knee surgery treatment options and care in dogs

Golden Retriever running in field | What to expect after knee surgery in dogs
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Aug 14 2014

The most common knee injury in dogs is a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament, and because surgery to repair this injury is almost always recommended, knee surgery is a familiar treatment in veterinary medicine.

Cruciate ligament ruptures are most often seen in big dogs, but small dogs have their fair share of knee problems, too. Luxating patellas are a hereditary condition seen in many breeds of small dogs, and if the clinical signs are severe enough, knee surgery is recommended for them, too.

Whether you have a big dog or a small dog, it is possible that knee surgery is in your future, so I thought it would be worthwhile to address what you can expect after your pet comes home.

Cruciate ligament surgery options

Let’s start with cruciate ligament repair, because it’s just so common. If your dog has been diagnosed with a torn cruciate ligament, surgery is your best bet for a long term pain-free outcome. If left untreated, over time your dog will develop arthritis as the joint tries to stabilize itself. Surgery stabilizes the joint immediately instead.

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There are three popular options for cruciate ligament repair: extracapsular repair, tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA). Each has its benefits, and your veterinarian will recommend the surgery that is best for your dog. Here’s what you can expect in your post-operative pooch.

Extracapsular repair

Exercise restriction will be required for at least 8 weeks. Leash walks only—no running or jumping.

Your dog might be toe touching within a day or two after returning home, but it may take up to two weeks. A gradual return to function will happen over two months.


Your dog will probably come home with a bandage over the entire leg.

Strict exercise restriction will be required for 8 to 12 weeks.

Your dog will likely be toe touching within a week, with a return to normal function expected two to three months post-operatively.


Your dog will probably come home with a bandage over the entire leg.

Strict exercise restriction and confinement will be required for at least 12 weeks.

Your dog will likely return to normal function within three to four months.

Luxating patella surgery options

Dogs with luxating patellas have to cope with knee caps that slide in and out place. There are three surgical procedures used to correct this condition: lateral imbrication, trochlear modification and tibial crest transposition.

The goal of each surgery is to keep the patella from sliding out of its groove in the tibia. Your veterinarian will suggest the surgery best suited for your dog.

If a lateral imbrication is the surgery of choice, you can expect to have to restrict your pet’s activity for three to four weeks.

If either of the other two surgeries is performed, she’ll need to have her exercise restricted for closer to six weeks.

Regardless of the surgery, your dog will be toe touching within a week or two post-operatively, though some dogs will need to be trained to reuse the affected leg.

No matter the underlying cause or the surgery performed, physical therapy will likely be part of the post-operative plan. Passive range of motion exercises and cold packs can be done at home with the blessing of your veterinarian, but in some cases, your vet will prescribe professional physical therapy.

If you’re lucky enough to have veterinary physical therapists in your area, take advantage of them - especially if you have pet insurance that covers rehabilitation! Your pet will thank you for it when he emerges from his knee surgery stronger than ever!

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