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Successful Treatment Likely for Dogs with Torn

Pet Column for the week of January 17, 2000

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

Zoe is a lucky dog. A hunting dog deserted by owners who didn't want to deal with her
severe lameness, Zoe faced a bleak future until she met Dr. Joseph Harari, a surgeon with a
soft spot for Labrador retrievers. Zoe had torn cranial cruciate ligaments in both
knees--something Dr. Harari, formerly a veterinary orthopedic surgeon at the University of
Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, could surgically correct. Not only
did Zoe recover to run again, she gained a home with Dr. Harari and his family.

"A torn cranial cruciate ligament is one of the most common orthopedic disorders among
dogs," says Dr. Harari. Dogs’ knees are very similar to humans’ knees, and the cranial
cruciate ligament is the same as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. Like human
athletes who tear their ACLs, dogs tear their cranial cruciate ligaments during athletic

Larger dogs, such as retrievers or dogs with very straight legs (rottweilers, Dobermans, and
Akitas), commonly injure themselves while hunting or running to retrieve Frisbees; smaller
overweight poodles or cocker spaniels, which Dr. Harari jokingly calls potato chip
retrievers, tear their cranial cruciates from the return impact after jumping up to retrieve
couch-level treats.

Torn cranial cruciate ligaments are easy to recognize. "If you are with your dog when the
injury occurs, you may hear a popping noise when the ligament tears. And after the injury,
the dog will carry that leg or limp. The injury is initially painful, but the pain eventually
subsides if there isn't torn cartilage or arthritis already present. Pain usually returns in the
form of arthritis," explains Dr. Harari.

Fortunately, pain control and/or surgery can restore your dog to function in about 90
percent of cases. If your dog weighs less than 20 pounds, pain and inflammation control
may be enough to alleviate the discomfort and resulting lameness. Larger dogs need surgery
along with pain and anti-inflammatory control to restore comfort and mobility. If surgery is
not done, the joint will continue to deteriorate and be painful.

There are several different approaches to the surgery, all with high success rates. Surgeons
debate which approach is best. Dr. Harari recommends going with the technique with which
the operating veterinarian feels most comfortable.

"The aim of surgery is to stop the looseness and resulting instability of the joint. In people,
torn ACLs are replaced with grafts from the person's own body or frozen tissue. In dogs,
nylon sutures or pieces of tissue from the side of the dog's knee are used," explains Dr.

Although surgery is generally very successful, recovery can be long. "People expect their
dog to be able to jump up and run around. But, just like people recovering from ACL
surgery, dogs take time to recover, generally 1 to 3 months," he says. Restraining extensive
activity can be difficult in a happy Lab or any dog that is feeling better after being laid up. In
fact, Zoe was too active too soon after surgery and ended up re-injuring one of her knees.

Post-operative therapies are important to rehabilitation. Anesthesiologists and surgeons at
the University of Illinois veterinary hospital work together to provide pain control and
physical therapy, and are beginning to seek funding to develop Illinois as a regional center
for post-operative rehabilitation.

You can help your dog recover safely at home. Keep your dog in good health and
encourage general, but not extensive, exercise. Especially avoid activity on concrete or
slippery surfaces. Swimming and passive-motion exercises where you move your dog’s
joints can help restore strength and motion.

For more information on lameness, contact your local veterinarian.