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An Overview of Different Treatments for CCL Injuries in Dogs

by Justin Girdler |

Professional and high-level athletes are often at risk for ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries. Similarly, athletic dogs can experience these injuries and rupture their CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) if they’re not careful.

The CCL of dogs is the equivalent of the ACL in humans. Both ligaments can get ruptured and stifle the knee joint. Detecting and addressing early signs of a damaged CCL is crucial as it may cause a partially or fully unstable joint more pain, and lameness.

In this article, we’ll look at the signs, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for canine CCL injuries.

What Causes a CCL Injury in Dogs?

Physical trauma and weakening ligaments mostly cause dog CCL injuries. Let’s take a closer look at these factors:


As we’ve mentioned, your pet can be prone to a ruptured CCL, even if it’s athletic or highly active. The sudden change in direction when running, jumping, and other similar jerks or movements can put a lot of stress on the CCL and cause it to rupture.

Even simple movements like running down the stairs or jumping off the bed can tear the CCL of your pet if it’s careless. The weight and breed of your pet can contribute to its susceptibility to CCL injuries. The heavier your dog is, the more pressure its legs will need to withstand.

Here are some breeds that are most susceptible to a CCL injury:

  • Mastiff
  • Akita
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Newfoundland
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Staffordshire Terrier

Degenerating Ligaments

Chronic CCL injuries occur as the ligament weakens over time. This can be due to age or degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis. If your canine keeps using its weak leg due to degeneration, it will only get worse and eventually rupture.

What are the Symptoms of a CCL Injury?

Common signs of CCL injuries can include:

  • Limping or lameness
  • Toe touch or placing less weight on the injured leg
  • Stiffness after exercising
  • Swelling around the injured knee
  • Difficulty getting up or lying down
  • Pain or tenderness near the affected knee
  • Decreased activity (when the injury is in its later stages)

Many dogs will only show these symptoms once their injury gets worse. It can also develop into arthritis and other joint-related conditions that are detrimental to the CCL.

How Will My Vet Diagnose a Canine CCL Injury?

First, your veterinarian will ask you about your pet’s medical history and what it was doing before getting injured. A typical scenario would be your pet running or performing strenuous activity, then suddenly stopping and crying. After that, your canine may start limping and bearing more weight on the unaffected leg.

During your pet’s physical exam, your vet may perform a “drawer sign” test. The doctor will hold your canine’s femur (thigh bone) in place, then move the tibia (shin bone) forward to see how it moves in relation to the femer.

If the tibia moves like a drawer sliding forward, it may mean your pet has ruptured its CCL. Take note that even if the tibia normally moves after the drawer test, your pet can still have a torn CCL. Your vet may perform other exams to diagnose a CCL injury thoroughly.

Finally, your vet will take X-rays of your pet’s knee. These radiographs will help the doctor determine how serious the injury is and whether bone fragments broke off when the CCL ruptured.

What are the Treatment Options for a Torn CCL in Dogs?

After your vet diagnoses your pet, they’ll recommend a suitable treatment for it. These procedures can either be surgical or non-surgical methods.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Your dog may not need surgery if it:

  • Experiences a CCL strain but weighs below 30 pounds
  • Identifies as a larger, overweight breed with a minor injury

In either of these cases, conservative treatment may be enough. Options include rest, limited activity, and pain and anti-inflammatory medications. If your vet prescribes pain medications, your pet could take six weeks to two months.

Also, your vet may recommend weight management if your dog is overweight. Which may involve:

  • Feeding your pet its usual food in the morning, then some green beans and kibble, and a multivitamin supplement at night.
  • Providing your canine with healthier food options.
  • Exercising your dog - Talk to your vet about exercise programs or running with your canine. You can also get your dog into canine sports like agility contests or running through obstacle courses.

Surgery for CCL in Dogs

You can also treat its torn CCL through surgery. The best surgical procedure will depend on the size, age, and breed of your dog, as well as the severity of the injury. These surgical methods include the following:

TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy)

The TPLO procedure is the procedure that most veterinary surgeons perform across all breeds and weight ranges. TPLO surgery changes the position of the tibia and the femur to reduce the forward movement of the tibia whenever your dog walks or runs removing the need for the CCL.

A TPLO procedure involves the surgeon making a semi-circular cut through the top of the tibia. Then, the doctor will rotate the top section counterclockwise until they achieve the desired angle between the proximal (top) and distal (bottom) tibia. Lastly, the surgeon will secure the bone in place using screws and a bone plate.

If your dog underwent a TPLO procedure, make sure to limit its movements and exercise for at least eight to twelve weeks or as your veterinary surgeon tells you. Let your dog rest and give the incision time to heal without allowing your pet to lick, bite, or chew.

At two weeks post-surgery, your vet will commonly re-examine your dog and see how the incision site has healed. Commonly you’ll then return to the vet around eight weeks post-TPLO for radiographic review.

Once your vet clears your dog, it can get back to regular activity. Take it slow even if your furry friend feels like they have completely recovered.

Lateral Suture Stabilization

Lateral suture stabilization (LSS) or extracapsular repair is an acceptable procedure for canines weighing less than 20 pounds. Here, a surgeon stabilizes the knee using a monofilament, a fine fiber that looks like a fishing line. The doctor then places the line outside the knee, replicating the ruptured ligament’s structure and ensuring the joints move properly.

Like TPLO, you must limit your pet’s activity after an extracapsular procedure. That said, the extracapsular repair is a soft tissue surgery which is inherently less invasive than the cutting of the bone. That said, the TPLO out of all of the surgical options is far superior as the literature supports.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)

A small percentage of surgeons prefer to perform the TTA procedure on dogs who suffer from CCL injuries.

The doctor will cut the tibial tuberosity (the top portion of the bone facing forward), then separate it from the tibia’s other sections. After that, the surgeon will place a special orthopedic spacer between the two sections of bone. This will help to reduce the TPA or tibial plateau angle in turn reducing the amount of tibial thrust (process of tibia moving forward and up when the CCL is ruptured).

How Can I Help Prevent a Dog CCL Injury?

Treatment options for a CCL injury in a dog have since improved. Still, you should help your pet avoid this injury or delay its onset.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, an overweight or obese dog is more prone to tearing its CCL. If you’re unsure whether your dog is overweight, the tips below can help you spot warning signs.

  • Look at your pet’s body shape. An overweight dog will have a slightly chubby and oval-shaped body.
  • Feel your dog’s ribs. Excess fat can keep you from feeling your pet’s ribs.
  • Look at your canine from the side. If you see a sagging waist or swaying stomach, your pet may have gained extra weight. Fit dogs will have a slightly raised waist.
  • Check your pet for fat pads. You may find fat pads between your dog’s legs or over its hips.
  • Watch how your canine behaves. An overweight dog may rest all day and become unable to walk, move, or breathe properly.

Help Your Furry Friend Recover from a Ruptured CCL

Recovering from a CCL treatment for dogs, especially invasive ones, can take months. During this time, you must ease your pet’s pain and help it heal so it can live healthy and pain-free. Preventing licking is the primary goal, as licking the would will be your dog’s first response to recovering from surgery. Lick Sleeve provides the best product to cover your pet’s rear or front leg, and prevent unwanted licking.

You should also ensure that your canine doesn’t tear its CCL again. That said, watching your pet’s activity, diet, and weight is essential. By following these steps, you can lower your furbaby’s risk for CCL injuries.

Do you need help taking care of your pet? Find helpful, comprehensive guides on canine health and wellness on the Lick Sleeve blog today.

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