Why is it that an ACL injury in dogs is the most common orthopedic injury in all veterinary medicine? Did nature not make this ligament strong enough in dogs? Is it due to bad breeding or are there other factors in play here?
This question comes up a lot in discussions with my clients. At the end of the day, they want to know why their dog got this injury.
Here are the 5 Most Common predisposing factors to ACL injuries in dogs.
1. Bad Breeding:
We are all familiar with the term hip dysplasia. It has been well documented that the two most common causes of this disease condition in dogs are bad breeding and overnutrition at a young age. But how do hip problems lead to ACL injury? It is simple. Compensation. Over the years we have made the direct correlation between ACL tears and hips. If a dog blows their right ACL and you X-ray the hip, many times you will see that the left hip is not good. This all makes sense right? If your left hip hurts you are going to compensate and place more weight and stress on your right leg. Over time, this added stress weakens the Cranial Cruciate Ligament in that right knee. All it takes is the right movement or hyperextension in the right and POW you blow the right.
2. Natural Load:
Dogs walk with their knees bent at all times. This means that the ACL ligament always is “loaded” ie. carrying weight. Whereas in humans we walk with force on our knees straight up and down. This is why people mostly see injury to the ACL in athletes who hyperextend the knee, for example, football or basketball players.
It is well documented that approximately 50% of dogs today are clinically overweight and in most cases obese. The more weight on the ligament the more strain over time.
4. Weekend Warrior Syndrome
This is what I call the plague of the domestic dog. Most dogs are natural athletes but in western society, due to our lifestyle and work schedules, we don’t give our dogs enough exercise regularly. When we do allow them to be dogs and exercise, more often than not, we overdo it. Lack of exercise means weaker muscle and weaker soft tissue ligaments making them more prone to injury.
The most common description of this injury goes something like this: the dog was chasing a ball, squirrel, another dog, and, when the owner heard a yelp and then the dog came back into the house it was holding its leg up.
5. Lack of Recognizing Early Warning Signs
Many times, dogs have joint health issues which are underlying and go undiagnosed by both pet owners and veterinarians, due to a lack of people’s understanding of what I call the 12 subtle signs of arthritis. Check out the video discussing these 12 signs and types of arthritis.
To Sum Up:
Give your dog the best opportunity of avoiding an injury to their ACL by making sure they are at ideal body weight, you exercise them regularly, and don’t allow them to overdo it without proper conditioning. In addition, proper supplementation and nutrition for their joints is key and I recommend getting a prophetic X-ray taken of their hips and lumbar spine to ensure good body structure and, lastly, be informed about the early warning signs of arthritis
Lisa we are humbled to be able to help you guys. Sounds like you are an amazing mom.
Our 2 year old Akita just completed her recovery from her second TTA surgery in 9 months. Prior to her surgery, I read all I could about the surgery and was quite anxious about having it done. Luckily I found your recovery guide. It gave us a good idea of what we could expect. We were able to track her daily progress from her first surgery so we could compare notes when she had the second surgery. Without the guide she probably wouldn’t be in as good shape as she is today (we didn’t get a lot of take home instructions from the vet). Thank you so much for providing the information. It’s been a long tough road but Sasha is doing extremely well and has healed great.
I think Sahara messed up her ACL due to trauma. I rescued her almost a year ago and it was obvious she had a lot of physical damage in her past. Holes in her right pectoral muscle. Long scars on her left side extending to her last rib. Scars from chest to elbow. Broken femur on the right side which had healed badly and caused the need for FHO surgery, which she had about two months ago. I always believed her right knee was also messed up, but my vet wasn’t so sure. Today, they confirmed she has probably a complete tear in the right cruciate with possibly some scar tissue having stabilized and a torn meniscus. She’s not totally three legging it – only when she moves at some speed. So, the question will be whether she could handle or benefit from ACL/Meniscus surgery on the same leg as the FHO and if it would be a good idea or not. She is only 44 pounds, so traditional surgery would be the way I would go due to expense, if I could do that right now.
So far, the left hip and knee shows no signs of wear and tear. Who knows when all of this stuff happened, but I would say several years ago (the damage). She is guessed to be around 7.
Your guidelines on FHO really gave me wonderful directions of what to do after her FHO surgery. The knee threw in some loose screws along the way because that was bothering her.
Nancy you raise some great points and topics that are hot is veterinary medicine. There are so many potential underlying factors I think we could create a long list of things which need to be investigated. That said, as of right now my attention and focus would be on the more blantanly obvious risk factors that we see on a regular basis such as 50% of dogs being over-weight and the common lack of daily conditioning and exercise etc.
My dog jumped up into my pickup truck and caught her right rear leg… Just went through TTA surgery. She’s on supplements, getting great therapy at home (thanks to your fabulous guides) and professionally, class 4 laser treatments, underwater treadmill, and acupuncture. In dealing with the various offices, I’ve heard that vets used to only see dog leg injuries from broken legs. Now they’ve seen a tremendous increase in knee injuries. The question, as you have pointed out, is “why?” I appreciate your comments, but I also wonder about all the dogs eating commercially produced dog food and suspect that might well play a part in the knee weakness. Also, one of the vet offices suggested that hormones (or rather the lack thereof) from early and common spaying/neutering play a part in the weak knees. Thankfully, I make my dog’s food in my kitchen and feel quite good about that. Interestingly, I’ve started reading about vets who perform tubal ligations and vasectomies, thereby maintaining the body’s natural hormone production. I wonder if you have any comments about commercial food and/or hormone influence on knee weakness in dogs in this day and age. Thank you.