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Dog Arthritis/Lameness

Dog Arthritis/Lameness

Polish Tatra Sheepdog pup

Dog Arthritis/Lameness

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a very common orthopedic problem in dogs. Sooner or later, most dog owners will encounter this issue. A torn cruciate can be a painful and debilitating injury for dogs and humans alike.

The Normal Knee

A dog’s knee is constructed much like a human knee. The knee is a complex joint composed of the femur (leg bone), tibia (shin bone), patella (kneecap) and several soft tissue structures that hold everything in place. These include the anterior and posterior cruciates. The cruciates are 2 fibrous bands inside the knee joint that cross like an X (see diagrams below). They keep the knee stable especially during twisting or pivoting movements. The anterior cruciate ligament is the most injury prone–as any athlete will tell you. A violent twist or clumsy landing can rupture (i.e., tear) the ACL. This causes pain and instability in the knee. The meniscus is a cartilage pad inside the joint that cushions the knee bones. When the ACL is torn, there is a 1 in 3 chance the meniscus will be damaged as well.

Diagram_1    Diagram_2


In dogs, an ACL rupture typically occurs when the animal pivots or slips while running hard, causing a forcible twist or hyperextension of the knee. Contributing factors include age, genetics and obesity. Dogs of any age can have a tear their ACL, although it is more common as dogs age, or if they are carrying extra body weight. Certain breeds, such as Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Akitas, St. Bernards, Rottweilers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, and American Staffordshire terriers, are more prone to ACL injuries. A full ACL tear may start as a partial tear, which degrades the ligament over time, until one last misstep severs it completely.


The most common symptom of ACL rupture in dogs is a sudden hindlimb lameness. The dog is reluctant or unable to bear weight on the injured leg. The leg is held up or just grazes the ground when walking or running. The knee may be noticeably swollen and tender to the touch. Over time, the lameness may improve somewhat, but will intermittently flare up.

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