Dog ACL (CCL) Tears: Causes, Treatment and Recovery

Dog ACL (CCL) Tears: Causes, Treatment and Recovery

You are probably familiar with ACL knee injuries in people, especially athletes, but unless you have been through it with a dog, you may not realize how common it actually is in our canine companions. Although often referred to as an ACL injury, in dogs the clinical term is actually a CCL injury, which is short for cranial cruciate ligament.


Repetitive stress 

Sudden stops, abrupt changes in direction, and jumping and landing are the types of movement that can result in an ACL tear in dogs. Dogs with very high activity levels are at risk of wearing their joints down just from simple repetitive stress.

Type of breed 

Some breeds tend to be more prone to ACL injuries, suggesting a genetic predisposition. Among them are; Mastiffs, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, Akitas, Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, etc. And yes, this list is mostly large breeds, but that is not to say that small breeds, simply because of their size, will not experience a CCL tear.

Weight and age

As with people, extra pounds are a strain on the knees. An overweight dog may rupture their CCL from just a minor trauma like a small misstep. And as dogs age, joints may become stiff, weakening over time and increasing the likelihood of an injury. 

Owner’s lifestyle

This sounds funny, but your daily and weekly routine can contribute to a CCL injury. Why? Because many of us are very active on the weekends, but may not have the time to do so the rest of the week. There is even a name for this, “Weekend Warriors”! When a dog gets a 3-hour hike on a Saturday but has been sedentary the rest of the week, he may overexert himself. The lack of regular activity can lead to weak joints, and not being conditioned for such vigorous exercise then becomes a risk factor.

Previous CCL Rupture Dog

Unfortunately, one of the highest predictors of an injury is if there has been a prior CCL rupture, with studies showing that 60% of dogs that rupture their CCL on one leg, will suffer the same injury on the opposite leg.



A full tear can happen very suddenly, and your dog may cry out and immediately stop any activity. But it is also not uncommon for dogs to originally experience a partial tear, and limping and lameness is the first indicator of a problem. 

Once the partial tear becomes a full tear, the dog will often favor their good leg because of overcompensating for the injured one. Dogs will “toe touch” while standing to avoid putting weight on the injured leg, and may exhibit signs of pain along, with swelling of the knee.


Early intervention is the best way of dealing with this type of injury, with surgery almost always being the most effective course of action. 

Studies show that when dogs are treated quickly, they have faster and easier recoveries, as well as a decreased risk of potential cartridge damage that can lead to further deterioration of the knee, and debilitating arthritis. 

According to the current statistics, dog torn acl surgery cost can range from $1,000 - $3,000, depending on the type of surgery you opt for, and your geographical location.

There are FOUR different types of surgeries that are currently used, and along with speaking with your veterinarian, it is highly recommended that you also take the time to do some research of your own. CCL tear surgery is not cheap, and results can vary depending on the surgical option you choose. Educating yourself will ensure you are making the best decision for your dog and yourself.

When scheduling CCL surgery for your dog, you want to make sure you are using an experienced, reputable surgeon. And just as we might do if we were having ACL knee surgery, it may be a good idea to get a second opinion.

Although there are cases where surgery is not needed, they typically only occur in dogs that way under 25 pounds and they require very strict activity restriction for at least 6 weeks, followed by a period of rehabilitation through low-level activity.


After a CCL surgery, it is imperative that you make sure your dog is kept quiet and avoids physical activity, especially jumping. 

As it can take about 8 - 12 weeks to heal from the surgery, many people deal with this by using a crate or a dog pen when they are not around to supervise their dog.

Be prepared to use a sling or towel to help your dog go out without putting weight on the leg, especially in the first 2 weeks.

Have products on hand like a quick and easy to make bland diet in case your dog experiences stomach upset after anesthesia. 

Other helpful products are wound spray to keep the incision clean and prevent infection, probiotics to aid in restoring healthy gut bacteria that is decreased due to antibiotics, and a stool softener to help with constipation caused by pain medication.


With a CCL rupture in one leg being the single largest indicator of an injury on the adjacent leg, prevention is key!

Weight Management

First and foremost, make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight. It cannot be overstated that extra weight on the knee joint is a major contributor to injury.

Stay Active 

Keep your dog active with consistent exercise throughout the week. This is super important if you want to get out on the weekend and do that 2-hour hike. That said, excessive exercise can lead to injury just as easily as insufficient exercise. This is because overused joints wear down due to high activity, and underused joints become more susceptible to injury due to low activity, so striking a healthy balance is key.

Quality food 

Good nutrition is important in building healthy tendons, joints, muscles, and ligaments, all essential in protecting your dog against injury, illness, and disease. Just like we need to care about what we put into our bodies; we need to do the same for our dogs. Read the ingredients on your pet food products, and educate yourself on which ones provide the best nutrition.

Joint Supplements 

Joint Supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin can improve a dog’s joint health and overall mobility while slowing the progression of arthritis, and potentially preventing a CCL injury. 


Did you know that even something as simple as keeping your dog’s nails trimmed can prevent a CCL injury? This is because long nails can affect the way a dog moves when they are being active, even when they are just walking. Long nails can also cause your dog to lose their balance and slip on certain surfaces, so keep those nails trimmed!

Bottom Line, preventing a CCL tear can save you a lot of aggravation and money. Following the guidelines listed above can certainly help, but in the event of an injury, seeking treatment right away is very important for the healing process, as well as the future prognosis of the repaired joint. 

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