So i have not posted in a while and i though i would do one all about what exactly happens with a dog acl tear. I will explain the first signs of a dog acl tear and then what actually is going on inside your dog, so you have a better understanding. I know there is a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming, so this way you can get it all in one place and from someone with no agenda that has had 3 dogs worth of experience with this! I have done a lot of research over the years and developed a pretty good understanding of the injury and what occurs. I hope this helps.
To start you have a happy dog running around playing with the other dogs and within a second it can all change. This injury occurs often and quickly and with just a slight wrong move. All of a sudden your dog is on 3 legs and in pain. So what actually happened in your dogs leg with a acl tear? The cranial cruciate ligament is the ligament that dogs usually tear. There are two ligaments within the knee joint that form a cross or x-shape, thus the name cruciate ligaments. The problem with these ligaments is that once they are torn, they do not heal. When a dog tears their acl and they take a step, the tibia and femur shift on each other causing swelling and pain.
So how do you know if your dog has a cruciate ligament tear? The main sign is lameness and not bearing full weight on the leg. Sometimes, the dog may bear partial weight or only use the leg some of the time. Often, when the dog is still bearing weight on the leg it can be a partial tear where the ligament is only torn part of the way. this is not a guarantee because this injury can act in different ways for different dogs. The other sign you often see is lameness or soreness after resting. Most of the time the dog will use the leg for exercise but after laying down for a while, will have difficulty standing and show lameness when trying to walk around. As the torn ligament gets worse, the dog will usually show lameness more often and then progress to the point of holding the leg up. So now that you are pretty confident your dog has torn their acl, what do you do next?
The diagnosis of a dog acl tear is usually done by feeling the leg for abnormal motion of the tibia on the femur. There are two tests that your vet can perform to tell if the ligament is actually torn. The first is called a cranial drawer test and the second is the tibial compression test. These two tests are non-invasive and easy to perform. These tests are able to show abnormal shifting of the femur and tibia which the cranial cruciate ligament should prevent from happening. When there is a complete tear in the ligament, both tests produce significant movement of the two bones. With a partial tear, the movement between the two bones may be very subtle and just feeling the leg is not enough to tell for sure if the ligament is torn. Most of the time your veterinarian will want to perform x-rays to eliminate or diagnose other issues. There may be arthritis or a possible fracture or break. The x-rays alone do not diagnose an acl tear, they are used to see any other problems.
I am very familiar with the high expense of taking your dog to the veterinarian for these tests just to find out that surgery is your only option. Now, you are educated on the injury and what options are available to you and your dog. You will be able to go to your veterinarian knowing what questions to ask and what tests are necessary to diagnose your dog. You can make an informed decision that is best for you and your dog. I have told you our experiences with surgery and with bracing and that for us the A-Trac Dynamic Brace was the answer. I hope this helps any of you out there that are looking for guidance when you are dealing with a dog acl tear.
Laura & Stephen