a leg to stand on, part 1: cruciate ligament disease

Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Apr 14 2014

For this week’s blog, let’s take a look at one of the most common causes of hind limb lameness in our canine companions: cruciate ligament disease. This is an incredibly hot topic in veterinary medicine, as it is a very common and oftentimes very expensive disease. While we can see cruciate ligament disease in cats, it isn’t nearly as common. So, let’s take a look at canine cruciate ligament disease.

First of all, what is a cruciate ligament? Every dog has two cruciate ligaments in each knee (known as the stifle in the dog): a cranial cruciate ligament and a caudal cruciate ligament. Humans also have these ligaments, but they are called the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament, respectively. These ligaments provide stability to the stifle and prevent abnormal sliding of the bones that make up the stifle joint. In humans, injury to the ACL generally occurs from an abrupt traumatic event such as being tackled during a football game. In dogs, cruciate ligament disease is rarely an acute injury. Instead, dogs suffer from cruciate ligament disease (more on this later).

Why are cruciate ligaments important? Damage or complete rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament is the number one cause of hind leg lameness in our canine companions. As mentioned above, the cruciate ligaments serve to stabilize the knee. If damaged, the instability within the joint can be quite painful and lead to lameness. If completely torn, the lameness may be so severe that your dog refuses to use the leg (three legged lameness). Although this is not an emergency or life threatening condition, the pain associated with a damaged cruciate ligament can be quite severe.

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So what exactly is cruciate ligament disease? As I mentioned earlier, canine cruciate ligament problems are more of a disease than an injury. The contributing factors to this disease include:

  • Degeneration (slow breakdown/aging of the ligament)
  • Obesity
  • Poor physical condition
  • Conformation of joint (genetics)
  • Breed
  • Trauma (although not very common)

As with any disease, it is generally a combination of these factors that can predispose your dog to cruciate ligament disease. Over time the ligament (usually the cranial cruciate ligament) breaks down and causes pain and lameness.

In the next blog, I’ll discuss how to tell if your dog is suffering from cruciate disease, how it is diagnosed and what treatment options are available to get your pet back on four paws again.

To more waggin’ and purrin’. rwkj

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