Dogs that are extremely active often suffer from injuries to their muscles. It’s important to make sure your dog gets enough exercise, but equally important to make sure they stay healthy. If you notice unusual symptoms in your dog, it could be a torn leg ligament.
Over time, “micro-injuries” – small tears and stretches in the ligament – culminate, causing it to fully tear. Some abnormalities or defects of the stifle (essentially the knee in dogs) and its surrounding ligaments can result in injury. Obesity can also lead to tearing; excess weight puts strain on the joint and adjoining tissues. Trauma, such as a fall or bad jump, is another cause of ligament tears in dogs. Larger breeds, spayed females, and dogs older than five are more susceptible to this type of injury.
The ligament can tear partially or completely and also be the result of a chronic or acute condition. The chronic form of the injury is due to degeneration of the ligament; the dog’s ability to use the leg will be compromised over time, sometimes to the point of complete loss of function. An acute ligament tear is caused by a sudden trauma or incident. Dogs with this type of injury show symptoms like lameness, swelling, and inability to put weight on the leg.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your vet will do a physical examination to assess the severity of the injury along with an arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure to directly view the ligament. If your dog is less than 30 lbs, the ligament can often be stabilized and repaired without surgery. Dogs over 30 lbs require surgery followed by physical therapy the majority of the time. If your dog is overweight, your vet will recommend that they lose weight.
Avoid strenuously exercising your dog for more than two days in a row. If your dog shows signs of limping, cut back on physical activity and just go on moderately paced walks. Icing your pet’s affected limb can also help to relieve symptoms and pain. Too much running, jumping, and swimming can take its toll on a dog’s ligaments, especially smaller and senior dogs.
Ligament tears can result in costly surgery and physical therapy; for more details on cost of care and treatment see our report. If you own a breed of dog that is prone to this injury or your dog is highly active, consider dog insurance. In the event of injury, pet insurance can greatly reduce or even eliminate the cost of vet bills. Try not to overstretch your dog’s physical boundaries; limit intensive exercise to every other day and cut back if you find your pet excessively tired and/or limping the next day.