Torn Knee Ligaments in Dogs: What Pet Parents Should Know

The energy level of dogs can be remarkable, and even a bit exhausting, for a pet parent. Some dogs seem to have an endless capacity for running around, jumping, and any form of play. It can be disconcerting when your dog's mobility rapidly deteriorates, or stops suddenly. Could your pooch have torn their knee ligament?

Instant or Gradual

A torn knee ligament can happen instantly, as the result of an accident. This will be very obvious, and your dog will be in considerable distress. It can also have a gradual onset, which could have initially been triggered by a minor accident – which then caused the deterioration of the ligament – causing joint effusion (an accumulation of fluid in the joint). Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to this gradual deterioration.

Signs of a Torn Ligament

While an accident that has caused an instantaneous tearing of the ligament will be difficult to miss (and requires urgent veterinary attention,) a gradual deterioration of the knee ligament isn't always so clear. Your dog will begin to limp, trying to avoid placing weight on the affected limb. Their mobility will become limited, and their distress will increase due to the pain of the compromised ligament. The issue will inevitably get worse, and requires veterinary attention.

Assessing the Damage

Some torn knee ligaments are worse than others. With smaller dogs, your vet may opt to stabilize the joint without surgery, which will involve pain relief. Then it's simply a case of ongoing assessments of your dog's knee, and the relatively small amount of weight that your dog possesses shouldn't disrupt the healing process. However, your dog will be required to carefully manage their weight, which can be difficult with their injury. It's unavoidable for a larger dog not to put a problematic amount of weight on their affected limb, meaning that surgery can be the only course of action.

Surgical Intervention

Stabilization surgery is precisely what it sounds like, and is a surgical procedure intended to stabilize the torn ligament. This usually involves a graft to reinforce the torn ligament, which allows the healing process to begin. This is often an autograft (with the grafting material harvested from elsewhere on your dog's body). The surgery permits the reconnection of the tibia to the femur, and your dog's functionality will slowly be restored as they heal. Physiotherapy can sometimes be needed to aid the healing process. 

A torn knee ligament is bad news for your dog, and needs to be assessed by a vet, whether it happened instantly or was the result of a gradual deterioration of the joint.

For more information about torn knee ligaments in dogs, or other veterinary surgeries, contact a veterinary surgeon near you.