Is Surgery the Answer for ACL Injuries?

Discuss with your veterinarian the facts about dog ACL injuries before making a treatment decision.


Injury to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is the most common canine orthopedic knee problem, Larger dog breeds are more commonly affected. Partial or complete tearing of the ACL can be caused by trauma to the knee, weakening of the ligament as a result of excessive cortisol levels in the body (from chronic administration of steroids, such as prednisone or from Cushing‘s disease) or immune damage to the ligament. Clinical signs include acute lameness, decreased use of the affected leg or lack of weight-bearing ability on the affected leg. Treatment may involve rest, natural remedies or surgery. Consider the following points before proceeding with surgery:

1. Dogs with partial tears of the ACL may improve without surgery. Four to eight weeks of rest, with only restricted activity, may allow the torn ACL fibers to heal.

2. Smaller dogs are less likely to require surgery than larger dogs because smaller dogs are less likely to suffer a complete rupture of the ligament, and because their smaller dogs are generally able to handle joint injuries better.

3. In most cases, surgery does not have to be performed on an emergency basis. A second opinion may be helpful in order to determine if surgery is really necessary.

4. Several surgical techniques can correct a torn ACL. No one technique is perfect, and every surgeon has a favorite technique. If surgery is needed, it’s important to obtain several opinions in order to determine which technique is most appropriate for your dog.

5. Natural therapies may allow many dogs to recover without surgery. I have had success using the following natural therapies:
• Homeopathic remedies, including arnica and aconitum (well known for their abilities to aid in healing any sort of injury) and hypericum (a homeopathic version of St. John’s wort, known for reducing nerve injuries). 
• Herbs, including white peony, licorice and rhubarb, which reduce inflammation invigorate blood, decrease bleeding and bruising, and assist in healing from any sort of traumatic injury.
• Nutritional supplements, such as bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapple that reduces inflammation), and glucosamine and chondroitin, well known joint supplements that reduce pain and inflammation, and provide the building blocks needed to aid in the repair of damaged soft tissues.

Want to read more about natural and holistic healthcare? Check out the Natural Health Solutions column by Shawn Messonnier, DVM, in every issue of Dog World magazine.


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Alison   Miami, Florida

5/9/2016 9:01:08 AM

I have a 4 year old amstaff who has a torn CCL and surgery is definitely NOT the only option. We're treating her with a conservative treatment plan - total rest, using a dog knee brace from Ortocanis ( ogs/90-knee-brace.html) and just letting her body take control and heal itself.

I am hopeful that we'll be able to do this without surgery, and I've read countless stories only of other people's personal experiences treating this injury naturally.

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Maya   Norwalk, Connecticut

4/21/2016 6:32:20 AM

Whether or not surgery is absolutely necessary depends on many factors, like your dog's age and weight, the severity of the tear, genetics, physical condition, etc. It's impossible to know without consulting your vet whether or not surgery is the right option for

HOWEVER, many vets are quick to jump on the surgery bandwagon, and it's definitely not a cheap alternative and it's also not guaranteed to work. When my dog tore her ACL, she could still sort of walk on it (albeit with a significant limp). We opted for the conservative treatment since she was 10 years old at the time and we didn't want to put her through the surgery.

I seriously researched different opinions on using a dog knee brace and then which one to buy. I found some of the more common ones that you see on the web, but they all cost hundreds of dollars which at the time exceeded my capabilities. I then found the Ortocanis dog knee brace from the online company Ortocanis. The knee brace provides moderate stability but the quality is great. It's been a year now of semi consistent use and there are no signs of wear and tear. My dog isn't bothered by it and you can tell that it's not a poorly made product.

If you're wanting to try out the different alternatives before deciding on surgery, from my own experience I can say that this is a brace you should consider using.

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Jesse   Racine, Wisconsin

4/30/2015 1:00:11 PM

I don't think surgery is required for ALL acl injuries. My dog, Ralphie, tore his acl about a month ago and I ended up getting him an a-trac brace from Woundwear. Although he is a small dog, the brace has made an enormous difference and he is already prancing around the yard again. So, there is always others options to look into if you don't want to put your dog through surgery.

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Frank   Houston, Texas

1/31/2015 10:50:21 AM

I took my 2 yr old Doberman into a veterinarian I googled for an occasional hop that was so slight I thought he might have a splinter in his paw that I couldn’t find. When we went in, he could sit in good form, jump. and run for hours. I had to stop the vet during the "hyperextension" exam because my dog looked in so much pain. The vet stood up and said, "I heard a pop." When we came out, he had a severe limp and sat with his paw extended out to one side. Now weeks later, when trying to sit, his back is arched to avoid placing pressure on the injured stifle and his leg still extends out. The physical exam performed on his leg was so brutal that now he has a more serious problem. An MRI performed elsewhere has shown that he has a complete CCL rupture which no doubt was as a result of the physical exam performed on him. We have insurance for our pet, but have opted for Conservative Management and there is little coverage for that type of care. We want to share with others what we have learned along the way and have created a facebook page called “Conservative Management for Dogs” ( t). As dog parents, we want to be aware of all options and the opportunity to make an informed decision. Anyone who wishes to contribute to the community is also welcome to share.

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