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Natural dog joint support to alleviate arthritis, muscle, and joint discomfort

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Vet Tech Rounds: Cruciate Ligament Tears in Dogs

Vet Talks 4 min read
Vet Tech Rounds: Cruciate Ligament Tears in Dogs

Cruciate Ligament Tears in Dogs

Just like humans, dogs have two ligaments that help to stabilize the stifle (knee) joint. In pets, these ligaments are called the cranial cruciate ligament and the caudal cruciate ligament. The word ‘cruciate’ means ‘to cross’. These ligaments cross over one another between the bones that form the stifle joint to stabilize the joint.


The most common time for this injury to occur is with a burst of speed.

A very common injury in dogs is the cranial crucial ligament tears (equivalent to the anterior cruciate ligament, ‘ACL’, in humans). When this ligament is put under intense strain due to an awkward sudden movement or repetitive motion it can tear or rupture. When this ligament is damaged, it is no longer able to support the stifle joint, causing the joint to slip uncomfortable forward with each step.

The first sign that pet parents often notice with a ruptured cruciate ligament is a sudden cry of discomfort. The most common time for this injury to occur is with a burst of speed, like chasing a ball or running after a squirrel. These activities put a huge amount of stress on the knee and often involve a quick directional change. The pet parent will notice their dog cry out and then be reluctant to put any weight on the affected leg.


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To veterinary staff, who unfortunately see many of these types of injuries, the diagnosis is usually fairly clear from the moment the dog enters the clinic. Because of the degree of discomfort, the dog will often not put any weight on the leg at all but will only be ‘toe touching’, just gently touching the ground, with that foot. Confirming diagnosis involves x-rays and joint manipulation. There is a distinctive movement, called a ‘drawer sign’, that occurs when the veterinarian manipulates the joint. This movement is the joint sliding back to front which is only possible with a rupture of the ligament.


If left untreated, this injury causes severe discomfort and eventually causes severe arthritic changes in the joint. It can also lead to a build-up of fluid, or ‘effusion’ in the joint.

The only effective treatment for a torn cruciate ligament is surgery. Some smaller dogs may be able to manage with long-term discomfort medications; however, this is not ideal. This condition is extremely uncomfortable and damaging to the joint. One of the most common surgical procedures for a torn cruciate ligament is a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO). In this procedure, the ligament is not repaired, but the joint is reoriented to prevent uncomfortable slipping. This makes the cranial cruciate ligament unnecessary.

One of the main bones that form the stifle joint is the tibia. The surgeon will measure the angles of this joint on x-ray and will surgically reshape the joint by cutting a notch from the top of the bone and rotating it. This levels out the top, or plateau, of the tibia and prevents the joint from slipping. The cut bone is then reattached using a surgical plate. The benefit to this surgery is that there is no chance of a re-rupture in this joint.

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Prevention of Cruciate Ligament Tears

There is no absolute way to prevent cruciate ligament tears. Larger breed dogs are more likely to face this type of injury. One factor for this injury can be obesity. Extra weight on the body puts undue stress on the joints which can weaken the ligaments over time and lead to rupture.

Unfortunately, most dogs who rupture one cruciate ligament end up rupturing the other side at some point. This is either due to a genetic predisposition or to the change in the dog’s gait after surgery. The dog will naturally put more weight and strain on the healthy joint after surgery, increasing the chances of injury to the healthier joint.

Support for Cruciate Ligament Tears

NHV Old Timer, Turmeric, and Yucca can be beneficial leading up to and after surgery to help your dog heal comfortably and to help ease the discomfort of any joint changes such as arthritis or effusion. They work together synergistically to help fight inflammation and ease discomfort.

If your pup is suffering from a cruciate tear or another uncomfortable orthopedic condition, contact our pet experts to find out which supplements may help.

Johanna RVT

Johanna RVT

Johanna is NHV’s in house Registered Veterinary Technician. Technicians are the veterinary equivalent of a human nurse. Johanna has over 10 years of experience in different types of veterinary clinics and hospitals. She has seen and assisted in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions and injuries. She will share her experiences in her monthly blog series “Vet Tech Rounds” to help our extended NHV family learn about common preventable medical cases and other interesting stories of vet clinic life.

Published: August 24, 2018

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