The CCL, or cranial cruciate ligament, is the dog-equivalent of an ACL in a human. The CCL stabilizes the knee joint so that it can bend and straighten

CCL Ligament

A CCL tear is the most common musculoskeletal injury in a dog! There are many risks factors that can increase the likelihood of a CCL tear. Some are within the control of an owner to change and some are not. Females are more likely than males to have this type of injury. Large breed dogs such as Labradors, poodles, German shepherds, Rottweilers and golden retrievers are more prone to CCL tears. Dogs that were spayed or neutered early in life, carry extra weight, are older and are in poor health, are at a higher risk of a CCL tear. As discussed in a previous blog, other knee injuries can also predispose a dog to a CCL tear.

What causes a CCL tear?

There are two causes of CCL tears – trauma and degeneration.

  • Trauma – this is what is often thought of when a CCL tear occurs. A dog is running fast, or changing direction when they might “yelp!” and suddenly be on 3-legs, holding up one of their back legs. It is very painful for a dog.
  • Degeneration – this type of tear is more chronic and occurs over a longer length of time. An owner would often report periods of lameness which a dog recovers from. Often, there will be an event in which the dog suddenly seemed to get a lot worse and not recover the same as they had in the past. Usually, this is an older dog.
What are the signs and symptoms of a CCL tear?
  • If it is a sudden tear, often a dog will cry out suddenly during activity and be holding up a back leg
  • Back leg lameness (can be on and off or consistent)
  • Reluctance to do normal activities like walks, stairs, get up onto furniture
  • Swelling around the knee (which may sink down to the ankle because of gravity)
  • Sitting with the injured leg out straight and refusal to sit squarely
  • Resistance to an owner trying to bend and straighten the knee
Dog with CCL tear
I think my dog has a CCL tear…now what?

Like most injuries, a trip to the vet is warranted. They can evaluate how your dog is moving, the knee and also their pain level. A test called the anterior drawer can be done to see if the ligament as been torn. Sometimes a dog needs to be sedated for the dog to relax enough for this test. Often, x-rays are suggested so that the inside of the knee can be examined. Although the ligament can’t be seen on an x-ray, other signs like inflammation in the joint and cartilage damage can help to rule in or out a tear. Your vet will then discuss a plan with you. This is likely to include medications for pain and inflammation, instructions about activity modifications and rest and a discussion about treatment options.

What are the treatment options for a CCL tear?

There are many factors that go into deciding what to do after a CCL tear is confirmed. The age and health of the dog, finances and an owner’s beliefs are a few. Surgery is likely to be recommended for younger, large, healthy dogs and the outcomes are generally very good. For older dogs, smaller dogs, or dogs with other healthy issues, surgery may not be the best strategy. For those dogs, things like bracing and rehabilitation should be considered. It is always important to have a good conversation with your veterinary or canine rehab therapist about the best option for your dog.

At Pawsitively Fit, we have worked with many dogs both after surgical repair of a CCL tear and non-surgical management. There is no right or wrong answer for all dogs about what the best choice is. The best choice is knowing all of your options and making the best decision based on you and your dog’s unique circumstances. In upcoming blogs, we will discuss more about the different types of surgeries and going the non-surgical route!

Karma exercising recovering from a CCL tear.

Karma working on her exercises after a CCL tear. Her owners chose not to pursue surgery and she has recovered to the point of playing ball with her dog brother and sister!

Tessa Taking a break from her TPLO exercises

Tessa had TPLO surgery after she tore her CCL and her meniscus.  She decided she needed a break from exercising.

Did your dog have a CCL tear and you are looking for more information about how Pawsitively Fit can help? Click the button below and fill out the form and we will get in touch with you to discuss your unique situation!

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