Dog Acl Surgery

icon July 5, 2024

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are among the most common orthopedic problems in dogs, particularly in active and larger breeds. Just like in humans, an ACL tear in dogs can lead to significant pain, lameness, and joint instability. This comprehensive article will delve into various aspects of dog ACL surgery, including the procedure, recovery process, types of surgeries, success rates, alternatives, and more. By understanding these factors, dog owners can make informed decisions to ensure their pets receive the best possible care.

Dog Acl Surgery

Dog ACL Tear vs. Sprain

What Is Dog ACL Surgery?

ACL surgery in dogs is a surgical procedure designed to repair or replace the damaged anterior cruciate ligament in the knee joint. The ACL is crucial for stabilizing the knee, and when it is torn or ruptured, the joint becomes unstable, causing pain and difficulty in movement.

Purpose of ACL Surgery

  • Restore Joint Stability: The primary goal of ACL surgery is to stabilize the knee joint, allowing the dog to move without pain.

  • Prevent Further Damage: Stabilizing the knee helps prevent further damage to the joint, such as meniscal tears or arthritis.

  • Improve Quality of Life: By restoring function to the knee, surgery can significantly improve the dog’s quality of life, enabling them to return to normal activities.

Types of ACL Surgery for Dogs

Several surgical techniques are available to address ACL injuries in dogs, each with its advantages and considerations.

Extracapsular Repair (Lateral Suture Technique)

This technique involves placing a strong suture material outside the joint to mimic the function of the ACL. It is typically used for smaller dogs or those with less active lifestyles.

  • Advantages: Less invasive and generally less expensive.
  • Disadvantages: May not be as durable for larger or more active dogs.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

TPLO surgery involves cutting and rotating the tibia to change the angle of the knee joint, eliminating the need for the ACL to stabilize the joint.

  • Advantages: Provides excellent stability and is effective for large and active dogs.
  • Disadvantages: More invasive, with a longer recovery time and higher cost.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

TTA surgery involves cutting the tibial tuberosity and advancing it forward, altering the biomechanics of the knee joint to provide stability without relying on the ACL.

  • Advantages: Effective for large and active dogs, with a good success rate.
  • Disadvantages: Similar to TPLO, it is invasive and expensive.

TightRope CCL

This minimally invasive technique uses a synthetic ligament to stabilize the knee joint, providing a less invasive alternative to TPLO and TTA.

  • Advantages: Less invasive with a quicker recovery time.
  • Disadvantages: May not be suitable for all dogs, particularly larger breeds.

Dog ACL Surgery Success Rate

The success rate of ACL surgery in dogs is generally high, but it can vary depending on several factors, including the type of surgery, the dog's size and activity level, and the skill of the surgeon.

Success Rates by Procedure

  • Extracapsular Repair:
    Success rates range from 85% to 90% for smaller or less active dogs.
  • TPLO:
    Success rates are around 90% to 95%, making it one of the most effective procedures for large and active dogs.
  • TTA:
    Similar to TPLO, TTA has a success rate of approximately 90% to 95%.
  • TightRope CCL:
    Success rates are generally high, but long-term data is less comprehensive compared to TPLO and TTA.

Factors Influencing Success

  • Surgeon Experience: The skill and experience of the surgeon play a crucial role in the success of the surgery.

  • Post-Operative Care: Proper post-operative care and adherence to rehabilitation protocols are essential for optimal outcomes.

  • Dog’s Health and Activity Level: The dog’s overall health, weight, and activity level can affect the success of the surgery and recovery process.

Dog ACL Surgery Recovery Week by Week

Recovery from ACL surgery is a gradual process that requires careful monitoring and adherence to post-operative care instructions.

Week 1: Immediate Post-Operative Period

  • Monitoring: Closely monitor the incision site for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or discharge.

  • Pain Management: Administer prescribed pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs to manage pain and swelling.

  • Restricted Activity: Limit your dog’s activity to short, controlled leash walks for bathroom breaks only.

Weeks 2-4: Early Recovery Phase

  • Follow-Up Visit: Schedule a follow-up visit with the veterinarian to assess healing and remove any stitches or staples.
  • Controlled Exercise: Gradually increase the duration of leash walks, but continue to restrict activity to prevent stress on the knee.
  • Physical Therapy: Begin basic physical therapy exercises, such as passive range of motion (PROM) and gentle stretching.

Weeks 4-8: Intermediate Recovery Phase

  • Increased Exercise: Slowly increase the intensity and duration of walks. Begin incorporating short, controlled inclines or gentle hills.

