Is Surgery the Answer for ACL Injuries?

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

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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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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” (https://www.facebook.com/DogConservativeManagemen- 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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elly   wausau, Wisconsin

11/2/2014 2:12:19 PM

We Were told 2 options for our almost 6 yr old golden retriever, surgery or be put down. Given pain meds while we made up our minds to either put him thru the surgery and tap into the 2nd mtg on the house to pay for it and drive 90 miles for treatment or end his life cuz he is a big dog. Our dog is large boned, yes overweight and very active and playful. Breaking our hearts Reading about braces and getting a second opinion and sure hope what we have read about braces is true.

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Dennis   Brookfield, Wisconsin

9/23/2014 2:22:08 PM

My 8 year old lab Lucy tore her ACL and she was too old for surgery. I ended up researching braces and came across the A-Trac brace from Wound Wear. I purchased the brace and she is doing 100 times better now!! Took her a while to get use to it but I am that surgery wasn't the only option.

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JJ   Chicago, Illinois

2/6/2014 9:24:46 AM

It's too bad that "temecula, CA" (above) had such an issue with finding a brace that worked for their dog. But I agree, the brace-route is a lot less intrusive and disruptive for your dog. And from my experience, the outcome was just as good. I used a brace from Woundwear. It's a soft brace (as opposed to a hard, cast-like brace) but the brace has rods to stabilize the leg. Overall, I recommend it if you are leary of surgery for your dog. The brace still requires lots of patience and time, but considering what the recovery would have been with CCL or TPLO surgery--the brace was well worth it!

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