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Dog Knee Injuries – Everything You Need to Know

My golden lab is 7 years old and I’ve noticed that she limps a little these days. She’s not able to walk as far as she used to, or join me on a run because of the stiffness in her joints. However, I know for sure it’s not a torn ACL causing the problem and I’m about to tell you why.

You’re probably here because your dog has a knee injury and you want to know how to make it better.  Well, you’ve come to the right place. Let me show you what to look for, and the steps necessary to bring your dog back to full health.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament is a Long Name for a Dog Knee Injury

Forget the long name. All you need to remember is ACL.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), also referred to as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), connects the femur above the knee to the tibia positioned below the knee thereby stabilizing the knee joint. This ligament can tear partially or fully as a result of sudden injury, damage, or progressive weakening of the ligament.


  • Unable to Comfortably Put Weight on The Injured Leg.

Unlike the type of stiffness seen in an aging dog, a torn (or partially torn) ACL will be painful. Your dog will limp, favoring the tender knee.  If the tear is bad enough, your dog won’t be able to put weight on the leg at all. You might notice swelling in the knee.

  • A partial tear will often progress into a full tear over time.

A partial tear will often get worse until eventually tearing completely as the ligament continues to receive pressure. This is why treatment is recommended to help strengthen the ligament and reduce stress.

YUP! Sounds Like a Torn ACL. How Did This Happen?

  • A torn ACL is the most common cause of lameness in the hind legs of dogs.

The ACL is always under pressure and the continuous stretching of the ligament in the same way weakens the structure making it more likely to tear. This is why older and overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from an ACL injury.

  • The tear could have been a sudden occurrence or it could be a long-term degenerative condition.

As your dog grows older, his ligaments will weaken. Over time, the stress on the ligament might cause a tear or rupture.  A young dog can also suffer from an ACL injury as the result of a sudden movement such as jumping to catch a Frisbee.

  • There are Several Causes of Dog Knee Injuries

Causes of Dog Knee Injury include:

  • age
  • breed
  • weight (an overweight dog is more likely to suffer from a torn ACL)
  • sudden movement during activity.
  • Some Dogs Are More Prone to ACL Damage

Large dog breeds are more prone to ACL damage. The age of the dog, activity routine and weight are all factors which could push your dog closer to suffering from a torn ACL.

A Partial List of Dog Breeds Susceptible to Knee Injuries Includes:

  • Saint Bernard
  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Rottweiler
  • Akita
  • Older Dog’s Ligaments are Weaker and More Prone to Injury

As we age, natural wear-and-tear can cause the synovial fluid between our joints to wear down. The result is a painful condition called osteoarthritis. Dogs endure a similar wear-and-tear that takes its toll on the ligaments. The now-weakened ligaments leave the dog at risk of knee injury. Over time, the continuous pressure and strain placed on the ligament could cause tearing.

Young people are particularly resilient, able to keep up with the challenges faced by the physical body. Likewise, puppies experience the same benefit of youth.

  • Overweight dogs, regardless of age, are at a higher risk

Obesity naturally puts more strain and pressure on the dog’s joints. Weight loss is recommended to reduce the risk of suffering a torn ACL.

Overweight dogs struggle to recover from ligament injuries and are more likely to experience injury to both knees.

  • Dogs weighing over 15kg will generally need surgery to help treat the ligament damage

Smaller and lighter dogs recover from ligament injuries much faster than larger dogs. The majority of small dogs are able to improve or regain normal leg function within 6 months and can sometimes recover without surgery

Larger dogs, however, tend to require stabilization surgery. Only 20% see improvements or regain normal leg function within 6 months.


There are a number of surgical techniques that can be used to stabilize the knee joint. While surgery is usually recommended for large breeds, it’s important to note that not all dogs (large or small) are good candidates.S

Your veterinarian may not suggest surgery for a minor tear. The size, weight, and overall health of the dog will be considered first.

What Does the Surgery Involve?

  • Lateral Suture Stabilization (LSS) techniques are used to stabilize the knee

In this case, the surgeon passes a tightened suture behind the knee. That suture replicates the function of the torn ligament.

Sometimes a fiber tape suture is placed over the tear to stabilize the weakened area.

Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO)

This technique requires a longer recovery time and involves breaking the tibia and repositioning it.

Without surgery, the weak ligaments will worsen over time. Degeneration is common as the weak ligaments continue to be subject to the same stresses.

What Happens if My Dog Can’t Have Surgery?

Physical therapy is essential for dogs who do not need or cannot have surgery

Physical therapy helps strengthen the area by building muscle through a series of medically supervised exercises. These exercises might include swimming, massage, and muscle stimulation.

Rest and Medication

Always heed the recommended length of rest-time and only give your dog veterinarian-approved medication, including pain killers.


It takes at least 12 weeks for your dog to recover from knee surgery


During the first 6 weeks after surgery, your dog has to be carefully supervised in-house with limited ability to roam.  Some people use a crate indoors or keep the dog tied inside to have maximum control.


Very slowly begin walking your dog, and only for “bathroom breaks”.  Keep your expectations low and don’t push your dog to do more than he comfortably can.


Gradually, increase walk time. Keep in mind that it’s still going to be a considerably shorter walk than normal.


At this stage, you can let your dog roam off-leash in a controlled, supervised environment, provided the sutures or staples are out.

It’s still too early, however, to let your dog play with other dogs. Activity must be kept to a minimum.


Your veterinarian may request a couple of follow-up visits during the recovery and rehabilitation phase.


  • Use an Elizabethan Collar in the early stages to prevent your dog from licking the wound.
  • Use a towel as a sling under your dog’s belly for managing stairs. The towel shouldn’t be used to lift your dog, but to help guide him.
  • Put non-slip mats or area rugs on slippery floors so that your dog doesn’t take a fall and reinjure the knee.

The Aftermath of Surgical Dog Knee Injuries

Within 2 years, around half of dogs with ACL injuries will damage the other knee.

Weight loss/ management and additional care is essential to help strengthen the ligaments, this will help slow the rate and likelihood of your dog experiencing another torn ACL.

Every ACL injury is different as there are many causes and factors that lead to ACL weakness. Your vet will be able to work with you to get the best treatment plan for your dog’s specific situation.A

A less severe tear may present few symptoms and these will often improve quickly without treatment. The ACL will be weakened which leads to other potential issues with discomfort and arthritis as well as the risk of a full tear occurring at any time. If the ACL does rupture completely surgery will be required.

I hope your dog never has to endure the long-term recover of a fully torn ACL.  Actually, I hope my dogs never have to endure that either.

I hope you were able to find the information you were looking for, and that you’ll share this post for other dog owners to benefit.

Thank you!