Knee Problems in Dogs

Knee Problems in Dogs

Having recently suffered a knee injury myself I understand how painful knee problems in dogs can be. Hind leg lameness is very common in dogs and knee injuries are the most common of the hind limb lamenesses. The most common  knee problem that occurs in dogs in rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL).  It is known as the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL in humans.  If a dog is limping on his hind leg, most veterinarians assume it is a knee problem unless proven otherwise.   The CCL can be ruptured by trauma  or it can be a degenerative problem called cruciate disease.  Certain breeds are subject to cruciate disease where the ligament is congenitally abnormal and not strong.  This predisposes the dog to ligament rupture.

So how is a cruciate rupture diagnosed?  Usually the veterinarian will perform a drawer test or a tibial thrust test.  This involves manipulating the leg and checking for abnormal motion.  Sometimes this requires sedation as the dog may be very tense and will resist.  Radiographs are also used to help in the diagnosis and to check for other problems. Some veterinarians will perform diagnostic ultrasound to look at the knee ligaments and determine if there is a complete tear, a partial tear or a sprain of the ligament.

If your dog has a cruciate rupture, he may be bound for surgery although not always. Large breed dogs are more likely to require surgery, whereas smaller dogs may be okay with conservative treatment. If your dog is evaluated by a rehabilitation veterinarian, he or she may be able to determine if the meniscus ( another structure that stabilizes the knee) is also involved. If the meniscus is not involved then conservative treatment may  be used. If the ligament is not completely torn, if the meniscus is not involved and if the client is willing to work with the dog at home, then surgery may be avoided. Your rehabilitation veterinarian is the best one to determine this.

Surgical repair can be done by an extracapsular repair where the knee is stabilized by a suture around the joint or a more invasive procedure called a TPLO ( tibial plateau leveling osteotomy) may be needed particularly in large dogs.  There are a few other techniques used but those are the most common. Rehabilitation therapy is crucial after this surgery and may consist of acupuncture or laser therapy, targeted exercises and water therapy in an underwater treadmill.  Pain medications such as Agile Joints or Comfort Gold may be used for these patients  If you have a large breed dog that may be in danger of cruciate disease ( labrador and golden retrievers) you may be able to strengthen the limbs and hips to help support the ligaments and prevent problems. This can be done by exercises and supplements.