How to Care For A Dog With A Torn ACL Injury

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Small dog with a cast on its leg.
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If your dog ruptures his cranial cruciate ligament in his hind leg -- the equivalent to the anterior crucial ligament in the human knee -- his subsequent care depends on several factors. These not only include his size, weight, age and general activity level, but your ability to pay for treatment. No matter your treatment choice, your dog requires a long period of rest and recuperation.


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Cruciate Ligament Rupture

Canine cruciate ligament rupture might occur after trauma, but it often happens during the course of a dog's normal activities. That's because the ligament progressively weakens and a minor movement -- such as jumping off the stairs -- causes it to tear. When the ligament tears, the dog starts limping and the affected area usually swells. Your vet makes a diagnosis via X-rays. While any dog might rupture his cruciate ligament, it occurs more often in large breed or overweight canines, or out-of-shape dogs participating in vigorous athletic activities.


Treatment Options

Crucial ligament treatment options fall into two categories: surgical and nonsurgical. The latter is sometimes appropriate for small, aging, less active canines, but few veterinarians will recommend this more conservative approach for large, young dogs. If your dog is a candidate for conservative therapy, or medical management, he must stay confined for up to eight weeks. Your vet will prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories for pain management, and put your dog on a diet if he needs to shed pounds. If your dog requires surgery, which aims to stabilize his knee, he'll also require a long period of post-operative rest. Medical management isn't as expensive as surgery.


Post-Surgical Care

While your dog doesn't necessarily require crating after surgery, you must restrict and monitor his activities for up to three months. If you don't use a crate, keep him in a relatively confined space -- don't let him have the run of the house, or the ability to play with other pets or children. Keep him away from stairs and furniture he can climb on. Your vet might suggest a weight-management diet, along with physical therapy.


Physical Therapy

Whether your dog goes through surgery or is under medical management, he'll need physical or exercise therapy. While a canine physical therapist might come to your house on a regular basis while your dog recuperates, she isn't the only person who will work on your dog. You'll learn how to conduct therapeutic exercises on your pet to aid his recovery. These exercises help his knee grow strong again. In a best-case scenario, your dog eventually returns to full function. If your vet believes your surgically treated dog can return to athletic endeavors, the rehabilitation program can take longer. A program lasting six months or longer includes motor control, timing and strengthening exercises.


Complementary Therapies

Along with physical therapy, your dog might benefit from various complementary therapies during his recuperation, whether his treatment was conservative or surgical. These include acupuncture, massage and laser therapy. Coordinate complementary therapies with your vet or canine physical therapist.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.