Ligaments are the fibrous tissues connecting bones to a joint. If your dog suffers a ligament tear or rupture, it’s likely he has a long road to recovery. Working with a good veterinary physiotherapist and keeping up with necessary therapeutic exercises is the key to successful rehabilitation. You may have to keep an energetic, rambunctious dog quiet during his recuperation – perhaps the most difficult of the tasks involved.
Common Ligament Injuries
In canines, tearing or rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) – equivalent to a human’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – is the most common type of such injury. Trauma may cause a sudden tear, but more often it results from degeneration over time. Dogs with exceptionally straight legs are at greater risk of experiencing a CCL injury due to conformational factors. In a rupture, the dog is obviously lame in the rear leg and usually experiences considerable pain. A partial tear is more subtle. The dog won’t use his leg effectively and is generally off-and-one lame. Without treatment, the ligament will usually rupture. While smaller dogs may improve with conservative treatment – long periods of rest and inactivity – medium to large canines almost always need surgery to fully recover.
Dogs may also injure their Achilles tendons in the hind legs. These injuries also result from trauma or degeneration. Less severe injuries may only require splints or casts, but most dogs need surgical repair of the tendons. It can take up to three months of rest and rehabilitation therapy for a dog to recover, but the overwhelming majority of canines undergoing this surgery return to full function. Of course, some dogs aren’t good candidates for surgery because of age or other health issues. There’s also no getting around the fact that surgery is quite expensive.
Your vet will prescribe anti-inflammatories for pain relief. Supplements such as MSM, glucosamine, and turmeric may help but always check with your vet before giving them to your dog.
Dietary changes aren’t the first items that come to mind when dealing with ligament injuries, but they are often an important part of a dog’s rehabilitation. Excess weight puts additional stress on a dog’s legs, so if your pooch needs to lose some pounds, your vet may recommend a reduced fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Even if your dog’s weight is normal, he does not require as much food if his activity is extremely limited. Your vet will recommend a nutritious meal plan that won’t make your dog excessively energetic at a time when he has no outlet for his vitality.
During his recuperation, your dog can’t run, jump or climb stairs. About the only non-therapeutic activity he can engage in are brief “bathroom” breaks – and they are not walks, just short forays outdoors. On the plus side, that means he should look forward to his physical therapy sessions, which consist of range of motion exercises and stretching. The veterinary physiotherapist shows you how to perform the exercises, and develops a custom treatment protocol for your dog. Expect to spend at least two hours daily, broken up into several sessions, working with your dog.
Your veterinary physiotherapist may use various modalities, including lasers and electromagnetic therapy to help your dog heal. She’ll check your pet’s progress during weekly appointments.
Hydrotherapy provides excellent benefits for dogs recovering from ligament injuries. Dogs receive exercise without pressuring their joints. It’s also a safe way for a dog to let off some of his pent-up energy without putting any weight on his legs.
Using the underwater treadmill allows the dog to build muscle and stay fit. Since surgery is so expensive, some owners may opt to use hydrotherapy as part of a conservative management regimen. Hydrotherapy may prevent dogs diagnosed with partial tears from completely rupturing, as water exercise aids in muscle development.
With patience and perseverance, you and your dog should once again take long, enjoyable walks.