Why a Dog’s Torn ACL WON’T Heal on its Own

Many pet owners may believe that their dog’s torn ACL healed on its own because their dog is walking again without a limp. This is simply not the case. It is likely that the original injury was a sprain, which can heal without surgery, or that the tear was stabilized by scar tissue. If it’s the latter, then your dog’s leg is stabilized, not healed. 

Scar tissue can cause a multitude of problems for your dog later down the road. For instance, it may cause your dog pain, stiffness, and cause arthritis to develop early. Scat tissues is not your ACL mending itself either, it is simply your dog’s internal response to an injury. 

Simply put: a dog’s torn ACL will not heal on its own without surgery. Here at Doggy Brace, we understand that not all dogs are candidates for surgery. If your pet is one of them, there are options available to help support their leg while they’re recovering. We talked about that in a past blog

For now, let’s look at why an ACL won’t heal on its own. 

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Knee

Before we begin, it’s important to remember that a dog only has knees and ACLs (technically called CCL — cranial cruciate ligament — but we’ll be using ACL for colloquialism) in their hind legs. Neither are present in their front limbs. 

Next, a dog’s knee and ACL and a human’s knee and ACL are not the same. The Whole Dog Journal explains that your dog’s knees are always slightly bent, while a humans can straighten theirs completely. This makes a world of difference in knee anatomy! In fact, your dog’s anatomy is why dogs injury their knees more commonly than humans do. 

Let’s break it down further. Femurs — the top bone in a leg — are rounded at the bottom. The tibia — the bottom bone, also known as the shinbone — has a flat top. So a rounded bone is sitting on a flat surface. The two bones are connected by a ligament known as the ACL (the dog’s caudal ligament also comes into play here). 

For dogs, the femur is always resting on a tilted tibia, meaning their ACL is always undergoing stress. This is why it’s easier for a dog to hurt their leg!

How Injuries Typically Heal

Before we look at why an ACL injury doesn’t heal, let’s look at the science behind the healing process. Injuries need to be exposed to regular blood circulation to heal. 

The University of Rochester Medical Center broke it down. 

  •  Blood-borne oxygen is needed for healing
  • The right balance of oxygen is also important — too much or too little and the wound won’t heal correctly
  • White blood cells called macrophages fight infection and oversee the repair process
  • Blood cells, including oxygen-rich red blood cells, arrive to help build new tissue
  • Chemical signals tell the cells to create collagen, which serves as scaffolding, for the red blood cells
  • Over time, the new tissue gets stronger. 
    • In about 3 months, the wound is 80% as strong as it was before the injury. But the wound area will never reach 100% of its original strength. 

Basically, red blood cells work to rebuild the injured area while white blood cells are key to fight off any infection. 

However, an ACL does not have a strong blood supply. The circulation to this ligament is very limited, thus it does not have access to red blood cells. A lack of circulation of blood through it means a lack of healing. 

Since a Dog’s ACL Doesn’t Heal, What Can I Do?

Let’s be clear: sprains, which are microscopic tears, can heal on their own. They should not leave any lasting damage. Only partial and complete tears require veterinary attention. 

As we state above, if your dog is a candidate for surgery, consider it. A surgery will reconstruct the ligament and allow your dog to move freely after recovery without scar tissue forming over the ligament. 

If surgery is not an option, don’t panic. There are still plenty of alternatives that can help your pup! All of them require an adjustment to their lifestyle, but most of them are easily added to yours and your dog’s day-to-day life. 

First, limit their activity. You should not let your dog run until their injury is stabilized. Even then, monitor your dog carefully during playtime to make sure they don’t overdo it! The ligament is still weak and will be prone to future tears if your dog puts too much stress on it. 

Thankfully, there is an easy solution to that too. The Doggy Brace is a specifically designed knee brace to fit your dog’s hind leg to support your pup’s injured CCL. It comfortably restricts movement while supporting your dog’s leg during even the most rousing game of fetch. 

How Does Doggy Brace Work?

The Doggy Brace works just like a brace for humans! You slip it on over your pooch’s leg and tighten it. That’s it! Doggy Brace also has an optional backstrap for added support. However, if your dog doesn’t like the strap, you can easily remove it with scissors without compromising the integrity of the brace. 

If you want to learn more on how a brace can help, contact us today!

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