Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My dog tore her cranial cruciate ligament: 5 things to remember

Lulu sat on the Vet's table, gingerly kicking out her right hind leg. She looked at me with the same big, sad eyes she employed to get treats.

After a week or two of not knowing what was wrong, of being frustrated and worried, I was finally overcome. I put my head on hers and cried.

Lulu waits at the vet for her diagnosis.
Lulu waits at the vet for her diagnosis.
Lulu had some obvious discomfort a week or two prior. I took her to a vet (not her primary, he was out of the office on a training day). They felt her spine, moved her legs, she showed no sign of pain. They diagnosed her with an upset tummy and prescribed an antibiotic, a probiotic and canned prescription food.

A week later, we were at her regular vet. She would walk, yelp and hold up her leg.

The vets moved her legs. They performed an X-ray. It was a tear of the cranial cruciate ligament.

A cranial cruciate ligament tear in a dog's leg.
A cranial cruciate ligament tear. Picture courtesy of Embrace Insurance.
I felt like I had failed my dog somehow. I kept going through in my mind what had led Lulu to tear a ligament. Had Jasmine been rough with her? Did I push her too hard? Why did I keep letting her jump on and off the bed or the couch or out of the car? Why didn't I make sure she had Glucosamine supplements daily?

And why hadn't I waited one more day and seen her primary vet initially?

I have had many people try to reassure me that I am not a bad dog mom. I remain unconvinced. But I hope this post will help put your mind at ease... and give you something to think about.

Before we get started, here are some great resources on cruciate ligament tears and treatment:

1. CCL ruptures can take months or years to form.
There are lots of factors that can contribute to a CCL tear -- genetics, activity, obesity, age. It doesn't take much for a micro-tear to become a rupture.

Sometimes you will notice your dog is getting lame. But sometimes there will be no sign of a problem -- until there's a problem.

Lulu is generally pretty healthy for a dog her age, though maybe not as active as she needs to be. But tears can happen in active dogs and inactive dogs.

2. Dogs are good at hiding their pain -- especially at the vet's office.
If I could find a way to read a dog's mind, I would be so happy -- and rich.

Lulu can be downright stoic. If she wants something, she will do anything to get it, even if she is in pain. She's be all curled up on her leg, but the minute she wants to eat she is up and following that bowl everywhere. Heck, she was walking on all fours at the vet's office two weeks after surgery. Now she is back to hobbling on three. Is she milking it at home, or was the adrenaline rushing and she was trying to make sure I didn't leave her behind again? Who knows!

So you may not know your dog is having trouble, even if you know your dog well. Watch them closely. Watch for anything that seems off.

3. Beagles have a predisposition toward joint problems.
Lulu in her cage at the vet after surgery.
These ligament tears can happen in any dog. Some breeds are more prone to others, particularly bigger, more athletic dogs. But according to my beagle breeder friends, beagles can have problems too. So it is something to watch for as they get older. You may already know that beagles can have back/spine problems. Bone and joint health is really important.

4. Your pet will recover from this if you take care of it properly. 
Lulu's stitches post surgery and after her stitches came out.
Lulu's stitches post surgery and after her stitches came out.
Follow the vet's post-op instructions. Your pet will likely spend weeks, if not months being limited in movement. Don't let them run around. Walk them on a leash. Do physical therapy. Eventually they will be fine. But don't trust them to tell you they are fine.

Lulu one day felt well enough to walk (this was before the surgery). I was so happy she wanted to that I took her out on the leash. She wanted to keep going. I let her. And then, dozens of yards later, she stopped, and put her tail down. She could go no further, or even back. And I picked her up and carried her -- all 40 pounds -- all the way home. In the rain. With Jasmine on my other arm.

Keep up with care until the vet says otherwise.

5. Be prepared to have to deal with it again. 
Lulu will walk into Petco again soon, but she will ride in a cart for now
Lulu has her first post-surgery trip to Petco.
Something like 40 to 60 percent of dogs that have had a ligament tear in one leg will likely have it in the opposite one. The thought is the dog puts extra pressure on the leg post-surgery which leads to further strain.

Most of my doggy friends who have had the surgery have to repair the other leg a few years later. So be prepared to deal with this, and be prepared to pay for it too.

Don't blame yourself if this happens to your pup. It's all part of the life of a dog parent. Your pup needs you to be a good parent, now more than ever.

Has your dog gone through a cruciate ligament tear? Did you do surgery, or were you able to go without? Tell us your story below!


  1. My three legged Beagle Lily had surgery three weeks ago. It was rough going at first. She tore the knee on the same side that her leg had been amputated on. Just getting her out to potty was a major ordeal. She's such a trooper and has done so well. We have a long way to go but this precious girl is worth all the effort and money in the world. I'm sure you can relate.


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