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Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) Surgery in Dogs

While a dog's knees are similar to yours, did you know that there is one major difference? Theirs bend the opposite way and are always weight-bearing, this makes injuries occur easily. Here, our Oceanside vets share the signs of cranial cruciate ligament tears and what you can expect from CCL surgery for dogs.

What is the CCL or Cranial Cruciate Ligament in Dogs?

In your dog's knee, there is connective tissue that is attached to both the upper and lower parts of the leg. It connects a dog’s tibia to the femur above that when torn, results in partial or complete joint instability, pain, and immobility. CCL ruptures are the result of a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in a dog's stifle (knee). The human equivalent would be a torn ACL, which commonly happens to athletes.

Signs & Symptoms of CLL Injuries

The majority of chronic onset CCL injuries in dogs happen because of aging tissue and regular use. This makes it more common in dogs over the age of five.

Younger dogs are more likely to experience sudden acute onset CCL ruptures. These tears are caused by injuries a dog will sustain just running around living their daily lives.

Some of the signs of CCL injuries in dogs include:

  • Crepitus (crackling noise of bones rubbing against each other)
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Hind leg extension while sitting
  • Pain when the joint is touched
  • Lack of motivation to exercise
  • Irritability
  • Restricted mobility
  • Stiffness after exercising
  • Swelling/Inflammation
  • Thick/firm feel of the joint
  • Weight shifted to one side of the body while standing
  • "Pop" sound when walking

If you notice any of the listed symptoms above, contact your vet and schedule an examination for your dog. 

Can your dog be treated for CCL injuries without surgery?

In dogs under 30 pounds, there is a possibility of recovery that doesn't require surgery through ample rest, anti-inflammatories, and physical rehabilitation. This is dependent upon the size of your pet, their overall health, and the severity of your dog’s CCL injury.

Of course, your vet will be able to recommend the best course of action for your dog's specific needs.

The Types of CCL Surgery in Dogs

CCL surgery is the most common surgery performed in dogs and is estimated to make up about 85% of all orthopedic surgeries performed every year on dogs. Given that this is such a common injury, several procedures have been developed over the years to repair the ligament. Each technique has its pros and cons, so it is important to discuss the options with your veterinarian to determine which procedure would be best for your dog's situation.

Here are some of the most common treatment options for a CCL injury in dogs:


Arthroscopy is the least invasive means of visualizing the structures of the stifle, the cranial, and caudal cruciate ligaments. The technique offers enhanced visualization and magnification of the joint structures. The technology developed for this procedure allows for minimal surgical incisions for partial CCL and meniscus tears. This method may not be an option for completely torn ligaments.

Lateral Suture or Extracapsular

Often recommended for small to medium-sized dogs, this surgery stabilizes the stifle (knee) through the use of sutures placed on the outside of the joint. This is one of the most frequently performed surgeries for this type of injury and is usually performed on dogs that weigh under 50 pounds.

TTA (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement)

TTA is a method of surgery that corrects the need for the CCL by cutting the top of the tibia, moving it forward, and stabilizing it in its new position using a plate. If TTA surgery is recommended for your pup then the vet intends on replacing the ligament entirely to treat the issue.

TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy)

TPLO surgery is becoming increasingly popular and is the best option for larger dog breeds. The procedure entails cutting and leveling the tibial plateau. From there, the surgeon stabilizes the tibial plateau using a plate and screws. Once this surgery has been performed, your dog will not require the ligament.

After CCL surgery, what can you expect from your dog's recovery?

Regardless of the type of surgery performed, you will need to take great care to provide your dog with the appropriate aftercare. The recovery period will be crucial to the success of the procedure. The first 12 weeks following surgery are a crucial time for recovery and rehabilitation. Limited exercise and encouraging your pup to begin using their leg are keys to a successful recovery.

Once two weeks have passed, you can begin taking your dog on walks while gradually increasing the length.

You should see a noticeable change in your 8 weeks into recovery, allowing for regular daily walks lasting about 20 minutes.

After ten weeks post-operatively, your vet will take X-rays to assess how the bone is healing. Your dog will be able to gradually be able to resume normal activities. We at Surfside Animal Hospital recommend a rehabilitation program to optimize your dog’s recovery.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Did your dog hurt themself while playing or running around? Please contact our Oceanside veterinary team to schedule an exam today.

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