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When To Put A Dog Down With A Torn ACL

An ACL injury in our canine friends can be incredibly painful. This condition often requires surgery to ease a dog’s pain, leading owners that are unable to pursue surgery to wonder; should I put my dog with a torn ACL to sleep?

ACL injuries in dogs can be complex, meaning each case will vary in terms of treatment options on the table.

In this article we will discuss the details of a torn ACL in dogs, and help you better understand when your dog may be suffering in their condition.

When To Euthanize A Dog Down With A Torn ACL

What Is An ACL Injury In Dogs?

Before we discuss whether or not a dog with a torn ACL should be put to sleep, it’s important to understand the details of the condition.

While we often refer to this condition as a torn ACL in dogs, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a term only used when referring to the human knee.

While veterinary professionals may use this abbreviation when explaining a dog’s knee injury, the ligament in dogs is actually the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL).

This cranial cruciate ligament in dogs has a similar role as the human ACL, as it runs through the front of the tibia and the femur, offering support to the knee. When learning about this injury in our furry friends, you may see the two terms used interchangeably.

Just like the human ACL, the CCL in dogs can easily tear or become strained when compromised in any way.

Dogs can injure their CCL through sudden twisting injuries, as a result of stress to the joint over time, or even due to improper breeding. No matter the cause of your dog’s CCL rupture, it is incredibly painful.

Symptoms Of A Torn ACL In Dogs

A torn ACL or CCL in dogs is an extremely painful condition. Due to this, dogs with this injury will display various signs of lameness or discomfort. CCL injuries in dogs can also vary in severity, meaning the symptoms can range from pup to pup.

Some of the most common symptoms of a torn ACL in dogs include:

  • A sudden yelp or cry when the leg is injured
  • Mild limping on the affected leg
  • Severe limping on the affected leg
  • Refusing to put weight on the affected limb
  • Toe touching, or only putting a small amount of weight on the leg
  • Guarding the limb
  • Decreased range of motion of the limb
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Sitting with the hind leg leg straight out, meaning they may sit abnormally
  • Swelling of the knee
  • Clicking of the limb during movement
  • Thickening of the knee joint

These symptoms can vary based on if your dog has a partial CCL tear, a full CCL tear, or if your dog has had the injury for a long period of time.

The best way to diagnose any potential injury early on is by having them seen by your vet at the first sign of pain.

How Do I Know If My Dog Tore Their ACL

The only way to definitely diagnose a torn ACL in your dog is by having a physical exam performed at your veterinarian’s office. Your vet will often gather a detailed history on their current symptoms, perform a series of range of motion exams, and even perform diagnostic x-rays to rule out other complications.

To help you better understand what to expect, let’s discuss the details.

First, your vet will ask you a series of questions regarding their current symptoms and how the potential injury occurred. This may involve asking you about any sudden yelps, when the symptoms began, what activity they were performing when the injury occurred, and how their symptoms are impacting their daily life.

Once your vet has gathered a thorough history, they will likely attempt to manipulate the leg to assess their range of motion.

Your pup may require pain control or sedation if these tests are too uncomfortable, as your dog will need to be relaxed and cooperative for these exams to take place. The most common range of motion tests will include a cranial drawer test (video example), a tibial compression test, and general flexion of the limb.

While an x-ray cannot diagnose a torn ACL, it can help to rule out any other joint conditions or orthopedic injuries. Conditions such as hip dysplasia or severe arthritis can mimic signs of a CCL injury in dogs, so it’s important to make sure other conditions are not missed.

A chronic CCL injury can also lead to degenerative joint damage in the knee as well, which will also need to be addressed when attempting to relieve a dog of their pain. X-rays can offer your vet a full picture when diagnosing your dog’s potential ACL injury.

Can You Treat A Torn ACL In Dogs?

Thankfully, there are treatment options for a torn ACL in dogs. Treatment for dogs will vary based on the severity of their injury, the dog’s size, the dog’s standard activities, the dog’s age, and their overall health.

Not only will treatment options vary based on the dog in question, but the owner’s budget and availability will also need to be considered.

Treatment options for a dog with a ruptured CCL include surgery, strict rest, physical therapy, therapeutic medications, and even laser therapy. Though surgery is often the preferred method of treatment in most cases of ACL injury in dogs, there are always different factors to consider from dog to dog.

Your vet will help you make an informed decision based on your dog’s situation, and can point you in the best direction going forward.

Different Types Of ACL Surgery In Dogs

If your dog is a good candidate for ACL surgery, there are a few different surgical methods that can be performed based on the severity of your dog’s injury.

Some veterinary orthopedic surgeons have preferred methods in which they are most skilled, while some methods will be required based on the state of your dog’s ACL tear.

