Will My Dog Recover from an ACL Tear Without Surgery?

Reviewed By Julie •  Updated: 03/26/21 •  10 min read
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Your dog has been running around and having a blast in the yard. All of a sudden, they are limping and are in some discomfort. Of course, no owner wants to see their pooch in pain and this scenario can be scary. There is the possibility that your furry friend has torn their ACL. This is a common injury that will require some rest and recovery time.

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A lot of owners want to know whether their furry friend can recover from an ACL tear without having surgery. It might be because you do not have enough money for the treatment or simply because you do not want your dog to go under anesthetic. Either way, we are going to see whether it is possible to avoid surgery but still help an ACL tear.

What is an ACL Injury?

First of all, we need to understand what exactly we are meaning when we are talking about an ACL injury. Essentially, this is a tear or a sprain that your pooch incurs on the anterior cruciate ligament, shortened to ACL. This is one of the most important ligaments found in the knee and as the job of maintaining stability.

A lot of ACL tears happen during exercise. For example, it can occur with strenuous exercise or if there are sudden changes in speed or direction. Your furry friend may be jumping or suddenly stops and starts during zoomies. This sudden change in movement can be what leads to a tear or sprain in the knee. This injury occurs in a similar way for humans.

This is actually one of the most common problems that our furry friends develop. In fact, around one million pooches suffer an ACL tear every year.

While it can be scary when your pup has hurt themselves, know that you are not alone and your canine can recover from this injury.

Can Dogs Recover from an ACL Tear Without Surgery?

Of course, every owner wants a straight forward answer; can dogs recover from an ACL tear without the need for surgery or not? The answer is yes but only in certain circumstances. For example, it may be possible to avoid surgery if your furry friend only has a minor ACL tear. The best thing you can do is take your dog to their veterinarian first. They are going to be able to conduct examinations and x-rays to see the extent of the damage. A vet will be able to use their experience and training to recommend alternatives to surgery if this is possible.

Unfortunately, if your beloved companion has had a serious accident and has a major ACL tear, this is going to require surgery. While this can be expensive and cost a lot of money, the vet may think that this is the best way for recovery. Always make sure that you take your canine to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms. This is going to avoid lengthy waits for surgery.

Be aware that sometimes, surgery cannot be avoided. That is why it is always recommended that you have pet insurance. This can help you out if you are worried about the costs.

Signs of an ACL Injury

If your dog has an ACL injury, you will know about it. There are going to be certain signs that you should look out for. Some common signs of an ACL injury include:

If you notice that your pup has any of these symptoms, you should arrange an appointment with your veterinarian. This should be done as soon as possible. They can make a diagnosis for your pup and treatment can be discussed so that your canine can make a good recovery from their ACL injury.

Surgery for an ACL Tear

A lot of veterinarians are going to recommend surgery for your pooch. This is often seen as the best solution for the injury. But there are going to be some canines that only need a knee brace. The reason that the treatment varies is that it is going to depend on the severity of the injury. For example, your beloved companion might have a partial tear or they could be suffering from a full tear. The treatment they need will depend on how bad they have torn the ACL.

The technique for the surgery will largely depend on the extent of the injury to your dog. In addition, there are a few factors to take into account. For example, your dog’s age, weight, size and lifestyle. Plus, the surgery will depend on what the veterinarian thinks is best in that situation and the cost you want to pay for the procedure.

Common Surgeries

There are two types of surgeries that are often chosen to treat an ACL tear. We are going to look at them in more detail so that you can know your options.

1. Lateral Suture

The first surgery is lateral suture This is the surgery that is also referred to as extracapsular repair of the cruciate ligament. It is the most common one that is chosen by veterinarians to treat an ACL tear. Under general anesthetic, your furry friend will be given sutures on the outside of the joint. The surgery aims to restore stability to the knee.

2. Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy

A relatively new, yet equally successful surgery for ACL injuries, is the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy surgery. This procedure was first performed around 20 years ago and its use is growing in popularity. This is due to having success in the long term for pups, as well as the quicker recovery time.

The aim of the surgery is to adjust the knee so that the ACL tear is not used as the stabilizing joint.

Other Treatments for an ACL Tear

If your furry friend has only a partial tear of the ACL or injuries that are not necessary for surgery, there are some other conservative treatments that are available. Let’s take a look at some of them.

