ACL/CCL Injuries in Dogs: Non-Surgical Alternatives?

Did your dog suffer an ACL injury? If you are anything like I was, you are searching high and low for a non-surgical solution.

Your options will depend on the severity of the injury. There is a chance that partial tears can respond to non-surgical treatment. Once the ligament is fully torn, I believe that surgery is the only effective solution.

At the time of diagnosis, we were dealing with a partial tear in Jasmine’s left knee, and a small partial tear (or stretched ligament) in her right knee.

Our motivation had nothing to do with the cost, although the ACL surgeries are quite expensive. We just wanted our Jasmine to get well as fast as possible, with as little trauma as possible.

We found the popular TPLO and TTA surgeries very invasive and the recovery time very long. Particularly since the prognosis was that she’d have to have surgery for both knees.

We were desperately searching for another solution.

There indeed are some non-surgical options to ACL injuries. But while I don’t want to shatter your hopes, I believe that the odds of successfully getting your dog’s knee healed and working well without any surgery at all are rather slim.

Restricted exercise and spontaneous healing

Yes, I also read that a knee with a partial tear can heal in some dogs on its own, just with restricted exercise.

The evidence is suggesting that Jasmine already did have her knee ligaments injured in the past. But it went undiagnosed. After a long time of controlled exercise, the lameness had resolved. We have been through that twice, once for each knee. Both times it took about 5 months for the lameness to resolve. That is not really any less than the post-op recovery.

She was still quite young and had the best chance of healing. However, last year her ligaments failed once more, one after another, which suggests that the healing was not adequate.

This time, armed with a firm diagnosis, we were still hoping that we might find a solution that didn’t require invasive surgery.

Braces

The first thing we considered were braces. The idea was for the knees to heal while Jasmine still could enjoy her life a much as possible. But the odds were that she would have to wear them every time she would go on a longer walk or was being more active, even after the healing period was over. We felt that she was too young for that.

There are many types of knee braces available now. I don’t believe it is a solution for a young active dog. But it will provide great help to an older dog, and might provide assistance if opting for prolotherapy or stem cell regenerative therapy treatments.

Prolotherapy

The first promising option we learned about was prolotherapy. Prolotherapy is a possibility to consider when dealing with a partial tear, particularly if your dog is older or could not undergo anesthesia.

Stem cell regenerative therapy

Stem cell regenerative therapy is a relatively new treatment. It is successfully used to treat arthritis and other degenerative conditions, and orthopedic injuries in dogs with very exciting results. This one, however, does require minor surgery to harvest the stem cells and anesthesia for both the harvesting and the injection of the stem cells.

Can stem cell regenerative therapy or prolotherapy heal ruptured ACL?

When dealing with an ACL injury, there are many variables that will determine whether the prolotherapy or stem cell treatment will be successful for your dog. It will treat the resulting arthritis. But whether or not it will actually help the knee stability depends on a number of factors, most of which are hard to determine.

I believe that under some circumstances the knee can be healed using non-surgical methods, but it is a gamble whether or not it will work in your particular situation.

For best possible results it is a good idea to combine these methods with some type of stabilization (such as a knee brace) of the leg and physical therapy.

We did decide to pursue stem cell regenerative therapy for Jasmine. But the day before her consultation her left ACL gave out completely and that ruled out non-surgical approach. We however still did combine the surgery with the stem cell injections into both knees, to assist the post-operative recovery and hoping to save the right knee. It looked very hopeful. But three months later her right ACL also failed.

To operate or not to operate?

I am a big proponent of non-invasive solutions. But after all our own research and experiences, I say operate. If you have a young dog, surgical repair is the most reliable means of dealing with an ACL injury. You don’t want it to come back and haunt you. It will give your dog the best chance for a full active life.

If you have an older, less active dog, then considering a non-surgical approach makes sense.

Categories: Alternative treatmentsCCL injuriesJoint issuesKnee issues

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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