The vet’s office: Examining knee injuries in pets
By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Hardly a week goes by that we do not diagnose or have referred to us a pet with a knee injury. Being football season, we are all aware of the concerns for knee injuries in these super athletes. Veterinarians have this same concern for the dogs they examine that have injured the similar anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), terms used interchangeably.
Some knee ligament failures may start out as subtle lameness of a rear limb that gets progressively worse over time. Others are of abrupt onset related to running or jumping. This implies that some ligament failures may be truly athletic-related, and others may be a drawn out degenerative process. In either case, full lifting of the hind limb or just minimal toe touching may be observed. Partial tears may show as periodic discomfort with relatively normal use between episodes. These may be difficult to diagnose without an orthopedic referral. With full failure of the ligament, your veterinarian may be able to demonstrate laxity (drawer) on the exam.
All breeds are prone to this injury, but overweight pets tend to be more commonly injured. Sixty percent of these larger dogs will have the opposite knee fail within two years of the first. Sadly for some, in just a few days post surgery, the other ligament will fail because all of the weight is shifted off of the surgical leg and onto the opposite leg.
Due to the instability of the injured joint upon walking or running, pain and inflammation are common. Without intervention to reduce this shifting movement, severe arthritic change will rapidly take place, eventually resulting in disuse. Once injured, the knee will never again be at 100 percent, but there are options to slow down the progression of arthritis. Medications will usually be prescribed to reduce the discomfort and inflammation of the injury. Be cautious about using over-the-counter aspirin or other human labeled anti-inflammatory drugs. Some may be liver toxic in dogs, even at low levels, and aspirin can cause stomach ulceration.
For small dogs, weight reduction, activity restriction, and medical management may give satisfactory results. For the larger dogs, surgical stabilization is the treatment of choice. Some clients have tried specialized knee braces with very mixed results. Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will explain the differences in cost, benefits, and availability. Some procedures may only be available at a university or surgical specialty practice.
Prevention is still the best course. Keep pets at normal weight, limit periods of strenuous activity with older or out of condition pets, and keep your dog on leash to reduce the “squirrel chase” bursts of speed.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.