Is there anything you can do to prevent ACL injury in your dog?
There is no sure-fire recipe but there are things you can do to minimize the risk.
Prevention is always the best treatment for any injury or disease. Recovery from an ACL injury will take anywhere from four to six months out of your dog’s active life and an unstable joint will contribute to the development of arthritis.
What is a ligament?
A ligament is a band of tough connective tissue that connects bones and supports a joint. Ligaments keep bones in their place while providing enough flexibility to allow the joint to move. Think of them as very strong rubber bands.
Just like a rubber band, a ligament is designed to withstand a substantial amount of mechanical stress. When the stress exceeds its threshold, the ligament gets damaged.
Because of stifle anatomy, the crucial ligaments in dogs are especially vulnerable to injury.
In some cases, the knee joint may be perfectly normal, but a severe injury overwhelms the ligament causing it to rupture. Think of a football player blowing out his knee. These injuries occur most often in young, large breed dogs.
However, gradual degeneration of the ligament is the most common cause of ACL rupture. In this case, middle age or older dogs that are overweight are most commonly affected. Because their cruciate ligaments have been weakened over time, even normal activity (e.g., jumping off the sofa) can cause a rupture, and the likelihood of the other knee failing in the future is high.
Prevention of ACL injuries is two-fold:
- minimizing the amount of stress on the ligaments
- keeping the ligaments strong and healthy
Weight management and exercise
Extra pounds impose undue stress on your dog’s knees. Keeping your dog slim and trim will help prevent ACL injuries. Seriously. With every extra pound of fat, you’re that much closer to a ligament injury.
Keeping your dog in good physical condition will also help prevent injury to the crucial ligaments. Strong muscles help stabilize the knee and protect the ligaments. Sounds trivial? Believe me, it is not.
If your dog is at risk of a cruciate ligament injury, encourage forms of exercise that don’t overstress the knees, like swimming or leash walks on even surfaces that are not slippery. Activities that involve lots of fast starts and stops and sharp turns (e.g., catching a frisbee) should be avoided.
Strong and healthy ligaments
A quality balanced diet is important for your dog’s overall health, as well as for maintaining the strength of his ligaments.
Metabolic and endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, and immune-mediated diseases have been linked as contributing factors to degeneration of the crucial ligaments. Other structural abnormalities affecting the knee, such as a luxating patella also increase the risk of an ACL injury developing in the future.
There also have been some studies linking early age spay/neuter to increased risk of ACL ruptures later in life. Just like anything in medicine, spay/neuter has both pluses and minuses and for the most part, the pluses outweigh the minuses… but in larger breeds, this is something to take into consideration.
Taking care of underlying conditions, and keeping your dog slim and in good physical shape will minimize the risk of ACL injuries.
Protect Your Dog from Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injuries