One of the most common problems we see at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital is lameness, and one of the most common causes is a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture.
The cranial cruciate ligament is found in the knee and prevents abnormal rotation of the joint, much like the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. When the CCL ruptures, pets experience different degrees of lameness in the hind end. The injury typically isn’t acute, but rather stems from chronic degeneration that ultimately leads to lameness from a seemingly minor event (e.g., running in the yard or engaging in normal activity). Overweight pets; pets with abnormal conformation of the knee joint; and certain dog breeds, including Labradors and Rottweilers, are more predisposed to experiencing these kinds of injuries.
So what should you do if your pet is lame? Take him/her to your primary care veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, to have the problem evaluated. On physical examination, the veterinarian may find “cranial drawer,” a term used to describe abnormal movement in the knee after a ligament rupture. Some pets have such strong musculature surrounding their knee that they may need to be sedated for the vet to be able to feel the abnormal movement. Next, the vet will likely recommend radiographs (x-rays) of the knee.
So what happens if your pet has been diagnosed with a CCL rupture? Most pets do best with surgery. Some smaller pets can recover with conservative therapy, which includes pain medication and strict exercise restriction for several months. Larger pets most often need surgery, and there are several different surgical options, depending on the pet’s size. Even with surgery, your pet will have to be exercise-restricted, but the recovery period is often shorter — and overall improvement often better — with surgery.
Now, when we talk about strict exercise restriction, we mean STRICT. No running, jumping, playing, chasing, being off-leash, jumping on the bed or roughhousing. As the rupture begins to heal and pets start to feel better, they will likely want to run and jump, and that type of exertion too early in the recovery process is one of the main reasons for surgical failure. What’s more, pets diagnosed with cruciate ruptures are more likely to rupture the cruciate in the other knee as well, and such a likelihood is increased if they are not exercise-restricted appropriately. So following a CCL rupture, keep your pet as calm as possible; sometimes it can be hard and seem like forever, but it will pay off in the end!
Another tip that will help with the recovery process is keeping your pet from licking at the surgical site — you may need an e-collar (a cone that goes around your pet’s head) to make that happen. Another cause of surgical failure is infection, so make sure your pet is taking all medications prescribed by your veterinarian.
One more important step in recovery for many of our patients is weight loss. Losing even just a few pounds will improve the recovery period and decrease the chance of having problems in the other knee. Weight-reduction plans as a preventive measure can reduce the risk of tearing the cruciate in the first place.
If your pet has been diagnosed with a cranial cruciate rupture and you have any questions, please call your primary care veterinarian, or give us a call here at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital.
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Tara Galberg says
I have a 16lb Jack russel/pug who has been diagnosed with a ruptured CCL. I have been give several surgical options and have been trying to research what is best. I have read numerous times that surgery is not necessary in a dog so small but my vet highly recommends surgery. Not sure what to do!?
Dr. Stewart says
I am not a surgical expert. I think the severity of the lameness and the future activity of the dog are to be considered. The fact that JRT are extremely active would make 2-3 months of rest a hard task. Many dogs recover from surgery very quickly and are able to run in weeks-a month. The dogs without surgery are usually required to be leash walked and rested for weeks-months. I would contact a boarded surgeon and get the newest recommendations. I think you are right on the line. If you trust your vet, then do what he/she recommends.