Cruciate Ligament Damage – Signs and Treatment


Cruciate ligament damage in dogs has become more common in recent years. It used to be an injury seen almost exclusively in working and sporting dogs but is now seen very frequently in the general pet population. The cruciate ligaments are 2 ligaments which cross over in the knee or stifle joint and when they tear or completely rupture they can cause extreme pain and lameness. The damage often happens when the dog is running and turns quickly or their foot drops into a hole in uneven ground, or it can be done jumping or landing awkwardly.

Signs to look out for to spot cruciate damage

  • Sudden lameness often accompanied by a yell of pain
  • Intermittent lameness or gradual onset lameness if the ligament is damaged but not ruptured completely.
  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Non weight bearing and just touching the toes to the ground in standing.
  • Symptoms get worse with exercise and better with rest.
  • An unusual standing or walking position, particularly around the hips and back
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Sitting with a hind leg stretched forwards or to the side

Treatment options

  • For a complete tear, surgery is usually recommended. This can involve replacing the ligament with a suture or more complicated procedures to reshape the bones of the leg to hold the joint in a stable position. Follow up therapy would also be advised.
  • For partial tears an exercise programme combined with rest can be used to build up the muscles to support the knee
  • A knee brace can be used to support the knee during healing and can be used long term in older dogs or those not suitable for surgery.
  • Pain relief can be prescribed by your vet and can be used with massage to reduce stiffness and maintain good muscle health, hydrotherapy to strengthen muscles and maintain general fitness, acupuncture to help with pain, and physiotherapy to restore normal function, all combining to improve the outcome for your dog.

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