Cruciate ligament in dogs: Symptoms, treatments and costs |

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Cruciate ligament injuries in dogs

Your canine may need surgery to keep this ligament's full range of motion.


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Cruciate ligament or knee injuries are common in dogs, and it’s influenced by the dog’s age, weight and activity level, among other factors. Your dog might need surgery after experiencing telltale symptoms like difficulty walking or favoring one leg. If your dog is already showing signs of knee damage or is an at-risk breed, you’ll need to consider your options for paying for the expensive surgery your dog may need.

What is a cruciate ligament?

The cruciate ligament is the name for two bands of fibrous tissue that connect your dog’s knee and shin bone together. The ligament proves vital for stabilizing the dog’s leg. Injuries to the cruciate ligament are common because it gets used in your dog’s daily life. These injuries can happen because of sudden movement, aging or gradual weakening from diseases like arthritis, hip dysplasia or inflammation.

The cruciate ligament may be referred to as the CCL, an abbreviation for cranial cruciate ligament. It’s similar to the ACL, the similar anterior cruciate ligament found in humans.

What are the symptoms of cruciate ligament in dogs?

Your dog may experience these symptoms when suffering from a CCL injury:

  • Limping or favoring one leg
  • Stiffness
  • Lowered activity level
  • Decreased muscle in the affected leg
  • Sitting with feet out to the side
  • Problems getting up, walking or doing other normal activities
  • Popping noise when moving
  • Swelling in the knee
  • Sudden leg pain or lameness
  • Walking on three legs
  • Hopping on both back legs at once
  • Anxiety or aggression when touching the knee

What factors cause cruciate ligament in dogs?

Your dog may be prone to a cruciate ligament injury depending on several factors like:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Fitness level
  • Genetics
  • Previous trauma to the leg
  • Breeds

At-risk breeds include the Labrador Retriever, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Rottweiler.

Dog owners should take care to increase their dogs’ activity level gradually. Inactive dogs can suffer from a cruciate ligament injury if they perform sudden, high-level exercise. Swimming is a good low impact activity to get your dog active while keeping pressure off the knee.

What treatment will my dog need for cruciate ligament?

The most common treatment involves surgery, since this allows a surgeon to assess and repair your dog’s specific ligament damage. Your treatment options may include:

  • Extracapsular repair. This procedure stabilizes the dog’s knee using sutures until scar tissue takes over that responsibility. However, larger dogs don’t tend to make a full recovery, so vets may use this option on smaller dogs.
  • Osteotomy. This type of surgery cuts into the dog’s bone or removes sections to stabilize the joint. The surgeon may then insert a metal plate for stabilizing until the bone heals. Osteotomy proves more reliable in large or highly active dogs, but it includes longer recovery time.
  • Lifestyle changes. Some vets will explore healing the injury through rest, medication or orthopedics. However, this method is more of a stopgap than a treatment. Dogs may get worse or develop other leg injuries or arthritis as a complication. But this might be the only option for older dogs who aren’t healthy enough for surgery.

After surgery, your dog may need a lower activity schedule and weight-bearing support for a few weeks while returning to a normal range of motion. That might mean crating your dog or keeping them confined to a small room to minimize movement. Your dog may also benefit from physical therapy to speed up recovery.

Does pet insurance cover cruciate ligament treatment?

Yes, most pet insurance policies include coverage for cruciate ligament injuries.

However, most policies exclude specific conditions or include a longer waiting period for cruciate ligaments, such as 6 or 12 months. In addition, pet insurance may not cover the condition if your dog suffered the injury before the policy started or if it happened during the waiting period. You’ll want to review your specific policy to make sure.

Compare pet insurance with cruciate ligament coverage

Name Product Pets covered Seniors accepted Hereditary conditions Chronic illness
Dogs, Cats
For $19/month, access 24/7 vet support and $3,000 for one pet emergency a year.
Dogs, Cats
Cover unexpected vet bills from emergency exams, injuries, surgery and more.
Dogs, Cats
Enjoy extra benefits with coverage for exam fees, curable conditions and wellness visit reimbursement.
Pet Assure
Dogs, Cats, Horses, Exotic pets
Save up to 25% on all vet bills including wellness and dental visits for as little as $10/month.
Pets Best
Dogs, Cats
Get up to 90% of your vet bills reimbursed directly into your bank account. Plus, access coverage options with no annual limit.

Compare up to 4 providers

How do I pay for cruciate ligament treatments without insurance?

If your dog received a cruciate ligament injury before you bought pet insurance, you might need alternatives to pay for treatment. You can look into options like:

  • Low-cost vets. You may find vets that charge less for services at veterinary schools or humane societies in your area.
  • Charities or grants. Local charities or organizations may offer grants to help qualifying pet owners pay for vet care.
  • Payment negotiations. Try negotiating the cost or payment schedule with your preferred vet to fit your budget.
  • Consider alternative treatments. Some dogs can recover well with less intrusive procedures, although your vet may warn you about the odds of full recovery.

Bottom line

Cruciate ligament injuries are common in dogs, and treatment may involve high-cost surgeries. If your pet is at risk for developing this condition, consider getting a pet insurance policy with ample CCL coverage so you’re not left paying out of pocket.

Frequently asked questions about cruciate ligament in dogs

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