Knee injuries are common in dogs - and can cause serious pain for our furry friends. In this post, our vets explain dog knee surgery procedures and what to expect in recovery.
The Most Common Dog Knee Injury
The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in dogs’ knees can tear, similar to the ACL in people. CCL injuries are common in dogs, so surgery on this joint is the most common orthopedic surgery performed.
These injuries can be caused by acute onset (sudden injury) triggered by a sudden twisting or tearing of the ligament, or chronic onset caused by age, type of breed, obesity, or other factors.
Owners should also be aware that surgery to repair a ruptured CCL does not repair the knee (stifle) joint; rather, it merely stabilizes it. The injured knee is not as good as new, and despite the fact that it may function normally, the healthy knee bears an increased load. This can be a contributing factor to the rupture of the CCL in a healthy knee.
If your dog’s CCL fails suddenly, you may hear them yelp in pain, and they may not be able to put any weight on the leg that’s been injured. As the bones begin to rub together, arthritis can set in and the knee joint will not be able to function.
Dog Knee Surgeries and Procedures
There are a few surgical procedures your veterinarian will consider to repair your dog’s torn CCL. Which CCL surgery is right for your dog will depend on his:
- Surgeon’s preference
- Financial implications/cost of procedure
The surgeries include:
Lateral Suture (Extracapsular)
The CCL prevents the tibia from sliding forward and out from underneath the femur. This procedure is performed with the goal of restoring stability to the knee by placing sutures outside the joint to mimic normal activity of the CCL.
For this surgery, a one-fiber (continuous monofilament) nylon suture is placed around the femur’s fabellar bone, then looped through a hole drilled into the tibial tuberosity. A stainless steel clip is used to hold both ends of the suture in place.
To choose the correct procedure, it’s important to diagnose the injury correctly and identify the extent of it, as a CCL rupture leads to knee instability, which can cause damage to other structures throughout the joint. Appropriate diagnostics will also increase your dog’s chances of recovering successfully.
Lateral Suture is not your only option. Alternatives include:
Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)
This procedure rotates the tibial plateau to alter its angle, preventing the femur from sliding backwards and stabilizing the knee. This completely eliminates the need for the CCL ligament.
Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA) Surgery
This procedure changes the dynamics of the knee so the CCL is no longer needed to stabilize the joint. A linear cut is made along the length of the tibial tuberosity (the front part of the tibia). The bone is then advanced forward, and the open space is filled with a special bone spacer, placed between the tibia and the tibial tuberosity.
A stainless steel metal plate is applied to secure the bone in place.
Potential complications and recovery
Not all dogs are candidates for all procedures. Your veterinarian can explain the benefits and drawbacks of each surgical procedure, as well as any potential complications and side effects. You will also receive recovery instructions. Many orthopedic injuries can take up to six months to heal completely.
After-care, including physical therapy and exercise, are key to a safe and successful recovery.