As Usual, It Hinges on Weight

One of the most common joint problems in dogs is a broken ligament inside the knee, the one that NBA players know as the ACL, or cruciate ligament. If you keep Labradors, Rottweilers, or another big breed dog, chances are quite good that you will run up against this injury at some point. It’s painful for the pet and requires an expensive repair. Wouldn’t you like to avoid that if you could?

Let’s start with the basics. Like a door hinge, the knee functions simply and in only one plane—open and close, forward and back. Inside the joint is a criss-cross arrangement of flexible ligaments that perform the function of the hinge pin, joining the two components and allowing them to move smoothly. When one of these is broken, the joint doesn’t perform properly. Like a door hinge without its pin, the two sides slide clumsily against each other instead of cleanly moving open and closed. Patients with a broken cruciate ligament limp on the affected leg or even carry it completely off the ground. This is not only due to discomfort but also the simple fact that the leg just won’t bear weight. Sometimes it’s due to a traumatic injury and happens very abruptly; the pet simply cannot walk on that leg any more. A partially torn ligament, on the other hand, yields good days and bad days for weeks or months until it finally breaks clean through. Then… no more good days.

For the big breed dogs who most often face this issue, surgery will be needed. The sooner it’s done, the better the results will be. There are a variety of different repair methods that may be used to restore function in the knee. Orthopedic specialists can be a bit fickle, choosing a new sweetheart procedure every few years or so that is predicted to revolutionize the treatment of joint disease in dogs. The newest methods are only performed by a limited number of surgeons at a limited number of institutions, and they virtually always require some recently developed device that’s made by only one company. So the ideal procedure for your pet will depend greatly on how much you want to spend, how far you want to drive, and how practiced the surgeon is with a particular method of repair. Do your homework and check these things out before jumping at the glossiest advertisement.

Cruciate ligaments break because of breed, genetic tendencies, and overly ambitious physical maneuvers. You really have very little control over these things. However, you can minimize the risk of this injury in your pet without making the switch from Labradors to Pomeranians. Overweight dogs are much more prone to cruciate tears. They’re also more likely to suffer complications after surgical repair, and by then it’s much too late to do anything about the extra pounds. Keeping your dog slim is crucial for helping him to avoid this injury and to regain full function after surgery, if he does fall victim to this very common condition.

Dr. M.S. Regan