ACL Tears in Your Dog: Why They’re Common and What Not to Do

ACL tear dogThe ACL is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, often called the Cranial Cruciate Ligament, or CCL, in veterinary medicine.

A tear of this ligament is by far the most common orthopedic injury in dogs, and while it’s relatively easy to fix with the correct diagnosis and therapy, the best way to deal with a torn ACL in your pup is to avoid it in the first place.

So what are some common causes of ACL tears?

We can often point to underlying causes, rather than acute injuries as the offender in ACL tears. One cause, obesity, is a rampant medical issue that adds extra stress to the joints. Dogs also experience constant flex on their knees, as they are always bent, causing the ACL to bear a constant load.

Another possible underlying causes: genetics.

Several breeds are prone to orthopedics issues, especially large breeds who commonly experience hip dysplasia and may overcompensate for pain by placing weight elsewhere.

Breeds that may be predisposed include: Newfoundlands (Peter Muir, in his book Advances in the Canine Cranial Cruciate Ligament, states they have an almost 23 percent incidence of the ACL (sometimes referred to as CrCL rupture trait), Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards and Rottweilers. Some breeds are less likely to tear an ACL despite their large size, including German Shepherds.

One of the most intriguing causes of ACL is “weekend warrior syndrome” – and making a weekend warrior of your pup is the one thing you must not do if you want to avoid this injury.

Weekend Warrior Syndrome

TopDog Health and Rehabilitation came up with a very apt name for a scary underlying reason for ACL tears.

The theory is this: If you consider your dog’s daily level of exercise, or lack thereof, and then consider a beautiful day for a hike where you load him into the car and stay out for five hours at a time, it’s easy to see why a tear could occur. A lack of proper stretching and conditioning can make for a real weekend warrior situation that ends with a trip to the emergency vet.

It’s important to get daily exercise with your dog and to know his or her limits. If you normally go out for about an hour at a time, two hours of play on the weekend will be less detrimental. But if you only go on a quick jaunt for a bathroom break every afternoon, and then expect your pup to keep up on a weekend excursion, you both might be in for trouble.

Have you ever brought your dog to the vet and received an ACL tear diagnosis? Share your story in a comment.

Next week, we’ll talk about how ACL tears are diagnosed, as well as other common injuries your dog might experience.