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Cruciate ligament injuries and your dog

Cruciate ligament injuries and your dog

Cruciate ligament injuries are very common in dogs and can be very painful. Owners will know there is something wrong when their dog limps or walks oddly.

What and where are cruciate ligaments?

The word cruciate means ‘to cross over’ or ‘form a cross’. The cruciate ligaments are two bands of fibrous tissue located within each knee joint. They join the femur and tibia (the bones above and below the knee joint) together so that the knee works as a stable, hinged joint.

One ligament runs from the inside to the outside of the knee joint and the other from the outside to the inside, crossing over each other in the middle. In dogs and cats, the ligaments are called the cranial and caudal cruciate ligament. In dogs, the most common knee injury is a rupture or tear of the cranial cruciate ligament.

Humans have a similar anatomical structure to the dog knee, but the ligaments are called the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments. Anterior cruciate ligament rupture is a common knee injury of athletes.

How do cruciate injuries occur?

The two most common causes of cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries are trauma and degeneration of the ligaments within the joint. Acute or traumatic cruciate rupture is caused by a twisting injury to the knee joint. This occurs most often when the dog is running and suddenly changes direction. This places the majority of the body weight on the knee joint, and excessive rotational and shearing forces are placed on the cruciate ligaments. This injury usually affects the anterior or cranial (front) ligament. A cruciate ligament rupture is usually extremely painful and the knee joint becomes unstable, resulting in lameness.

A more chronic form of cruciate damage occurs due to progressive weakening of the ligaments as a result of repeated trauma or arthritic disease. Initially, the ligament becomes stretched or partially torn and lameness may be only slight and intermittent. With continued use of the joint, the condition gradually gets worse until a complete rupture occurs.

Symptoms to look out for

Most dogs show limping or lameness. This limping can be in many forms, from occasional limping (this is often as the ligament is weakened, stretches and partly frays) to limping so badly that the dog does not even want to place the foot on the ground at all (often just after it snaps completely). But any limping to any degree in the back legs could be associated with injury of the CCL.

How is CCL disease diagnosed?

The main test is by feeling for excessive movement between the femur and tibia. This can be very tricky to do in some big dogs and often requires sedation. It can also be very difficult to diagnose in the early stages of the disease and is best evaluated by a vet experienced in CCL injury diagnosis. X-rays can help in the diagnosis, especially in early disease, but is rarely required to make a diagnosis. It does help to estimate the extent of arthritis, which can have implication on treatment options.

Treatment options

There are three options when it comes to treatment of CCL injury. Find more detail here…upture-or-injury/. The options are conservative non-surgical management, surgery where the ligament is replaced, and surgery that makes the CCL unnecessary. Each treatment option has pros and cons. And it is essential to understand that there is not just a single treatment that suits every dog, or one that is right in every case. Multiple factors are considered when treatment options are discussed.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament injury is extremely common and can be treated in a number of ways. If your pet is limping, be sure to book an appointment with one of our vets as soon as possible. Dr Morné has successfully operated on hundreds of dogs with this type of injury.

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