a leg to stand on, part 2: cruciate ligament disease

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Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Apr 15 2014


In the last blog, we talked about cruciate ligaments and some of the contributing factors to cruciate ligament disease in dogs. Today I’ll cover clinical signs of the condition, diagnosis and some important things to remember about the disease.

Signs + Symptoms

Because cruciate ligament disease is a progressive disease, the clinical signs can be vague and often overlooked by pet parents – especially since both legs may be affected.

Below is a list of the most common clinical signs noted; however, it is not an all-inclusive list. Many pet parents think their pets have painful hips or hurt their foot. Other times, they may not realize their pet is experiencing discomfort until the ligament fully ruptures. Common clinical signs of cruciate ligament disease are as follows:

  • Sitting with legs to one side instead of sitting square
  • Difficulty rising
  • Difficulty jumping- into the car, onto the couch, etc.
  • Decreased activity level
  • Muscle atrophy of the affected leg(s)
  • Thickening of the stifle (referred to as a medial buttress)
  • Decreased stifle range of motion
  • Stifle “popping”
  • Limping
  • Three legged lameness

Diagnosing Cruciate Disease

First and foremost, your veterinarian will do a thorough physical and orthopedic exam to try and localize where your dog is experiencing pain. This is not always easy to do, as dogs will get very excited and tense at the veterinary office and may not react to the manipulations that we use to try and localize the pain. If the ligament is only partially damaged, this can really make the diagnosis difficult, because part of the ligament is still intact and may prevent abnormalities on physical examination.

Veterinarians also use radiographs and advanced imaging such as MRI’s to diagnose this disease. It should be noted that these are soft tissue structures we are discussing, so radiographs are not always useful in diagnosing this particular disease.

Treatment Options

Once your dog is diagnosed with cruciate ligament disease, you have treatment options. Surgery, medical management, rehabilitation, and canine orthotics are all possible therapies. Most of the time, we use a combination of these therapies. Your veterinarian and/or veterinary surgeon will work with you to determine the best course of action for you and your dog.

A few important things to remember about cruciate ligament disease:

  1. This is more commonly a progressive disease than an acute injury.
  2. Treatment can be very expensive and time consuming (but that’s what pet insurance is for, right?).
  3. Once your dog has suffered from cruciate ligament disease in one stifle, he or she is likely to experience disease in the other stifle – often within a year’s time.
  4. There is not a single right way to treat cruciate ligament disease. There are many options for you and your dog!

As always, if you are concerned that your dog is afflicted with cruciate ligament disease, contact your veterinarian. He or she knows your dog best, and will recommend a treatment plan based on your individual dog’s needs.

I’ll cover surgical options for treating cruciate disease in my next blog. Stay tuned!

To more waggin’ and purrin’. rwkj