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Understanding Cruciate Ligament Tears in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Dogs are known for their active and playful nature, however, similar to humans, dogs are susceptible to injuries. One of the most common orthopedic conditions affecting dogs is a cruciate ligament tear, also known as a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tear, similar to an ACL tear in humans. A CCL tear can be painful and debilitating for our furry best friends. In this blog post we will dive into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for CCL tears to better help you, the owner, understand the condition and guide you in seeking the appropriate care for your pet.

Causes of CCL Tears:

The cruciate ligaments are important structures that stabilize the knee joint, connecting the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). CCL tears most commonly occur due to a combination of factors such as:

  • Trauma: A sudden twisting or excessive force applied to the knee, often seen in athletic dogs or dogs that take part in high-impact activities like agility, can result in a CCL tear

  • Degenerative Changes: Over time, the ligament may weaken or degenerate, making it more prone to injury and tearing

  • Breed Predisposition: Certain breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, Rottweilers, and Newfoundlands, have a higher genetic predisposition to CCL tears.

Symptoms of CCL tears:

Recognizing the signs of a CCL tear is important for early detection and appropriate treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Lameness: Sudden or gradual onset of limping, which may vary in severity depending on the extent of the tear.

  • Difficulty or Refusal to Bear Weight: Dogs may show signs of pain or have difficulty putting weight on the injured leg.

  • Swelling: The knee joint may become swollen, warm to the touch, and have fluid accumulation.

  • Altered Gait: Dogs with CCL tears can often times demonstrate a "bunny-hopping" gait or noticeable limp.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options:

If you think your dog as a CCL tear, it is important to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. The veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and may recommend further diagnostic tests such as X-rays to rule out other potential causes of lameness.

Treatment options for CCL tears can vary depending on factors such as the severity of the tear, the size, age, and overall health of the dog. The primary treatment options include:

  • Conservative Management: In cases where the tear is a partial tear or the dog's condition prohibits surgery, conservative management may be used. This can involve such things as rest, canine rehabilitation, anti-inflammatory medications, and weight management to reduce stresses on the affected knee.

  • Surgical Intervention: Surgical repair is often recommended for complete CCL tears or in cases where conservative management fails to provide improvement. Several surgical techniques including extra capsular repair, tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA), aim to stabilize the knee and restore normal function.

Recovery and Rehabilitation:

Rehabilitation plays a crucial role in a dog's recovery from a CCL tear, regardless of the chosen treatment approach. Canine rehabilitation, under the guidance of a certified canine rehabilitation therapist, can help rebuild strength, improve range of motion, and support the healing process. Rehabilitation may include exercises, hydrotherapy, and therapeutic modalities like laser therapy or PEMF therapy.


While not all CCL tears can be prevented, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of injury:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity puts extra stress on the joints which increases the likelihood of ligament damage.

  • Controlled exercise: Avoid high-impact activities or sudden changes in intensity that could strain the knee.

  • Regular veterinary check-ups: Routine examinations can help identify early signs of ligament weakness or degeneration.


CCL tears in dogs can be a painful and debilitating condition that requires prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and exploring treatment options are important steps in providing the best possible care for our furry companions. By working closing with veterinarians and canine rehabilitation therapists and considering both conservative or surgical interventions, you as the pet owner can help your dog regain mobility, reduce pain, and improve their quality of life after a CCL tear. Remember, early intervention and a comprehensive rehabilitation program are key to achieving successful outcomes and restoring your dog's zest for life.

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