Is it a muscle cramp, arthritis, a sprain? Or has your dog torn his or her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)? Figuring it out can be hard without going to the vet first. If your dog has torn his or her ACL, chances are they are in an immense amount of pain. The ACL plays a pivotal role in your pup being able to be mobile— a very imperative function.
While we strongly recommend you take your limping pup to the vet, we also encourage you to read this blog to learn more about how dogs tear their ACLS and what the symptoms of a torn acl could look like.
How Do Dogs Tear Their ACLs?
These wiggly, funny creatures can hurt themselves in all kinds of ways — but the most common cause for a torn ACL is a twisting motion at the knee joint. Sometimes a torn ACL is the byproduct of a traumatic injury to the knee joint as well. Other common ways that dogs tear their ACLs are:
Running and Playing
Active dogs that like to run, jump, and play can sometimes tear their ACL if they suddenly change direction or make a sharp turn. This is especially common for pups that are “working” dogs, like shepherds and cattle dogs. Those that participate in agility sports like flyball and frisbee can suffer a torn ACL this way as well.
Overweight dogs are more prone to tearing their ACL because they put more stress on their joints. Obesity is really hard on a dog’s body in many ways, but especially for the joints. Time is also not kind to an overweight dog. If your dog has been obese for the majority of its life, chances are that his or her ligaments and joints have become weakened. This increases the probability of an ACL tear.
Some dog breeds are more prone to ACL tears than others. For instance, Labrador Retrievers are more at risk for a torn ACL than other dogs because of their playful nature. One minute Labs are laying down like the big lazy loads they are, and the next they are springing into the air to catch a ball. Rottweilers, another common breed prone to a torn ACL, often endure this injury because of the heavy weight on their joints. It’s common for German Shepherds to experience torn ACLs, too.
The older the dog, the more prone to an ACL tear. Why? Because a dog’s ligaments and joints become weaker and less flexible over time.
Other Health Conditions
Dogs with other health conditions like hip dysplasia or arthritis are more likely to tear their ACL because their joints are already weakened.
Signs and Symptoms of a Torn ACL
It’s common for pups to tear their ACL, as awful and painful as it may be. As mentioned earlier, a torn ACL can cause severe pain and discomfort. What’s worse, is sometimes it’s hard to depict if your dog actually has a torn ACL or something else. We’ve listed some true-telling symptoms below to help you navigate what to do next.
A torn ACL can cause your dog to limp or favor one leg. Your dog may avoid putting weight on the affected leg, or may hold the leg up when walking. The leg might be hiked up high with your dog not allowing the paw to touch the ground.
Your dog’s knee joint may become swollen and tender. The swelling may be mild to severe, depending on the severity of the injury. You can gently feel around this area to determine how tender the area is or how swollen it is.
Difficulty Walking or Standing
A torn ACL can make it difficult for your dog to walk or stand. Your dog may have trouble getting up, or may stumble or fall.
Your dog may be in pain, especially when you touch the affected leg or try to move it. This is a different kind of pain—it will be severe. The pain threshold is a big way for humans to know if their pet has torn their ACL. This pain will be different than if your dog was to, say, step on a thorn or a piece of cacti.
Your pup may struggle to be active, go on walks, or just plain be him/herself. You might see a decrease in appetite due to pain as well. Your dog may also be tired more often than usual, or be easy to lay down after light exercise.
Prevent ACL Tears
You can prevent ACL tears in dogs by getting them a knee brace, keeping them at a healthy weight, engaging in low-impact exercise, and keeping an eye on your dog’s activity levels. If you suspect that your dog has torn his ACL, it’s important to take him to the veterinarian for an evaluation. Your vet can examine your dog’s leg, perform diagnostic tests such as X-rays or an MRI, and recommend a course of treatment. Treatments for torn ACLs may include surgery, conservative management with medication, and physical therapy.
If you are helping your dog recover and are in search of a knee brace for support, please click here to find the right one for your pup.