Dogs, like humans, often have injuries to their knee joints which cause difficulty with mobility. One of the most common causes of lameness in dogs is associated degenerative changes in the Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL). The CCL is a ligament inside of the knee joint that keeps the femur (upper long bone in the rear leg) in line with the tibia (lower long bone in the rear leg). The CCL is important for function because it transfers the force of load bearing from the upper leg to the lower leg. When this ligament is strained or has a tear, the knee joint becomes unstable. This can cause fluid accumulation in the joint and painful inflammation. If the instability is not corrected, crippling arthritis can result. Unfortunately, the degenerative process also affects the other knee joint. Dogs tend to transfer weight bearing to the other leg leading to a 70 percent chance of an additional injury in that leg.
The onset of lameness may seem like an acute injury. In reality, the CCL has most likely reached the point of tearing after weakening over a period of time.
There are several surgical options to address knee joint problems in dogs. The type of surgery depends on the dog’s size, body condition and lifestyle. The ultimate success of surgery is largely dependent on limiting a dog’s activity for three to four months after the procedure. In situations where surgery is not an option, some dogs can benefit from physical therapy and alternative therapies such as acupuncture.
Managing your dog’s weight can help prevent knee joint problems. In larger dogs, delaying neutering or spaying may also reduce the risk for this disease.
If your dog appears to avoid putting weight on one leg, or shows other signs of lameness, it’s important to take your pet to a veterinarian for an examination and guidance with ongoing care.
Originally published December 2015 in the Huntersville Herald.