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Natural Awakenings San Diego

Treatment for a Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury: What to Do When Your Dog Becomes Seriously Lame

Nov 30, 2011 09:13AM ● By Maja Wichtowski

The most favorite game for our four-legged kids is playing ball. This is also a great exercise and pastime for us two-leggeds, until Fido screams and returns on three legs instead of four. Now, comes the dilemma: is surgery or rehabilitation always necessary?

Always Consult Your Veterinarian

If your dog suddenly becomes lame, it is imperative to get to the veterinarian immediately. Your vet can determine the cause for the lameness. If it is a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury, joint degeneration can progress quickly if left untreated and full recovery then becomes unlikely. The longer the dog overcompensates with the opposite leg, the more likely that the CCL will also rupture. Then your dog won’t be able to walk at all.



If your dog has completely ruptured their CCL, surgery is probably best for a quick recovery and long-term stability. The orthopedic surgeon will determine which surgery is ideal based on your dog’s age, breed, weight, and activity level. The two most popular surgeries are the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) and the Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA). Both stabilize the joint by changing the joint’s anatomy, and involve the use of titanium implants. There is also Extracapsular Stabilization, which is least invasive, but usually only used in dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds.

Immediately following surgery, combinations of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) drugs, joint supplements, and physical rehabilitation are all essential to ensure your pet recovers quickly. Full recovery generally takes six to 20 weeks, and is dependent on the type of surgery performed, the age and weight of your dog, and how vigilant you are with post-op care.

Non-Surgical Alternatives

If your dog is lucky to have only suffered a partial CCL rupture, or if they are compromised in some way (health or age) that prohibits anesthesia, there are a few other options available. A custom knee brace is an essential component to recovery if your dog is not undergoing surgery. It provides stability and allows the pet to utilize the limb without further damaging the Rehab for dogsjoint. Once you have a brace, stem-cell regenerative therapy or prolotherapy, and physical rehabilitation are the way to go.

Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy requires a minor surgery to harvest stem cells from your dog’s fat, as well as a repeat anesthesia to inject the harvested and processed cells into the knee on the following visit. This therapy uses the same mechanism the body uses to repair itself, with the cells transforming into any kind of cell that is needed. Restricted activity, physical rehabilitation, and brace support are key post-injection for the best results.

Prolotherapy also uses your dog’s built-in healing mechanisms to treat the injury. In this procedure, a solution is injected into the knee directly, causing an inflammatory response, which in turn starts the healing process. Your dog will need to be sedated for this procedure, which is usually repeated monthly for four to six injections. Post-injection protocol is the same as with stem cell therapy.

The Bottom Line

Regardless which treatment you and your veterinarian decide on, the benefits of post-op physical rehabilitation cannot be understated. The earlier you start, the sooner your dog can be back on four feet enjoying a pain-free life.

Maja Wichtowski is a registered veterinarian technician and the owner of Tsavo’s Canine Rehabilitation & Fitness Center, Inc. Call 619-846-9531 or visit