Can Dogs Recover From a Torn ACL? Healing Time, Cost and Facts


Can Dogs Recover From a Torn ACL

We all agree as dog owners that it hurts to see your loving dog limping or walking in pain. Lameness in one of the hind limbs in dogs is highly suggestive of a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). Given the importance of the CCL (or ACL) to dogs, you may be wondering if your limping dog can ever recover from a torn ACL.

Yes, your dog can recover from torn ACL through CCL surgical procedure or alternative rehabilitation. Depending on the dog’s breed and size and the severity of the rupture, you may resort to invasive surgery or leverage conservative therapies like dog braces, painkilling injections, or supplements to enhance the knee joint’s stabilization.

Torn ACLs can be challenging to manage. How comfortably can your dog live with a torn ACL? How long would it take for your dog to recover from a torn ACL without surgery? What will happen if you don’t repair the dog’s ruptured ACL? Also, if you decide to go with surgery, how much will it cost? These are some of the pressing questions we will answer in this interesting guide.

Can a Dog Live with a Torn ACL?

The CCL in dogs mirrors the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in humans. This CCL is responsible for connecting the dog’s front tibia to the back of the femur. It plays a crucial in stabilizing the knee joint, enabling your dog to move fluidly.

Yes, your dog can survive a torn ACL, depending on how severe the rupture was. If you can’t afford surgery, your veterinary doctor could recommend pain management therapies like pain-suppressing injections.

This can ease your dog’s limping. But take note that this palliative therapy will not protect your dog from canine arthritis, which typically accompanies ACLs in dogs.

How Long Does a Dog’s Torn Acl Take to Heal?

This is determined by the size of the dog and how bad the ACL was ruptured. A bigger dog will struggle terribly with a torn ACL given the increased workload on the damaged joint.

If you diligently restrict your dog’s movement, you can accelerate the healing, and your dog can recover a portion of its mobility after six months at most.

Can a Dog Recover from a Torn ACL without Surgery?

While surgical procedure is the optimal treatment for torn ACLs in dogs, your dog can yet manageably recover from such torn ACLs without surgery.

However, the dog’s age determines the wholeness of the recovery (as older dogs are more prone to arthritis in joints), how healthy it is generally, how active it is, the alternative medications it is taking, and yes, how serious the tear is.

Non-surgical treatments are not recommended for dogs above 30lbs in weight. The vet could recommend conservative therapies like controlled rest, braces, and anti-inflammatory medications for dogs below this weight margin.

This therapy could span six to eight weeks. Following its conclusion, the dog is passed through a soft-exercise regimen. And should the dog be obese, the vet puts it through weight loss therapy.

Do take note that as your dog’s body adapts to the torn ACL (in the absence of surgery), the stiffness may come up in the knee joint and possibly be escorted with scar tissue development. Ultimately, this could handicap your dog’s mobility, triggering muscle loss.

What Happens If You Don’t Repair a Dog’s Torn ACL

Your dog risks a meniscal injury if it doesn’t get a reparative surgical operation for damage to its CCL. It could be disastrous for your dog’s knee tearing the meniscus.

This meniscus plays a critical role in knee stabilization. When it tears, your dog will experience acute pain. A piercing pain your dog will surely fail to cope with.

In the absence of the CCL binding the tibia (in your dog’s knee center) to the femur, the knee loses its stability. This is typified in your dog’s knee sliding forward and backward.

The effect? Your dog’s bones experience a shearing force that tears the medial meniscus in the knee. This rupture – commonly known as the bucket handle tear – is most prevalent in damaged dog ACLs.

With such a joint, your dog will be unable to walk, with a further amplified risk of severe osteoarthritis.

How Much Does ACL Surgery Cost for a Dog?

There is no definitive cost for surgery in dogs as the prices vary. This variation is cumulatively determined by factors like the region where you are getting the surgery, the type of surgical procedure, and even the post-surgical therapies.

Basically, there are four types of surgeries for torn ACL in dogs whose cost differs depending on the American city where you get these surgeries carried out.

These surgeries are the Tight Rope Technique, Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA), Lateral Suture Technique or Extracapsular Repair, and the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO).

You can get torn ACL surgeries for your dog in smaller towns for half the price clinics in American metropolitan areas will charge you. You can’t be expecting torn ACL dog surgeries to come cheap in American cities like Washington DC, Los Angeles, or New York City.

