Oh no! Your beloved canine companion lets out a horrendous yelp while frolicking at the dog park with her best friends. The only thing sadder than her limp is her facial expression as she slowly approaches you, clearly wondering what happened and why it hurts.

One of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs is the rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which keeps the knee stable. Although small-breed dogs can tear the CCL, the injury is more common in large breeds.

There are two ways the CCL can tear:

  • Excessive force, such as stepping in a hole or taking a sharp turn while chasing a squirrel
  • Years of wear and tear can weaken the ligament and it can suddenly snap by something as simple as stumbling over a rock

Diagnosing a CCL tear

If your pup has the misfortune of “blowing her knee,” she may toe touch, or put very little weight on the affected leg while walking. If the rupture is severe, she may not put any weight on the leg at all.

Your dog might not appear to be painful after the initial injury. She may let out a yelp while chasing a rabbit around the yard but not complain when her leg is touched to check for injuries. Pain and inflammation occur in the knee joint after such an injury, but the instability of that joint is the primary cause of limping.

While performing a lameness exam, we will check for a cranial drawer sign. If a ligament in the knee joint is torn, the lower leg bone (tibia) will be able to be shifted in front of the thigh bone (femur). X-rays of the knee may also be needed to help diagnose a CCL tear.

Treating a CCL tear

Veterinary management

Once we diagnose your dog’s CCL rupture, we’ll begin the long process to get her back in tip-top shape, which may include:

  • Surgery is usually the first step on the road to recovery. Some cases can be medically managed, but most pets require surgery. There are several options for stabilizing the knee, and we’ll determine the best choice available for your pet.
  • Cold laser therapy helps speed recovery by stimulating blood circulation and regenerating cells. It’s a quick procedure that’s excellent for tissue healing.
  • Physical therapy is crucial for regaining normal function of the leg after surgery. Passive range of motion exercises and massage help stimulate blood flow and circulation, prevent contracture and stiffness in the knee, reduce scar tissue, and promote joint and cartilage health. We’ll show you how to perform certain exercises at home to help your pet heal.
  • Cold and hot compresses are simple ways to improve circulation and reduce inflammation and pain. We’ll guide you on the appropriate therapy during the different stages of your dog’s healing process.
  • Pain/anti-inflammatory medication will be prescribed based on your pet’s needs to help keep her comfortable while on the road to recovery.


At-home management

Unfortunately, 40 to 60 percent of dogs will damage the ligament in the opposite knee after injuring the first knee. Several key management techniques can help your canine companion fully recover from knee surgery while preventing an injury in the opposite knee:

  • Weight management is just as important as surgery in helping your dog recover from this debilitating injury (and in preventing it from occurring in the first place). More than 50 percent of U.S. pets are overweight or obese. The extra strain on an overweight pet’s joints weakens the ligaments and predisposes them to tears. Unsure about your pet’s ideal weight? Ask us for help creating a weight management plan.
  • Supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids are excellent for maintaining joint health. As a natural anti-inflammatory and chondroprotectant, fatty acids help promote cartilage and joint health.
  • Routine exercise and your pet’s physical therapy plan will help keep her in peak condition. Low-impact exercise helps preserve muscle mass and keeps joints strong and healthy.
  • Environmental changes can be simple to implement and can make your dog more comfortable. Try these:
    • Cover slippery floor surfaces with rugs
    • Build ramps to use instead of stairs

Provide well-padded resting places to reduce joint stress


Think your dog has injured her knee? Call or text us at 937-866-5949 to get your canine companion on the path to recovery.