What’s an ACL or a CCL anyway? The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (or CCL which is the Cranial Cruciate Ligament) is one of the knee ligaments that work as a stabilizer to help the knee to support your body. It’s also called the “football knee injury”.
Over the years, I have witnessed several dogs with ACL repairs from assisting during the actual surgery to helping provide care post-op through my pet sitting business to watching dogs that have an ACL tear or rupture that has not been repaired.
There are recent studies showing that some breeds are more prone to the ACL issues including Newfoundland, Akita, St. Bernard, Rottweiler, Mastiff, Staffordshire Terrier, and Retrievers. Do you notice a pattern? These are mainly your larger breeds.
The top 4 factors that I believe to contribute to ACL issues and joint issues in general are:
1. Poor Genetics & Breeding: If hips and knees are malformed to begin with, then this puts extra stress and creates overcompensation on the knee. The ACL ligament will become overstressed, stretched and strained over time.
2. Anatomy of a Dog’s Knee: Dogs walk differently than we do. They always have their knees bent meaning they are bearing the brunt of their weight on the bent knee.
3. Too Much Weight: Yep! Over 50% of dogs are considered obese and this stresses ALL the joints including the knee joint. The best defense is to keep your pet at a good weight from puppyhood and beyond.
4. Week-end Warrior Syndrome: Many urban dogs now often spend their weekdays inside and then on the weekends they go on a long hike, to the dog park to run or swim, or chase after balls for an extended period. We tend to try to “make-up” for the weekdays and overdo the activities. It is a classic story of a dog chasing a ball or squirrel and we hear the yelp and see our dog holding up their leg. Sometimes you may notice the “tiptoe” where a dog may try to put their foot down but cannot put any weight on the leg, so they pull it back up.
The sad news is that the statistics show that once your dog has one ACL repair surgery they have a 40-60% chance of the other knee ligament needing repair so preventing ACL injuries is key! There are some ways to prevent ACL injuries including making sure they are an ideal body weight, exercise them according to their abilities and allowing for proper warm up and cool down. Do not allow them to overdo the activities since some breeds have a tough time regulating themselves. If they show any signs of joint stress, have a veterinarian perform an exam including the cranial drawer manipulation and possible x-rays to check their hips and knees.
My best tip is using a large towel under their belly just in front of their hind legs to help support them on bathroom breaks and limited movement. Just as in any surgery, following all the post-op instructions is imperative! Keeping your pets’ activity level low during the weeks following surgery and supporting their body weight will ensure the fastest recovery and success. If you need help during the recovery process with care while you are at work, consider Distinctive Pet Care to make visits to check on your pets, help with bathroom breaks and medication administration.
Written by Dawn Olson. Dawn has been working in the pet industry since 1987. Dawn worked for several years as a Certified Veterinary Technician before creating her pet sitting business, Distinctive Pet Care in 1995. Dawn also is the owner/operator of the Ken Caryl Pet Spa; a full-serve and self-serve pet retail & pet grooming spa. Dawn is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter through Pet Sitters International, is a Certified Pet Tech Master Instructor and teaches Pet First Aid, CPR & Care classes throughout the United States. She lives in Littleton, Colorado with her two sons, her poodle, Toby (aka “The Shop Dog’) and her 2 Siamese cats.