Take New York City, for example. A TPLO Surgery for your dog could cost you around $6350. But you can get this done for as low as $4300 in Orange County in California.

How Successful is ACL Surgery in Dogs?

Given the remarkable advancement in veterinary technology, ACL surgeries’ success rate has shot up to the region of 85-90%.

With this rate, your dog should have fully recovered (and back to normal mobility and activity levels) within eight to sixteen weeks.

Of course, we are not eliminating the remaining 10% possibility that your dog may not recover from its ACL rupture despite how well it was treated.

How Much Pain is a Dog in with a Torn ACL?

The amount of pain a dog experiences when it damages its ACL is mostly decided by how old it is, size, and daily routine (in terms of activity levels).

Therefore, dogs that are big and put more strain on their knee joint will experience much more severe pain than smaller dogs.

A dog with a lower activity level will experience lesser pains than the active type that is usually jumping around.

Can a Dog Walk with a Torn ACL?

Yes, a dog can walk with a torn ACL, albeit not as fluidly as it would be with an intact ACL. If it is a small dog, the chances are high that the torn ACL’s physical manifestation (in terms of disrupted walking poise) wouldn’t be that evident.

But all this depends on how severe the tear is. More severe tears mean more severe discomfort hence the apparentness of the pain the dog will be in.

In some cases, a torn ACL shows in the dog’s feet becoming unstable and swelling, thereby significantly distorting how they usually walk.

With the torn ACL degenerating, the dog loses its mobility in phases, eventually suffering complete lameness in that leg. Aside from that, dogs with torn ACL will lose a huge chunk of their walking capacity owing to their increased fatigue the condition triggers.

More than pivoting on one of its legs, the dog’s distorted walking manner could further impact its spine painfully, altogether making it harder for your dog to walk.

Can a Dog Jump with a Torn ACL?

For mild tears in smaller dogs, they can jump intermittently when the need is serious or when critically excited. Otherwise, a dog with a torn ACL will impulsively resist any activity that would make it put a strain on the bad joint. This means much-reduced jumping.

How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Torn ACL?

The most common symptom of a torn ACL in dogs is limping or an altered walking gait. In severe cases, your dog can be lame in that leg or have the inside of the damaged knee swollen.

If you are a bit experienced with dogs’ anatomy, you could hold the femur in place and pull the dog’s tibia forward.

Should this occur, like sliding open a drawer, the dog’s CCL is most likely damaged.

Alternative Treatment for Dog Torn ACL

Aside from surgery, there are viable alternative treatments for your dog if it ruptures its CCL. Your vet could recommend therapeutics like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) to facilitate the healing of the dog’s torn ligament.

Such anti-inflammatory medications will also suppress the pain the dog experiences during observation. Various NSAIDs groups work well in this case, with varying dosages as determined by your dog’s body conditions, weight, and the amount of pain it is feeling. The most prevalent NSAIDs for ruptured dog ACL are oxicam derivatives.

Aside from such NSAIDs, your vet could recommend rehabilitation therapies for your dog. Such regimen includes controlled motion therapies like optimized slow leash walking, aquatic walking, and other mobilization exercises.

You could also resort to using orthotics for your dog. Such external orthotics (as commonly seen in knee braces) enhances the ligament and joint support, making it easier for your dog to relax the injured leg.

Exercise for a Dog with Torn ACL

There are several specialized exercises for your dog if it tears its ACL. Aside from leash walking, one of the most popular exercises for such dogs is swimming.

Swimming is preferred for such dogs because it doesn’t bear weight. This way, the dog puts minimal pressure or stress on its hurt ligaments, muscles, and joints while exercising.

Swimming about 2-3 times every seven days can give your dog sufficient mental and muscular stimulation to heal its damaged ACL.

Take note that the swimming periods shouldn’t be too long at a time as you don’t want your dog to be overexerted. Now, as your dog swims, aid it with sufficient support.

Should you go with leash walking, you can take your dog for brief walks – say about 5 minutes for two sessions daily – for about two months or six weeks minimum.

When to Put a Dog Down with Torn ACL?

There are periods when it is humane to euthanize your dog with a torn ACL. When your dog is whimpering in acute pain, and you have not got the money for surgery (and alternative therapies are not working), it could be the right thing to put the dog down and save it the immense pain.

Euthanizing a dog with torn ACL is common in older dogs where the pain will severely diminish their quality of life. By the time the dog can no longer drink or eat independently without support from you, can’t lie down or stand up without support from you, it could be the time to put it down.

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