Why is it that an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury in dogs is the most common orthopedic injury of all veterinary medicine? Did nature not make this ligament strong enough in dogs? Is it simply due to bad breeding, or are there other factors in play here with relation to this injury?
This question comes up a lot in discussions with my clients. They want to know why their dog got this injury, and if there was anything they could have done to prevent it. Here are the 5 most common predisposing factors to ACL injuries in dogs.
- Bad Breeding: We’re all familiar with the term “hip dysplasia.” It has been well documented that the 2 most common causes of this disease condition in dogs are bad breeding and over-nutrition at a young age. We will dig into this more in a future post. But how do hip problems lead to ACL injury? It’s simple: overcompensation.
Over the years, veterinarians have discovered the direct correlation between hip dysplasia and ACL injuries: if a dog blows their right ACL, X-ray the hips and sure enough many times you will see that the left hip is not good. This makes sense, right? If your left hip hurts, you are going to overcompensate and place more weight and stress on your right leg. Over time, this added stress weakens the Cranial Cruciate Ligament in that right knee. All it takes is a certain movement or hyperextension and POW, you blow the right.
- Natural Load: Dogs walk with their knees bent at all times, which means that the ACL is always “loaded,” i.e. carrying weight. Humans, on the other hand, walk with our knees straight up and down. This is why in people, we mostly see ACL injuries in athletes who hyperextend the knee, such as football or basketball players.
- Excess Weight: It is well documented that approximately 50% of dogs today are clinically overweight, and in most cases obese. Obviously, the more weight on the ligament, the more strain over time.
- Weekend Warrior Syndrome: This is what I call the plague of the domestic dog. Most dogs are natural-born athletes, but in western society – due to our lifestyle and work schedules – we don’t give our dogs enough exercise on a regular basis. And then when we do allow them to be dogs and exercise, more often than not, we overdo it. Clearly, lack of exercise means weaker muscle and weaker soft tissue ligament, making them more prone to injury.
The most common description of an ACL injury I hear from my clients goes something like this: “My dog was chasing a ball, squirrel, other dog, etc. and then I heard a yelp. When my dog came back into the house, it was holding its leg up.
- Lack of Recognizing Early Warning Signs: Many times dogs have joint health issues which are underlying and go undiagnosed by both pet owners and veterinarians, mostly due to lack of people’s understanding of what I call the 12 subtle signs of arthritis. Check out the video discussing these 12 signs at www.dogarthritischallenge.com.
What You Can Do to Prevent ACL Injury in Your Dog
In order to give your dog the best chance of avoiding an injury to their ACL, make sure that they maintain a healthy body weight, exercise them on a regular basis and don’t allow them to overdo it without proper conditioning, get a prophaltix X-ray taken of their hips and lumbar spine to ensure good body structure, and lastly, be informed about the early warning signs of arthritis. As with any preventative health measures, you’ll save yourself and your pup a lot of strife by staying ahead of the problem.