Thursday, March 18, 2010

Preventing ACL Injuries In Dogs

Prevention is always the best treatment for any injury or disease. Recovery from an ACL injury will take anywhere from four to six months out of your dog's active life and an unstable joint will contribute to development of arthritis.

Is there anything you can do to prevent ACL injury in your dog? There is no sure-fire recipe but there are things you can do to minimize the risk.

What is a ligament?

A ligament is a band of tough connective tissue that connects bones and supports a joint. Ligaments keep bones in their place while providing enough flexibility to allow the joint to move. Think of them as very strong rubber bands.

Just like a rubber band, a ligament is designed to withstand a substantial amount of mechanical stress. When the stress exceeds its threshold, the ligament gets damaged.

Because of stifle anatomy, the crucial ligaments in dogs are especially vulnerable to injury.

In some cases, the knee joint may be perfectly normal, but a severe injury overwhelms the ligament causing it to rupture. Think of a football player blowing out his knee. These injuries occur most often in young, large breed dogs. 

However, gradual degeneration of the ligament is the most common cause of ACL rupture. In this case, middle age or older dogs that are overweight are most commonly affected. Because their cruciate ligaments have been weakened over time, even normal activity (e.g., jumping off the sofa) can cause a rupture, and the likelihood of the other knee failing in the future is high.

Prevention of ACL injuries is two-fold:
  • minimizing the amount of stress on the ligaments
  • keeping the ligaments strong and healthy
Weight management and exercise

Extra pounds impose an undue stress on your dog's knees. Keeping your dog slim and trim will help prevent ACL injuries. Seriously. With every extra pound of fat you're that much closer to a ligament injury.

Keeping your dog in good physical condition will also help prevent injury to the crucial ligaments. Strong muscles help stabilize the knee and protect the ligaments. Sounds trivial? Believe me, it is not.

If your dog is at risk of a cruciate ligament injury, encourage forms of exercise that don’t overstress the knees, like swimming or leash walks on even surfaces that are not slippery. Activities that involve lots of fast starts and stops and sharp turns (e.g., catching a frisbee) should be avoided.

Strong and healthy ligaments

A quality balanced diet is important for your dog's overall health, as well as for maintaining the strength of his ligaments.

Metabolic and endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, and immune-mediated diseases have been linked as contributing factors to degeneration of the crucial ligaments. Other structural abnormalities affecting the knee, such as a luxating patella also increase the risk of an ACL injury developing in the future.

There also have been some studies linking early age spay/neuter to increased risk of ACL ruptures later in life. Just like anything in medicine, spay/neuter has both pluses and minuses and for the most part the pluses outweigh the minuses… but in larger breeds this is something to take into consideration.

Taking care of underlying conditions, and keeping your dog slim and in a good physical shape will minimize risk of ACL injuries.


Dog ACL Injuries
Preventing ACL Injuries In Dogs
Knee Injuries In Dogs
Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Dogs
Talk To Me About ACL Injuries

Did I miss something? Have a question? Leave a comment.


  1. didnt knew much about this injuries in dogs, thanx for sharing in detail about ACL injuries

  2. Hi! Thank you for reading.

    Yeah, we never heard of it until it happened. While there is a big concern with hip dysplasia, there doesn't seem to be much awareness regarding ACL injuries, even though they are probably just as common.

  3. I am interested in the link between early sterilization and ACL injuries. Could you point the way to these studies and their findings? Thank you.

  4. Can we use braces instead of surgery. I am worry, I can not afford a surgery?

    1. A braces are being used also, though they bring their own challenges. How old and how large is your dog? Traditional repair can cost in vicinity of $2,000. TPLO and similar surgeries probably $4,000 - $5,000

  5. My dog is about to undergo TPLO surgery on both knees, 8 weeks apart. We tried the brace and natural healing, without surgery which just led to a more severe tear in the initial knee and a partial in his other. During this attempted non-surgical approach, my very hyperactive, anxious dog put on a lot of weight. His high anxiety levels and inability to get enough physical and mental exercise led to him getting to 114 pounds and should be about 95. Do you have any recommendations for how I can get this weight off of him while he is healing? I know it is going to be a battle and I have a great amount of guilt, so please try to avoid judgment. But I know it is going to just be that much worse post-op if we can't get this under control. Thank you for any advice!

    1. I feel your pain; Cookie too is having weight issues through her convalescence.

      First thing to do is to address the diet. The amount and the type of food and treats. You need to feed less, obviously, to achieve some weight loss. I know it's hard when activity is restricted and most if not all fun revolves around food.

      You need to see where you can "trim the fat". Feed about 20% less than you use to. Calculate the calorie amounts of everything you give - food AND treats and supplements and everything that goes down the mouth.

      Increasing water content can lower calories while keeping overall volume the same. Switching to chicken and turkey breast instead of beef, for example, cuts the caloric intake down. Replace fat with protein as much as possible.

      Make your own treats; instead of bisquits use cooked meat. If your dog accepts it, use veggies for treats as much as possible. Etc ...

      Increase the amount of mental stimulation - puzzle games, teaching tricks ...

      Best of luck, keep us posted

  6. Hi, my dog had ACL surgery 5 days ago. He seems to be recovering well except for constipation. He is on pain killers and is now inactive while recuperating. Any suggestions? He also is refusing his regular food so he is eating boiled chicken breast. I gave him that in desperation in order to give him his meds.