Cruciate ligament disease is the most common orthopedic injury in dogs. It involves partial or complete tear of the cruciate ligament in the knee (stifle). This leads to instability of the joint.
There are several approaches to treatment. Size of the dog, activity level, and structure of the dog affect treatment recommendations and outcomes. Surgery addresses the static stabilizers of the joint. Rehabilitation addresses the dynamic stabilizers of the joint – all of the muscles that cross the joint help provide stability to the joint, and when they become weak, the joint becomes more unstable. Therefore, regardless of the treatment, dogs recover more fully with the addition of rehabilitation.
There are several types of surgical options to treat cruciate ligament disease in dogs. Some of the surgeries involve using suture or implants to mimic the cruciate ligament, providing stability in the joint. Some surgeries alter the structure of the joint.
Surgery is almost always recommended for canine athletes and giant breed dogs. Dogs with a complete cruciate tear or a torn meniscus (cartilage in the joint) should have surgery in order to return to full function.
The goal of rehabilitation is to maintain or rebuild muscle strength, help with pain management, and help the dog to return to normal mobility so that he can return to an active life.
Stifle Brace and Rehabilitation
Some dogs are unable to undergo surgery and might benefit from a custom-made stifle brace. These dogs may have increased anesthetic risk for a medical reason. Or they may have torn the ligament in both knees and would benefit from wearing a brace on one stifle while recovering from surgery on the opposite leg.
A custom-made brace can help provide stability for the stifle while still allowing controlled exercise so that the muscles can remain strong. It is important that the brace be made for your dog so that it will fit properly without causing further stress to the joint.
Your rehabilitation veterinarian can make a cast so that the brace can be made specifically for your dog. There will be a follow-up appointment to fit the brace, and then start therapeutic exercises so that your dog will maintain strength in the leg and range of motion in the joints.
Traditionally, non-surgical treatment of cruciate ligament injury has consisted of confinement and pain management. But dogs have been shown to do better with rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation addresses mobility issues, such as muscle pain, muscle strength, and joint health, so that recovery is more complete than rest alone.