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Is Your Dog Limping After ACL Surgery?

It’s normal to see a dog limping after ACL surgery, especially in the first few days after surgery. While recovery times vary from dog to dog, it can take six to eight weeks for your dog to be back to normal after knee surgery. There’s no rush. The important thing is to work with your veterinarian in the weeks to come. The veterinarian will be able to access your dog’s progress and provide good quality care during the healing time.

This post will show you ways to manage your dog’s pain and recovery post-surgery.

What to Expect Right After Surgery

Advancements have been made to the type and amount of general anesthesia used in dogs. Most dogs leave the clinic fully awake and feeling great. Thanks to pre-and-post medication, there’s a very good chance your dog will make a quick recovery. However, there are a few things you should know in the meantime.

Week One – Post Surgery

The only exercise your dog should be getting in the week following surgery are short trips to the bathroom. You might want to help your dog navigate around while the weight-bearing leg is healing.

Dog Sling/Rehabilitation Harness

Dog slings are an inexpensive tool for helping your dog get up short flights of stairs or into a car. This is especially useful if your dog is too big to pick up on your own.

A few highly recommended favorites include these:

The veterinarian may want to have a look at your dog about one week after the surgery. He/she will probably check the incision site looking for any signs of infection. You may be asked about your dog’s appetite, range of motion, bathroom habits, and sleep.

Week Two – Post Surgery

The stitches come off during the second week, but it’s still important to keep your dog as calm as possible. Now’s not the time to invite house guests for the weekend. Keep your dog away from other animals as much as possible so that he/she can rest without getting overexcited.

Once again, the veterinarian may want to see your dog for follow-up. This might depend on the veterinarian and whether your dog is healing normally, or if the veterinarian suspects

Give Your Dog a Lift!

Some veterinarians suggest leashing your dog to your waist while you’re at home. That way, if there is a sudden noise or company at the door, your dog doesn’t have a chance to react with a lunge or a jump.

Best Dog Harness/Lead Ever

If you haven’t heard of the GingerLead Dog Support & Rehabilitation Harness, please have a look. They’re more expensive than some of the slings on the market, but they’re also made with real consideration for you and your dog’s comfort.

Have a look at the option below.

Check Up Appointments Are a Must!

It’s important to maintain follow-up appointments after knee surgery in dogs, especially if your dog is on medication. Pain medications are meant to be temporary. The veterinarian will want to assess your dog’s progress, strength, appetite, sleep, bathroom habits, and may decide to adjust the medication dosage.

There will be check-up appointments after the first and second week post surgery. After that, you will need to bring your dog in at four, six, and eight weeks.

What The Surgical Site Should Look Like

You may see a little clear discharge tinged with blood for a few days after the surgery, but this is normal.

If the discharge changes color, there is redness around the site, or your notice a foul odor, your dog could have an infection. It’s important to know that with quality care, this is a rare occurrence.

Keep the Area Clean

It’s important to keep your dog from licking the site while keeping the area clean. Elizabethan collars are an uncomfortable necessity sometimes. Shortly after the surgery, you’ll want to keep your dog’s mouth away from the site. The veterinarian may have plastic cones for rent or purchase.

Top Recovery Option for Dogs with ACL Knee Surgery

Suitical Recovery Suit Dog – Large

Better options include large, soft rings that fit comfortably around your dog’s neck like the Goodboy Comfortable Recovery Collar.

A few collars that I would use on my dogs include the following:

The veterinarian might recommend a gentle, antibiotic swab. If using swabs like those in the gallery below, be very gentle. Do not overuse the product and use it in small dabbing motions around the surgical.

Why Do Dogs Get Torn ACL’s?

Torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL), known as cranial cruciate ligaments in dogs (CCL) are common and account for about 85% of clinical cases.

Torn or ruptured CCL in dogs can be the result of intense play or exercise. Oftentimes, however, the ligament has weakened over time and would have torn or ruptured eventually.

Dogs, like people, can develop osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that wears away cartilage from the stifle joint (knee).

Sometimes there are no symptoms to alert the dog owner that anything is wrong. Most of the time, however, you will notice your dog is suddenly limping, has a hopping gait, or lifts the weight bearing leg.

Try This to Protect Your Dog’s Joints

As the cartilage wears away, the ligaments lose their integrity and weaken. The tear can happen very quickly after that. A normal day at the park or a game of ball can cause the sudden tear. Sudden stops and starts are often the cause.

Supplements for Joint Health

A lot can be said for supplementing your dog’s diet with formulas designed to control cartilage loss. Giving your dog supplements won’t guarantee a pain-free life, but they can go a long way if used properly.

The best time to start your dog on joint supplements is before he/she develops joint problems. However, it’s never too late. Always talk to the veterinarian about the best supplements for your dog. Older dogs especially have specific nutritional requirements. In addition, dogs who are on other medications may benefit from specific brands.

For reference, check out

How Can I Tell if My Dog has a Torn ACL?

The first sign of a complete or partial tear is limping. The first place most people look for signs of trauma are the paws. If you don’t see anything obviously wrong on the paw, have a look at the back legs where the knee joints are.

Do not press on the area or attempt to move your dog’s knee joint back and forth. Observe your dog’s gait to determine if he/she is limping a lot, avoiding putting weight on the leg, hopping, or showing any signs of pain.

The joint may not look different right after an injury. If you suspect a torn ACL (or CCL in dogs), see the veterinarian.

Types of Tests Your Veterinarian May Perform to Determine Dog Knee Injuries

Tibial Compression Test

In this test, the veterinarian will place one palm just above the knee joint and the other hand at the base of the leg (above the paw). He/she will gently try to pull the bottom half of the leg (the tibia bone) forward.

A healthy joint won’t allow this to happen.

Cranial Drawer Test

For this test, the doctor will grasp just above the dog’s stifle joint (knee cap) with one hand while grasping just below the knee with the other. The thumbs will be anchored on the back of the dog’s knee.

If the tibia moves forward, the doctor will suspect injury.

The two tests noted above are easier explained than done. It’s best to allow your veterinarian or trained professional to attempt these.

The following documentary-type video explains the process of tibial surgery for dogs.  Warning:  Graphic

Will Your Dog Need Surgery for a Torn CCL?

Generally speaking, dogs under 30 pounds often do not require surgery and can recovery nicely with at home care. However, that’s not always the case.

If your dog does require surgery, there are a few types that are performed.

Tibial Plateau-leveling Osteotomy

With this surgery, the bone is cut and the tibial plateau (upper part of the shin bone) is rotated. This alters the way the knee works and provides better stability.

The difference between TTA and TPLA surgery has to do with the way the bone is handled.

The Takeaway

A dog limping after ACL surgery is normal and could take months to fully resolve.

The longer your dog is able to remain inactive, the quicker the results. It’s important for bones and joints to heal properly. However, the risk of future degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis is higher in dogs who’ve had torn cranial cruciate ligaments.

NEXT UP: Dog Knee Injuries 9 Best Tips for At Home Care

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post.  Please let me know if you have any questions or if you believe there is an error.  I can be reached directly at [email protected]

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