Small Dog CCL Injuries: Small Breeds Can Hurt Their CCL Too—Star’s Naughty Knee


CCL injuries are common in large breed dogs. However, the number of small breed dogs that tear their cruciate ligament is on a rise.

It makes me stop and wonder how that might relate to how we’re breeding and what we’re feeding our dogs. As well as our dogs’ lifestyle and the environment are far from what it used to be.

Thank you, Julie, for sharing Star’s story.

Small Dog CCL Injuries: Small Breeds Can Hurt Their ACL Too—Star's Naughty Knee

Star’s story

Small Dog CCL Injuries: Small Breeds Can Hurt Their ACL Too—Star's Naughty Knee

When my daughter Jenny’s three-year-old Bichon Frise became completely lame on her back left leg I had no idea how it would impact the whole family. We inspected her and could find nothing wrong. She gave no sign of being in pain but held the leg out to the side and ran on the other three legs.

By the next morning, she did not improve. So it was off to the veterinarian. They took an x-ray the following day which revealed the cruciate ligament was ruptured.

It was a real shock. Star was such a young dog. We were all thrown into turmoil at the thought of one of our dogs would have to undergo surgery. For me, it was doubly hard. I was struggling to cope with my own emotions for Star while supporting Jenny through her worries. Many tears were shed.

Visiting the surgeon

When we saw the surgeon I do wish he had started with something reassuring.

Instead, he told us that Star’s knee would never be the same and that we would have to follow his instructions scrupulously in order for her to recover.

I was confused. It seemed that he was telling me Star would never run again. Yet, eventually, through the fog of medical terms and dire warnings, it emerged that he was recommending we chose a TPLO for Star. TPLO is an operation which levels the top of the shin bone to help the thigh bone balance on top of it without the aid of the ligament, which we now knew was gone forever.

It sounded a horrific operation – cutting into the shin bone to level it – and had an eight week recovery time.

Going with the surgery

However, taking everything into account it was her best option.

The day of her surgery was a tense time but eventually, it was time to pick her up. Although our veterinarian was very careful to dose her with a painkiller and send several doses home with her, Star was in a very sorry state.


For the first forty-eight hours after the operation, all she wanted to do was lie on Jenny. She whined and trembled, refused to eat anything and even turned away from water. The next morning I phoned the vet to find out how much water she should be ingesting and we commenced dosing her hourly, squirting water into her mouth. The pain medicine had to be administered with food. After several tries, she reluctantly licked it up on a teaspoon of cottage cheese.

The operation took place on Thursday. It was the early hours of Saturday before she urinated, and another twenty-four hours before she pooped; both procedures which we had hitherto taken for granted but which were suddenly huge milestones! By that point, she was also choosing to drink water too – another huge relief.

Based on my research I hoped that the post-op Star would use her leg straight away. But she still held it to the side and walked on three legs.

Surgery recovery

After about a week she would put the foot to the floor when she stood still to help balance. Gradually, she started to use the leg again. But it obviously felt strange to her as she frequently stretched it out behind her.

By the next morning, she was still not using the leg, so it was off to the veterinarian, who ordered an x-ray the following day which revealed the cruciate ligament was ruptured.

In the first week, Star was only allowed out of her crate for toilet breaks. But after that, we were told to gently increase the exercise so that by the end of the eight weeks she would be walking fifteen minutes twice a day. We inquired about hydro-therapy, which would have been covered by our insurance. However, the veterinarian insisted that it would not help with TPLO recovery.

Editor’s Note: Hydrotherapy is often used as part of the post-op rehabilitation. It greatly improves muscle strength and range of motion while providing safe low-impact exercise. Physical therapy plays an important role in rehabilitation from surgery.

For ten days Star refused dog food. All she accepted were tiny portions of chicken breast, jacket potato and a variety of vegetables. Her return to a normal diet was cause for another celebration.

On the Saturday following the operation, her bandage was removed. Her poor little shaved leg resembled nothing so much as a chicken drumstick. Her wound looked incredibly raw initially and she hated having to wear a Buster collar to stop her from trying to lick –  and bite – it better.

Gradually she improved, but I did worry that she must hate being confined in a crate for most of the day.

Post-op check-up

Finally, the date of the last check-up came and we were excited to think it was nearly all over. 

Although I had noticed she still stretched the leg behind her a lot, and occasionally picked it up only using three legs when she ran, it was still a shock to be informed that she might also have a wobbly kneecap (luxating patella) which would require further surgery.

That was not what we had hoped for or expected!

The surgeon advised us to spend a month increasing the length of her walks which should build muscle in the leg and stabilize the joint. Thankfully at the end of a month, she was walking normally and declared fit by the surgeon.

It’s now six months after the operation and Star is back to normal – you couldn’t tell there has ever been a problem with the leg. For a while, one tiny little knee joint had our whole family in a spin, but thank goodness now we are all happy and healthy again.

by Julie Hill, host of DogCast Radio

DogCast Radio is a podcast about dogs featuring breed profiles, training advice, author interviews, news, and original fiction. You can listen online, download it for your MP3 player, or subscribe to it as a Podcast.

Categories: CCL injuriesConditionsJoint issuesKnee issuesReal-life Stories

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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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