The health and well-being of our pets is a top priority and any sign of injury or distress can be concerning for a loving pet parent. One particularly distressing symptom is limping. If your pet starts to limp or has difficulty walking, particularly in its hind legs, this could be the sign of a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury. This type of injury is relatively common in pets, especially large breed dogs. In this article, we’ll walk you through the signs and symptoms of a cruciate ligament injury, potential causes, and some possible treatments.
Common Causes for Limping in Pets
While you should always consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis when you suspect an illness or injury, if you notice your dog or cat limping, the first thing to do is to check for a visible injury to the paw or pads. This can include a piece of glass, thorns, nails, burrs or other foreign objects. Look for cuts, broken toenails and insect bites. You may be able to provide basic first-aid and make sure your pet gets some rest to ensure the symptoms are gone. If there is no obvious injury, then you should consult with a pet care specialist to determine why your pet is limping. There are many causes that include fractures, breaks, sprains, dislocations, and diseases such as bone disease and cancer.1 A health care professional can conduct tests and provide a diagnosis and care plan which could be as simple as a few days of rest.
Canine and Feline Cranial Cruciate Ligaments
Like humans, dogs and cats put tremendous stress on their knees every day, which can cause tearing or rupturing of the cranial cruciate ligament. This ligament is similar to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. The CCL connects the two main bones of the knee joint. Typically, the CCL is very strong, but unfortunately is prone to damage, and the injury is very painful.2 Damage to the CCL is the most common orthopedic injury in dogs,3 and while far less common in cats, CCL injuries are not necessarily rare for felines.4
The CCL is susceptible to tears and ruptures because the CCL consists of two ligaments that form a cross connecting the femur and tibia (the bones just above and below the knees). The CCL is bilateral and is made up of two ligaments, the cranial cruciate ligament (anterior) and the caudal cruciate ligament (posterior). Together, the two ligaments are like rubber bands that allow the knee joint to move like a hinge but restricts the knee from moving back-to-front and side-to-side. The most common injury to the CCL involves the anterior cruciate ligament.5
Common Causes of Cruciate Ligament Injuries
The most common causes of CCL injuries are natural degeneration or a sudden rupture due to excessive force. In the latter case, the cause of the injury is usually due to stress being placed on a ligament that has already experienced degeneration. When a tear does occur, it is similar to a torn ACL in humans and the telltale signs include limping or lameness. Your pet will also be unable or reluctant to put weight on the injured leg.3
What to Do if Your Pet Has a Torn Cruciate Ligament
If you think your pet has a torn or ruptured CCL, you must consult your veterinarian who will conduct a physical examination to consider range of motion and other symptoms. Sometimes, x-rays are needed to determine the extent of damage.2 You should also provide important information such as any recent trauma and a detailed injury of symptoms. Some cats develop cruciate injury as a secondary diagnosis to issues with the kneecap5 or a degenerative disease.4
Treating Cruciate Injuries
In most cases, surgery is needed to repair or replace the ligaments to eliminate pain and reduce risk of long-term damage. As veterinary science advances, different surgical procedures have been developed, and each has pros and cons that you should discuss with your veterinarian to determine which type of surgery will have the maximum success.3 Of course, each pet will have unique circumstances that must be considered in order to make the best medical decision. In some cases, surgery is not recommended based on your pet’s age, health and severity of injury. If non-surgical treatment is recommended, your veterinarian will provide a treatment plan that may include rest, medication, massage, swimming or a knee brace.6
Tips for Preventing Ligament Injuries in Pets
While it is impossible to predict whether your pet will suffer an injury to the CCL, there are some factors that suggest a higher susceptibility. Obesity is one cause of CCL injury, as well as many other health problems. While we all love to feed our pets treats, if your pet is overweight, you should work with a pet care specialist or nutritionist to maintain a healthy weight and diet.
Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to CCL injury including Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers. Generally, larger dogs are more prone to CCL injury. Also, dogs that rupture the CCL on one leg have a much higher change of injury to the other leg.2 There are far fewer studies on feline CCL injury, but scientists believe that cats injure the CCL as the result of normal wear and tear due to age.4 In addition, trauma due to a fall or accident can also cause a CCL injury in cats.5
Any injury to your pet is stressful to you and your pet, especially if surgery is required. A torn or ruptured CCL is very painful and left untreated can lead to serious long-term conditions. This includes arthritis, limited mobility and chronic pain. Additionally, post-operation and rehabilitative care is imperative and necessary to ensure the best possible recovery. Pets Best pet insurance plans offer optional physical rehabilitation for cases like this and can be selected when you get a quote. Pay attention to your pet and seek medical assistance when you notice your pet acting unusual or displaying signs of discomfort.
1 Why is My Dog Limping [online article], Retrieved on October 10, 2019, from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-is-my-dog-limping/
2 CCL Injuries in Dogs [online article], Retrieved on October 10, 2019, from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/acl-injuries-in-dogs#1
3 Most Commonly Asked Questions – Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) Repairs [online article], Retrieved on October 10, 2019, from https://familyvetcare.com/cranial-cruciate-ligament-ccl-repairs-faq/
4 Feline Cruciate Rupture [journal article], Retrieved on October 10, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1876199/
5 Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Cats [ online article], Retrieved on October 10, 2019, from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cruciate-ligament-rupture-in-cats
6 Can a Dog Recover from an ACL Tear Without Getting Surgery? [blog post], Retrieved on October 10, 2019, from https://orthodog.com/index.cfm/blog/dog-acl-tear-no-surgery/
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