ACL Rupture in a Small Dog

Surgical Management is Best for Young Dogs

My dog Lola is a happy 3 year old Lhasa-poo. Recently, she eagerly ran down the stairs and hurt her leg. Her diagnosis was ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. I left the animal hospital crying. While researching online, I read non-surgical treatments are possible for dogs less than 30 pounds. Some articles advised against “rushing into knee surgery” and encouraged self-healing by restricting activity.

Dr. Nichol:
The knee’s anterior (cranial) cruciate ligament (ACL) is a mighty important little strap of tissue because of the front-to-back stability it provides. Any human who has faced this injury can explain the erratic joint movement that results from just trying to walk. The result is an essentially non-functional leg.  If that joint is not surgically stabilized, with enough time and use, the cartilage surfaces can become damaged, leading to painful degenerative arthritis.

Many small dogs appear to self-heal with no treatment, other than rest. The reason for this apparent miracle is Mother Nature’s thickening of the fibrous joint capsule that surrounds the injured knee. Lola’s body would help by shifting some of the load-bearing to her other 3 legs.

For the latest on this common injury I consulted board certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Michael Wey of the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Centers. He explained that research has not specifically addressed the comparison of small dogs whose knees have not had surgery with those that have. He said that strict rest can be a reasonable alternative to surgery but long term degenerative joint disease may be more prone to occur.

I’ve treated many ACL ruptures just like Lola’s. She’s a kid who may have another 12 years for that knee to gradually worsen. It could get awfully painful. My opinion? Surgical stabilization is the safest course. The sooner the mechanics of Lola’s knee get reestablished the better.