  • Rehabilitation Exercises: Introduce more advanced rehabilitation exercises, such as balance work and controlled leash walking over uneven surfaces.

  • Hydrotherapy: If available, hydrotherapy can be beneficial for strengthening muscles without putting stress on the joint.

Weeks 8-12: Advanced Recovery Phase

  • Full Range of Motion: Continue to work on achieving a full range of motion in the knee joint through physical therapy exercises.

  • Strength Building: Focus on strength-building exercises, such as sit-to-stand exercises and controlled jogging on a leash.

  • Gradual Return to Normal Activity: Gradually reintroduce normal activities, but avoid high-impact or strenuous activities until fully cleared by the veterinarian.

Beyond 12 Weeks: Long-Term Recovery

  • Ongoing Rehabilitation: Continue with regular physical therapy exercises to maintain strength and flexibility.

  • Activity Monitoring: Monitor your dog’s activity levels and prevent sudden bursts of high-intensity exercise.

  • Regular Check-Ups: Schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor the knee joint’s health and address any concerns promptly.

When Can My Dog Climb Stairs After ACL Surgery?

Stair climbing can put significant stress on a recovering knee joint, so it should be approached with caution.

General Guidelines

First 4 Weeks:
Avoid stairs entirely. Carry your dog up and down stairs if possible.

Weeks 4-8:
Begin allowing your dog to navigate a few stairs with supervision and support. Use a harness or sling to assist if needed.

Beyond 8 Weeks:
Gradually increase the number of stairs your dog can climb, but continue to supervise and support as necessary. Ensure your dog is comfortable and stable before allowing unrestricted stair access.

How to Lift a Dog After ACL Surgery

Properly lifting your dog after ACL surgery is crucial to avoid putting stress on the surgical site.

Lifting Techniques include:

1. Small Dogs:
Place one hand under the chest and the other under the hindquarters, lifting smoothly and evenly.

2. Medium to Large Dogs:
Use a sling or a sturdy towel under the abdomen to support the hindquarters while lifting. Another person may need to support the front end.

3. Supportive Harness:
Consider using a supportive harness designed for post-surgical dogs to provide additional support and make lifting easier.

How Long Can a Dog Wait for ACL Surgery?

The timing of ACL surgery can significantly impact the outcome and the dog’s overall health.

Immediate vs. Delayed Surgery

  • Immediate Surgery: Performing surgery soon after the injury can prevent further damage to the knee joint and improve the chances of a successful outcome.
  • Delayed Surgery: Delaying surgery can lead to worsening joint instability, increased pain, and a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Factors to Consider

  • Severity of Injury: More severe tears may require immediate intervention.
  • Dog’s Overall Health: The dog’s overall health and ability to undergo anesthesia should be considered.
  • Owner’s Schedule and Resources: Owners should plan for the time and resources needed for post-operative care and rehabilitation.

Dog ACL Surgery Alternatives

For some dogs, surgery may not be an option due to health, age, or other factors. In such cases, alternative treatments can be considered.

Conservative Management

  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce stress on the knee joint.
  • Pain Management: Using medications such as NSAIDs, opioids, or corticosteroids to manage pain and inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: Engaging in physical therapy exercises to strengthen muscles and improve joint stability.
  • Bracing: Using a custom-made knee brace to provide support and stability to the injured knee.

Regenerative Medicine

  • Stem Cell Therapy: Using stem cells to promote healing and reduce inflammation in the damaged knee joint.
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy: Injecting concentrated platelets into the joint to accelerate healing and reduce inflammation.

Can a Dog’s Torn ACL Heal Without Surgery?

While some partial ACL tears may heal with conservative management, complete tears typically require surgical intervention for optimal recovery.

Healing Without Surgery

  • Partial Tears: Partial ACL tears may heal with rest, physical therapy, and conservative management, but there is a risk of complete rupture if the knee is not adequately stabilized.
  • Complete Tears: Complete ACL tears generally do not heal on their own. Without surgical intervention, the knee joint remains unstable, leading to chronic pain, lameness, and the development of arthritis.

Considerations for Non-Surgical Management

  • Dog’s Age and Health: Older dogs or those with other health issues may be better candidates for conservative management.
  • Owner’s Commitment: Conservative management requires a high level of commitment to rest, physical therapy, and ongoing care.


Dog ACL surgery is a critical procedure for restoring knee joint stability and improving the quality of life for dogs with ACL injuries. Understanding the different types of surgeries, recovery process, success rates, and alternatives can help dog owners make informed decisions for their pets. By working closely with a veterinarian and adhering to post-operative care instructions, owners can help their dogs achieve the best possible outcomes and return to an active, pain-free life.

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