The most common injury in medium- to large-size dogs is the same injury many athletes suffer: the tearing of the ligament in the knee. This tear can be caused by activity (running, jumping or even falling) or by an inherited defect in the knee itself. This ligament, called the cruciate, is what keeps the knee from sliding around as the dog walks, runs or climbs. Located between the femur and tibia, the cruciate can tear partially or completely. Either way, the knee will become painful and swollen, causing the dog to limp. Left untreated, the animal could develop arthritis and/or could cause more damage to the already injured knee.
For treatment, your veterinarian could initially require that the dog’s leg be rested, meaning no running or jumping and will probably recommend that the dog be confined to a small area, such as a bathroom. Resting the leg allows scar tissue to develop, which could help the injured knee by keeping it from sliding back and forth. In addition, an anti-inflammatory drug could help with the pain and reduce inflammation. This works pretty well for dogs who are less than 30 pounds; however, for the larger breeds, a surgical approach will more than likely be recommended.
One of the surgeries your veterinarian might recommend is one where a heavy suture material is placed along the joint. This suture acts like a “fake” ligament that will eventually scar over and help keep the knee stable. This technique is known as a cranial cruciate ligament repair or CCLR
Another option is a technique called tibial plateau leveling osteotomy or TPLO. Osteo means “bone” and tomy means to make an incision. The word “plateau” refers to having the tibia cut then turned just a little to remove the angle in the bone where it is then “leveled” out. Then, the tibia is held in place using a special shaped plate and stainless-steel screws. Once the tibia is leveled, the knee will no longer slide out of place. Most general practitioners do not have the equipment or the knowledge to perform this surgical procedure , so you might be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
Whether your dog is giving a CCLR or a TPLO, the injured limb will need to be bandaged to help keep the surgical area stable. This bandage may have to be changed over the course of several weeks and x-rays will need to be taken to check the surgical repair. During this time it is very important that the dog is not allowed to run or jump as it could cause re-injury of the repair or the bone plate, depending upon which surgery was performed.
This healing period is usually 8 to 12 weeks. You will be able to slowly increase your dog’s activity after that, which will help with rebuilding the muscle tissue and assist with healing the bone.
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