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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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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Meredith   Waco, Texas

2/3/2014 8:05:49 AM

My 3 year old has had the surgery TWICE... one for each back leg... He has done pretty well but can over do it sometimes and will limp for a couple of days, then seems to be ok. Last night, he seems to have done more damage than normal though. He's limping and crying when he puts pressure on one of his legs.

After his last surgery, I asked the doctor if "That was it?", meaning he couldn't hurt himself anymore... The vet said that he could still tear his cartliage. In that case, he'd need the surgury yet again. I'm very scared that this may be the
Does anyone know how likely this is?

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dog with torn ccl knee injury   temecula, California

1/9/2014 10:46:16 AM

My old mix breed lab dog of 93 pounds had torn his CCL cruciate ligament last year. Vets only told me about TPLO surgery. I researched online and read the comments at many websites of the nightmares of pain dogs went thru with the CCL joint type surgeries with so many horrible complications. I came across several comments of those that tried dog knee braces for their older dogs and were happy with the results. I started researching dog knee braces. I ended up buying one, it kept slipping, so I bought another one with a harness but the harness rubbed. I tried a stifle canine custom brace from posh dog knee brace and it worked better than the other braces. My dog was was walking 30 minutes from the first day of wearing this brace. Before he only walked maybe 7 minutes. So I could see that he felt his knee was stabilized with the knee brace and was comfortable enough to walk for almost half an hour. We were able to return to our dog hikes which are now almost 2 -3 hour walks on my days off. Without the brace this never would have been possible. When you are told the only solution is for a torn CCL surgery, that is not true. My lab mix had a complete tear and he has healed really well without surgery. Search for dog knee braces, there are several available online. They all do support the knee if you ask the knee brace company how to make sure it is fitted correctly to support the knee. The posh dog knee brace was the most supportive brace for my lab mix 93 pounds. But any dog knee brace is safer than surgery and will get you back out for dog walks with the knee healing better than surgery.

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