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How to Prevent ACL Tears in Dogs: Six Things You Must Do

by Geoff Works |

ACL injuries in dogs are quite common, regardless of their breed and size. But these issues lead to severe health risks like long-term joint damage if left untreated. Since 30-50% of dogs treated for ACL injuries end up tearing both their ligaments, it’s crucial for pet owners to know how to prevent ACL tears in dogs. 

While underlying health conditions and genetic predisposition are typical reasons behind these issues, traumatic incidents are among the most common causes of a torn ACL. Preventing accidents may be relatively challenging, but there are plenty of measures you could take to lessen the risk of ACL injuries in your dogs. 

In today's blog, we'll discuss six things you can do to prevent torn ACL in dogs. The first step to genuinely preventing major injuries like these is understanding what an ACL tear is. 

ACL Tear Vs. CCL Tears in Dogs

One of the common mistakes pet owners make when treating their dogs is using the terms ACL and CCL interchangeably. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a thin connective tissue found in the middle of our knees. And just like us, our dogs have a similar tissue called the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL).

Our ACL and our dog's CCL have other distinct differences between them. For instance, the signs of a CCL tear in dogs appear gradually and worsen while the injured leg is in use. Conversely, human ACL injuries manifest instantly during strenuous activities like sprinting or jumping. 

If you notice that your dog is constantly limping, this issue will worsen if you don't get them the help they need. Dogs with one ACL injury tend to injure their other leg in a short period. Veterinarians believe this is because when lameness sets in one of their legs, they put extra stress on the working leg while performing certain activities, resulting in another torn CCL

To prevent your dog from injuring its CCLs, you’ll need to watch out for any symptoms that may indicate that it has wounded one of its legs. 

Signs of CCL Tear in Dogs

The symptoms of a torn ACL in dogs vary depending on the injury's severity, but lameness is typically the first sign you notice. ACL injuries lead to an inability to bear weight on the injured leg, which means they favor their working leg, resulting in a limp.

Aside from limping, you will also notice swelling around the affected knee area. If you check the inside of your dog's knees and observe redness and swelling, they may have injured their CCL. In this case, the best thing to do would be to bring your pup to the vet for a complete physical exam.

If your vet notices the presence of the "drawer sign," a motion wherein the veterinarian holds the patient's femur down, and the tibia pulls forward like a drawer sliding open. If the tibia excessively pulls backward or forward, it may be a positive drawer sign. Your vet will likely take X-rays of your dog's knees to check the damage and rule out other possible causes of limping. 

How to Prevent ACL Tears in Dogs: Six Tips to Remember

We can never truly control when accidents happen. But, specific preventative measures ensure that your dog becomes less likely to tear their CCLs. 

Maintain A Healthy Weight

The ideal weight for your pup heavily depends on a set of factors like their breed, age, and overall size. To avoid CCL tears, your dog should avoid putting excessive pressure on their joints whenever possible. And the best way to help them do this is by ensuring they stay at a weight optimal for their health. 

Heavier dogs are more likely to suffer a CCL injury due to the extra stress on their joints when they walk. Stay conscious of their food intake to prevent your pet from gaining too much weight. Not only will this help them keep their joints healthy, but it will also prevent them from becoming overweight

Keep A Balanced Diet

The food you give your dog affects its weight. Everyone has an opinion on what canines should eat and how to prepare their meals. But a good general rule you must follow is to listen to your veterinarian's advice and prioritize nutrition above all else. 

A rich diet of minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients is key to healthy joints. You can even add joint supplements like fish oil to your canine's meal to help them develop strong ligaments and bones. And if you're unsure of what dietary supplements your dog should take, you can always seek the help of your local vet. 

Perform Regular Strength Exercises

Besides helping your dog maintain a healthy weight and ensure normal mobility of its joints, regular exercises can also help strengthen its hamstring muscles. Activities like tunneling, retro steps, and sit-to-stand exercises will keep your dog’s muscles strong. 

Articulation exercises also help maintain healthy joint surfaces, reducing the workload of their CLL. 

Avoid Strenuous Activities

If your dog loves jumping on and off furniture or running on slippery surfaces, they are more prone to CCL injuries than other dogs. Jumping down and landing on a solid surface puts them at higher risk of rupturing a ligament. Also, slippery surfaces can make them highly susceptible to slipping and injuring themselves.

Warm Up Before Going on a Walk

If you enjoy taking your dog on strenuous walks, we recommend having them warm up like professional athletes. Start with slow controlled leash walks before gradually increasing your speed. You can also add small intervals of burst movements and end them with a moderate walking pace. 

Avoid the "Weekend Warrior Syndrome"

The weekend warrior syndrome refers to dogs who go for highly-stressful runs or walks without regular exercise. These bursts of strenuous activities during the weekend can do more harm than good. 

Your dog's body won’t be trained to handle all the extra stress, leading them to damage their muscle or joints. Your walks with your canine must remain relatively consistent to prevent CCL injuries.

ACL Injury Prevention is Possible 

While there are a handful of things we can’t control about our pet’s health, we can still help them live a healthy life and prepare their body for strenuous activities to protect them from harm. These six tips in mind can help your dog avoid significant injuries and live a long life. 

For more information on creating healthy routines for you and your dog, visit our blog here.

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