Dog ACL Injury

by yinyang

It has been my experience that a lot of dogs suffer from ACL injuries. In my opinion, expensive surgery is not always the solution.

About five years ago, I was out for a walk with my 9 year old Labrador named Lucy.   During the walk, she suddenly stopped and kicked her hind leg up really close to her body.  She tried to take a few steps, but couldn’t stand the pain of putting weight on the hind leg.  At this point, I was really concerned for my dog and thought that I was going to have to carry an 80 lb dog home.  Luckily, we were not far from home so, she was able to hobble back.

I immediately took her to the veterinarian.  He carefully examined my poor dog Lucy and said that she had a tear in her anterior cruciate ligament or ACL.  The Vet said that my dog would require surgery at the university and gave me no other alternatives for treatment.  He informed me that the price tag on this surgery was somewhere in the ballpark of $3000. 

I left the Vet’s office with some pain meds for my dog and was preparing myself for a $3000 surgery to heal my poor dog.  I was also concerned for my dog, because she had been spayed kind of late in life and that process was really hard on her.  I was concerned that the surgery would be too much for her as an older dog.

Lucy at age 10
Lucy at age 10

I spent a lot of time researching ACL dog injuries.  Luckily, I found a lot of dog owners that had nursed their dogs back to full recovery on their own.  Funny enough, I found way more information about dog ACL injury recovery than anything that the Vet told me.  I quickly learned that scar tissue would build up in the location of the ACL tear and would allow the leg to heal on it’s own.  The only downside is that the dog will be stiff and prone to arthritis in that area.

Once I learned this information, I decided to give it a try.  Why not?  Lucy was 9 years old at the time and was getting old for an English Labrador.  To help her heal, I read that I should buy joint supplements for her. 

From my research on the Internet, I learned that it is important to make sure that the joint supplements contain glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate, and methylsulfonylmethane or MSM.  So, I immediately headed out to the store to get her started on a good dose of joint supplements.  (As a side note, I recommend giving all old dogs joint supplements.  It really makes a difference in their mobility and their general happiness.  I currently have an older adopted dog with bad arthritis and he is doing noticeably better with joint supplements.)

From my research, I also learned that it’s important to get their weight down.  A lot of dog owners were recommending a grain free dog food.  A lot of these grain free foods are high in protein and low in carbohydrates.  This kind of food would give her rich proteins to help heal while keeping her weight down.  (As a side note, I feed all of my dogs’ grain free foods now.  This kind of food has basically eliminated ear infections with my dogs, which are very common with Labs.  You can also see a great improvement in their coat.)

The last tip was to make sure that your dog isn’t over active.  Don’t walk your dog, don’t let your dog run,  don’t play rough with your dog, nothing.  The goal is to keep your dog somewhat immobile so that the scar tissue can build up in the leg.  Any amount of hard playing or running puts the dog at risk of reinjuring itself.  For me, this worked very well, because Lucy was already 9 years old and kind of lazy.

Within a few months, Lucy was walking around with a little bit of a limp.  After 6 months, you couldn’t even tell that she had an ACL injury.  By feeding my dog a healthy diet with joint supplements, she was able to heal naturally without a $3000 surgery.  I later learned that a lot of Vets actually get a referral fee for recommending surgeries.  This might have been the case with my Vet.  Let’s just say I saw a different Veterinarian after this experience.

If Lucy were a younger dog, I probably would have gone ahead with the ACL surgery.  Most young dogs would just reinjure themselves and not give the leg time to heal with scar tissue. 

I run into a lot of people at the dog park that have had the expensive ACL surgery.  I often share my story and I often hear “oh, I didn’t know that was an option”.  So, you should consider carefully whether ACL dog surgery is right for you.  In my case it wasn’t right for my dog Lucy.  (P.S. Lucy passed away a few years ago at the age of 11).

Updated: 04/12/2012, yinyang
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Ragtimelil on 06/09/2012

Sorry for your loss of Lucy. I know how that feels. But thanks for the article. I declined surgery for my second dog with a hematoma in his ear. Same results. It healed on its own. The first dog had surgery for $300 and had a really ugly ear after that.

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