Darn, your dog’s cruciate ligament has ruptured completely. “A full tear,” explains the vet, causing a bolt of hot lightning to shoot up your spine.
Is it time to panic?
If finances are a problem, maybe (more on this a bit later). The best thing to do is face facts and adopt a ‘knowledge is power’ attitude.
What is the best solution?
For full tears of the cranial cruciate ligament, surgery is the best treatment, followed by post-op physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Without treatment, the stifle joint remains unprotected and severe lameness, instability, corrosion of the joint and chronic pain will occur.
Is surgery is not possible? The next best option is physical therapy plus a custom stifle orthosis (brace). Physical therapy alone will not be sufficient to treat a full tear.
Custom braces require a cast mold. The mold is formed on the affected limb, hardened and cut off in 2 halves (called “bivalve”). This takes approximately 30 minutes. Either your vet or therapist can do this for you. The bivalve cast is sent to a certified orthotist. They use it to make a positive mold of your dog’s limb on which to build the custom brace.
The braces are usually lightweight and biomechanically sound, allowing the dog to walk, run and play while wearing it.
Studies show, however, that braces do not fully stop tibial translatory motion. As a result, degradation of the joint may still occur, though to a much lesser extent than without any treatment.
This is why surgery followed by therapy remains the best option, and therapy plus bracing less optimal.
Soft stifle support
Soft, non-custom stifle supports are also available. These, however, are insufficient to protect a full tear and are more suited for partial tears. Animal stem cell transplants may also be an alternative to surgery, as advised by your veterinarian.
Various surgical options are available for repair of full cruciate tears. Your vet can help you make a determination as to which is best suited for your dog.
(See explanations of each in my book Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals: A Guide for the Consumer, pp 109-112).
Whenever possible seek the services of a board-certified veterinary orthopedic surgeon to perform the procedure. You can save some money choosing a general vet surgeon, not orthopedic certified, but they will only perform the basic cruciate repairs (such as extracapsular, lateral suture technique), which are indicated for smaller to mid-size, lighter-weight dogs.
Before surgery, have a conversation with the vet about your dog’s meniscus (knee cartilage) as it is damaged about 50 percent of the time when the cruciate ruptures.
If so, it can be removed or repaired and there are positives and negatives to both.
The controversy exists over the fact that the meniscus serves as a spacer and shock absorber for the stifle joint and if removed, can cause arthritis.
However, repairs do not always hold. Some surgeons will opt to keep the meniscus in place but release the back portion of its attachment to the joint and capsule. This technique frees it from strain and further damage. The surgeon may not know if the meniscus is damaged until the surgery is in progress. However, having a pre-op plan and deciding your preference will be helpful.
Take a deep breath, gather the facts and make a timely decision on treatment, as it should not be delayed.
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