While ligament tears can cause serious setbacks in an athlete’s career, a similar injury can mean surgery and rehabilitation for your pet.
According to Dr. Sharon Kerwin, professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries, as they are referred to in animals, occur almost as often as they do in humans.
“Cats and dogs have the same ligaments that we have in our knees,” says Kerwin. “The cruciate ligament stabilizes your femur and your tibia so you don’t get too much motion between those two bones.”
CCL tears in cats often occur the same way ACL tears occur in humans. Often, there is some traumatic injury that occurs as a result of jumping from high places, playing or getting the animal’s leg caught in something.
“It takes a fair bit of force to rupture a cruciate ligament, and it tends to occur more often in overweight cats,” says Kerwin.
However, in dogs, this injury is often the result of a chronic degeneration of the ligament and occurs much more frequently than it does in cats.
“In dogs, we think the injury may be related to weight and body structure, meaning that some large breeds such as Rottweilers, Labradors and Chow Chows, may be predisposed to CCL injuries,” said Kerwin. “In some cases, we think it’s either the shape of their tibia or the shape of their femur that predisposes them to this injury.”
A ruptured ligament is usually characterized by limping or inactivity. In cats, they will not want to play the way they used to, and dogs will often appear lame and sit awkwardly with their leg sticking out, signaling a possible knee problem.
Kerwin says if your pet shows signs of a ligament tear, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian who will conduct a lameness exam in order to diagnose the problem.
The injury is often treated in cats with medical management by placing overweight cats on a strict diet with exercise restriction for three to six weeks, followed by a check-up measuring progress. If the injury fails to heal, surgery is often recommended to explore and stabilize the joint.
But when dogs are afflicted with CCL injuries, many times the best option is surgery as quickly as possible.
“Dogs often don’t do well with medical management, the injury will often worsen over time as the arthritis in the knee builds,” explains Kerwin.
“Part of the problem is they tend to suffer cartilage tears that we don’t often see in cats, so we recommend exploring the knee and cleaning it through an arthroscopy just like they would do in a human and then stabilizing it,” says Kerwin.
Dogs often require 8-12 weeks of recovery including strict rest and rehabilitation.
Once your pet has undergone the recommended period of exercise restriction, it is important to encourage it to exercise its leg with slow leash walks or through playtime activities.
“The biggest way to prevent CCL tears is to keep your pet at a proper weight,” Kerwin says.
It is very easy for animals to gain weight, especially if they spend most of their time indoors, because they do not get the same level of exercise. Your veterinarian can advise you on the proper weight for your dog or cat.
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