1. Physical Therapy

One of the options you have if your dog has a minor ACL injury is physical therapy. This can be beneficial for your pooch because it can help them work through their injury and learn to use the knee again. In the process, the exercises can make the knee strong again and allow your canine to regain full mobility. This is a good option even combined with surgery. It can help in their recovery.

2. Chiropractic Adjustments

Another option for your pup is chiropractic adjustments. This is another type of therapy that can also help improve motions in the joints and may be beneficial after an ACL tear. It can help to improve the range of motion in the knee. This can be just what your pup needs to recover from a minor tear in their knee and help to improve function after trauma. 

3. Acupuncture

You may have heard about acupuncture for humans. Well, it is also available for dogs. In particular, it is a treatment that is often used for helping arthritis and joint inflammation. But it can also be useful for ACL tears and problems with the knee. Through several regular acupuncture sessions, your pooch can benefit from less pain in their knee, as well as improved joint motion. Hopefully, this can assist your pup on the way to recovery.

4. Massage

Massaging the knee and the muscles in the leg can also help your furry friend with their discomfort. It can help to get the blood flowing, which can alleviate pain and assist with recovery. It can also be relaxing for your pooch and they will enjoy their massage sessions.

5. Nutrition

What your dog eats will also be important for aiding recovery from an ACL tear. With the proper nutrition, your pooch can get all of the vitamins and minerals that they need to stay healthy and strong during their recovery. In combination with quality sleep and rest, good nutrition will help.

6. A Leg Brace

You may want to consider a leg or knee brace for your beloved companion during their recovery. This brace is going to provide support and stability for your canine when they are walking. This can help to reduce some discomfort they might feel in their knee. In addition, a knee brace can encourage scar tissue to form over the tear. This helps with recovery and may even help to avoid future injuries.

7. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

If your veterinarian thinks that your pooch only has a minor ACL tear or other injury nearby to this area, they may suggest that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are enough to help with recovery. These drugs are nicknamed NSAIDs and they can relieve the discomfort your pup is feeling in the short term and promote long term recovery.

8. Additional Supplements

Now might be a good time to choose a joint supplement for your canine if they are not already on one. While this is unlikely to repair any damage on its own, but taking supplements can help in combination with other treatments. Look for a supplement that is high in glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as vitamins and minerals.

9. Restricted Activities

Of course, your pooch is going to be in some pain and discomfort because of their ACL tear. This means that walks and playtime will need to be limited until they are better. This is going to allow the ligaments and joints time to repair and recover from the accident. While your pooch might feel down during this time, it is going to be best for them in the long term. Then they can play fetch again and go on adventures.

Ways to Lower the Risk of an ACL Tear

A lot of dog owners want to know how they can avoid their pup getting an ACL tear. The answer is, you can only lower the risk. Unfortunately, this is something that cannot be avoided completely. Here are some ways you can help your pooch.

1. Exercise Regularly

Make sure that your pup enjoys daily exercise. This can lower the risk of suddenly developing an ACL tear. Ideally, it is best to take your pooch out twice daily for medium intensity exercise. If your pup has high energy levels, this can include running and jogging. Even playing fetch is sure to make your canine happy and help them stay fit and healthy.

2. Stay a Healthy Weight

Dogs that are overweight can be prone to ACL tears. Therefore, make sure that your canine stays at a healthy weight. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your beloved companion is a good weight for their size and breed. You can also look at your pooch and if you can almost see their rib cage, this can mean they are healthy.

3. Take a Joint Supplement

It is a good idea to give your canine a joint supplement from when they are an adult. This can make sure they are getting what they need to stay healthy. Joint supplements are designed to keep them strong and can really help if your pooch enjoys a lot of exercise. If you are not sure what supplement is going to be best for your canine, ask your veterinarian. They will be able to point you in the right direction.

4. Feed Healthy Meals

Of course, what you feed your dog can help to lower the risk of an ACL tear. When your pup is getting all of the nutrients that they need every day, they can be strong and healthy. Make sure that you invest in a good dog food that you like and that is high in protein. This can help to keep the joints and ligaments strong. For example, there are a lot of good things about feeding your dog a raw diet. Do some research and find the best diet for your canine to enjoy.

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Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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