Dog ACL Surgery (Cruciate Ligament Injury)


Raising a dog can be a fun and exciting experience but can also be stressful when your dog becomes injured. One of the most common injuries for dogs is a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), and ACL surgery is the most common surgery for dogs. While this surgery can be serious and costly, it often means the difference of a dog leading a normal active life.

What is Dog Cruciate Ligament Injury Surgery (ACL Surgery)?

Four important ligaments stabilize the knee, and the ACL is one of them. The role of the ACL is to protect the knee from injury. It stabilizes the knee in two ways. It stabilizes and protects the knee during rotational movements such as pivoting and spinning. The ACL also prevents the knee from hyperextension or extending beyond what is considered normal.

However, when dogs are very active, they often go beyond their limit to where even the ACL can’t protect the knee. This is often the case with dogs that are very active, such as hunting dogs and dogs that participate in competitions. In such cases, the dog may tear the ACL and require surgery.

There are actually three different surgical procedures that are performed on dogs with ACL injuries.

  • Lateral Suture Technique
  • Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy
  • Tibial Tuberocity Advancement

Lateral Suture Technique

The lateral suture technique, also known as extra-capsular repair, is the most commonly used of the three surgical techniques.

The lateral suture technique is a fairly simple procedure that involves stabilizing the knee on the outer part of the joint by using a monofilament, which is a single fiber plastic line. This line is extremely strong and acts in the role of a suture or stitch. It reinforces the stability the knee requires after a torn or sprained ACL.

The suture is put in the same spot where the ACL was located and injured except it’s put on the outside of the joint. Prior to the placement of the suture, a hole is drilled in the front section of the tibia. Once the hole is drilled, the suture is looped around the fabellar bone on the back of the femur, continued along the knee and through the hole, and then joined together with a stainless-steel clip. Although this type of ACL surgery has been successful on many dogs, it is typically recommended for dogs under 50 pounds.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy and Tibial Tuberocity Advancement

The other two techniques, Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) and Tibial Tuberocity Advancement (TTO) are both more invasive and complicated. The TPLO procedure involves cutting and rotating the tibial plateau into a flatter position. The TTA procedure involves cutting the bone along the front of the tibia and inserting a stainless-steel bone space to stabilize the knee.

Dog ACL Surgery Cost

Dog ACL surgery cost is the biggest factor when choosing a treatment method. As stated above, the lateral suture technique is the procedure most used for dogs, and the reason is that it’s the most conservative and least expensive of the methods. The cost of the ACL surgery can vary a lot depending on how performs the surgery. If a general veterinarian performs the surgery, it can cost substantially less than if a board-certified orthopedic surgeon does the procedure.

Geographic location can also play a part in determining the cost of the surgery. The cost is generally cheaper in a small city or community than in a large city. The cost of the ACL surgery can range from $1,100 to $2,500 or more. The cost of the TPLO technique can range from $2,400 to $4,500 or more, while the cost of the TTA technique can range from $3,500 to $4,500. Other factors that can alter the cost are complications, post-care medications and how many days the dog is required to be hospitalized.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the dog’s post-operative care or therapy. Regardless of which type of ACL surgery the dog has, he or she is going to require some sort of post-surgical therapy whether it’s from a therapist or a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner. The more therapy the dog receives, the quicker he or she will heal and be able to resume normal activities. Enter healing time for a dog who has undergone ACL surgery is eight to 12 weeks.

How to Find a Surgeon

Finding a surgeon should be relatively easy. In order for the dog to have been diagnosed as an ACL injury, the dog must have been seen by a veterinarian. Many veterinarians will perform the surgery themselves. If they’re not comfortable performing the surgery, they’ll usually provide the owner with their recommendations. Dog owners can also get information from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Alternatives to Surgery

When a dog tears or sprains and ACL, the owner’s first instinct is to listen to the vet’s recommendation, which is typically surgery. However, there are some alternatives to ACL surgery. Some owners choose to purchase a canine cruciate knee brace. Using the knee brace for six to eight weeks may be all the dog needs for the injury to heal.

Although the knee brace is the most common alternative to surgery, dog owners might consider other treatment methods. Supplements such as glucosamine, turmeric and fish oil are said to be very effective in promoting healing. Massages and acupuncture are also used for ACL sprains or tears. The decision of whether to have surgery or not is generally up to the owner.

Although cost is often the driving factor against the surgery, pet owners with pet insurance are generally able to opt for the surgery without worrying about the high cost of the surgery. As always, it’s best to seek the advice of your veterinarian. He or she will provide you with the medical facts and advise as to what will be in the dog’s best interest long term.