) triggered by a sudden twisting or tearing of the ligament, or chronic onset caused by age, type of breed, obesity, or other factors.

Owners should also know that surgery for a CCL rupture does not repair a knee (stifle) joint, but simply stabilizes it. While this helps to stabilize the injured knee, the healthy knee may become more load-bearing. This can result in a CCL rupture on the healthy knee down the road.

If your dog suddenly experiences a torn ligament, you may hear them yelp in pain, and they may not be able to put any weight on the leg that’s been injured. As the bones begin to rub together, arthritis can set in and the knee joint will not be able to function.

Signs Seen When a Dog Has a Knee Injury

Several symptoms are commonly seen in dogs experiencing a knee injury, including:

  • Stiffness (particularly after rest, following exercise).
  • Difficulty rising off the floor.
  • Struggling to jump up on furniture or climb stairs.
  • Hind leg lameness and limping.
  • Continued activity on a mildly injured leg will cause the injury to worsen and symptoms to become more pronounced.

Dogs suffering from a single torn CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) will typically begin favoring the non-injured leg during activity, which commonly leads to the injury of the second knee. Approximately 60% of dogs with a single CCL injury will go on to injure the other knee soon afterward.

Knee Surgery in Dogs to Treat Torn Ligaments

CCL surgery is the most common surgery performed in dogs and is estimated to make up about 85% of all orthopedic surgeries performed every year on dogs. Given that this is such a common injury, several procedures have been developed over the years to repair the ligament. Each technique has its pros and cons, so it is important to discuss the options with your veterinarian to determine which procedure would be best for your dog's situation. Below are the most common methods of repairing the injury.

Types of Knee Surgery for Dogs

When a dog requires knee surgery, there are a few different types that might be considered. These are:

Lateral Suture (Extracapsular)

The CCL prevents the tibia from sliding forward and out from underneath the femur. This procedure is performed to restore stability to the knee by placing sutures outside the joint to mimic the normal activity of the CCL.

For this surgery, a one-fiber (continuous monofilament) nylon suture is placed around the femur’s fabellar bone and then looped through a hole drilled into the tibial tuberosity. Your vet will use a steel clip to hold each end of the sutures in place during healing.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

This procedure changes the angle of the tibial plateau, rotating it so the femur no longer slides backward and the knee is stabilized. This eliminates the need for the CCL ligament.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA) Surgery

This procedure changes the dynamics of the knee so the CCL is no longer needed to stabilize the joint. A linear cut is made along the length of the tibial tuberosity (the front part of the tibia). The bone is then advanced, and the open space is filled with a special bone spacer, placed between the tibia and the tibial tuberosity.

A stainless steel metal plate is applied to secure the bone in place.

Which type of knee surgery is right for my dog?

A vet will be able to do a thorough exam of your dog's knee to assess its movement and geometry. They will consider factors like your dog's weight, age, lifestyle and size before recommending a proper treatment.

Once your vet has done a full evaluation of your pet's condition they will be able to recommend the best surgery to treat your dog's knee injury.

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

The truth is that healing completely from knee surgery is a long process. While many dogs can walk as soon as 24 hours after surgery, a full recovery and a return to normal activities will take 12 - 16 weeks or more.

Following your vet's post-operative instructions carefully will help your dog to return to normal activities as quickly as safely possible, while reducing the risk of re-injuring the knee.

Full recovery from many orthopedic injuries may take up to 6 months. You will need to ensure that you follow all aftercare instructions carefully and attend all follow-up exams and physical therapy sessions.

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.

If your dog is limping or showing signs of a knee injury, please contact our Madison veterinary team as soon as possible to schedule an appointment.