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Ruptured Cranial Cruciate Ligament in Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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The cranial cruciate ligament is located within the stifle (knee) joint and acts to stabilize the femur on the tibia. The ligament can be torn as a result of an acute traumatic event or more commonly it ruptures due to a slow progressive breakdown of the ligament.

When the tear is sudden and complete, lameness may be severe and such that your dog refuses to bear weight on the leg. When the tear is partial or incomplete an intermittent lameness that is more noticeable after heavy exercise may be seen. Your dog may seem more lame on some days than others.

In large dogs (greater than 30 pounds), the joint usually becomes arthritic and the joint thickens if surgical stabilization is not performed.

What to Watch For

  • Sudden onset of rear limb lameness
  • Gradual onset of lameness in a rear limb

    Diagnosis

    The diagnosis is generally made by your veterinarian during the physical examination. Your veterinarian will want to know whether the lameness occurred gradually or suddenly, whether it is intermittent or continuous, and whether or not it is exacerbated by exercise.

    Your dog will be observed at rest, walking and trotting. The leg will be palpated (felt) and the knee joint will be evaluated for swelling, evidence of pain, thickening, "clicking" on flexion and extension, and the range of motion (flexion and extension) determined.

    Specific tests to evaluate the integrity of the cranial cruciate ligament include a cranial drawer test or a tibial compression test, which are used to determine if there is increased movement in the joint. The movement in one knee will be compared to the movement in the other rear limb.

    Both stifle joints may be radiographed for comparison. X-rays may show joint swelling and various degrees of arthritis depending on the length of time the rupture has been present.

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