To help you better educate yourself on the surgical options available, let’s discuss some of the most common approaches below.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

A TPLO is easily the most popular method of repairing a torn ACL in large breed dogs. A TPLO in dogs involves removing the damaged ends of the ligament, as well as any damaged portions of the meniscus.

A small cut is then made at the top of the tibia, while also rotating the tibial plateau. Once this is completed, plates and screws are placed to hold the new bone position in place.

Post-operative recovery is generally 8-12 weeks, and often requires physical therapy to help a dog regain normal function of the leg.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

A TTA is a reparative option for medium to large breed dogs. A TTA in dogs involves making a small cut in the tibial tuberosity, while then changing the position to allow this space to better align with the patellar ligament.

Once the bone has been repositioned, plates and screws are inserted to hold its place.

Post-operative recovery is generally 8-12 weeks, and often requires physical therapy to help a dog regain normal function of the leg.

Lateral Suture Repair

A lateral suture repair involves using suture material to repair the ruptured CCL in dogs. Suture will be placed on the outside of the knee joint, while then being passed around the backside of the femur.

It is then passed through a hole drilled in the tibial tuberosity, and promptly tightened to help stabilize the joint. This procedure relies on the production of scar tissue in the area, almost resulting in a stronger joint over time. This procedure is most commonly performed in small breed dogs and cats.

Standard post-op recovery is generally 8-12 weeks, and may require physical therapy.

How Much Does ACL Surgery Cost In Dogs?

ACL surgery in dogs will vary in cost based on which surgical approach is performed, as well as how severe the dog’s ACL injury is. The cost will also vary based on whether or not your dog is referred to an orthopedic center, or if your veterinary office has their own orthopedic surgeon on call.

For example, when working at an emergency animal hospital previously, we could call in an orthopedic surgeon when needed rather than sending dogs to another hospital. This seemed to save clients some money in the long run, but it’s important to note that every clinic is different.

Though this will vary from surgeon to surgeon, most ACL surgeries in dogs cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500.

This price can also increase if your dog requires physical therapy in the weeks following their procedure, as this will be an added cost after the fact.

With this being a potentially pricey procedure, we urge all clients to call around and find an option that suits their budget best.

Your veterinarian may also have a specific surgeon or center they work with, and should direct you in the best direction for your pup.

Can A Torn ACL Heal On Its Own In Dogs?

If your dog is unable to have an ACL repair surgery for any reason, you may be researching other treatment options available to them.

A torn ACL in dogs can potentially heal on its own without surgery, but this will always vary from case to case. When surgery is out of the question for some furry friends, your vet may discuss the following options with you.

Some treatment options of a torn ACL in dogs without surgery include:

  • Strict rest to avoid further injury to the area
  • Orthopedic braces to stabilize the leg
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles
  • Laser therapy or acupuncture to improve circulation and promote healing
  • Pain control or anti-inflammatories to offer your dog comfort as they heal
  • Joint supplements to help prevent long term damage to the joints

There are certainly conservative options for a torn ACL in dogs that don’t involve surgery, but this will vary greatly based on your dog’s injury.

For example, the above options may be more successful for a dog with a partial tear rather than a full CCL rupture. If you are unable to explore surgery for your pup, it’s always best to discuss other treatment options with your vet.

Can A Dog Live With A Torn ACL?

Yes, a dog can live with a torn ACL.

While dogs can certainly live with this injury, it’s important to note that a dog’s quality of life will vary based on the treatment alternatives that are offered to them.

For example, if a dog has a torn ACL and is not offered any form of treatment or pain management, the dog can experience complete lameness as a result. However, if you are unable to afford ACL surgery for your dog, but explore other non-surgical options, the ligament may heal over time.

It’s not often a question of whether or not a dog can live with a torn ACL, but rather how much pain they are in from day to day.

If a dog receives conservative care and is improving over time, then this can be a wonderful sign for your dog’s future. However, if a dog shows no improvement with non-surgical approaches and is struggling day to day, it may result in a quality of life discussion.

Every situation will vary, so it’s always best to discuss your dog’s situation with your veterinarian.

When To Put A Dog Down With A Torn ACL

If you are searching for the answer of when to euthanize a dog with a torn ACL, there are always multiple factors to consider.

As we mentioned above, every case will vary based on the severity of a dog’s injury. Euthanasia should never be the first option on the table if a dog is unable to have ACL surgery, as there are a list of conservative approaches that can improve their quality of life.

However, if a dog is not improving, and is truly suffering as a result of their ACL injury, it may be time to have the quality of life discussion.

Some owners have considered putting their dog with a torn ACL down once they have explored all management options available to them, only to have their dog continue to struggle with daily pain.

This is always a personal decision that should be discussed with a vet that knows your dog best, as they may be aware of other options on the table.

Final Thoughts

A torn ACL in dogs is a serious injury that requires special care going forward. Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can make an informed decision on your dog’s care going forward.

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