A Non-Surgical Approach to My Dog's ACL Tear: Brace Time

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Having a dog with a leg injury is no fun. The limited mobility, wishing they could tell you “where it hurts”, and not allowing them to engage in activities that could worsen their pain (running, jumping, etc), are all factors in any sort of limb or muscle boo boo. My dog partially tore his anterior cruciate ligament  (ACL) in his left knee and we are taking the conservative management route. So a non-surgical approach to my dog's ACL tear is being blogged about for others to learn from our experiences.

In our last blog post about the journey, I shared that Dexter, my 4-year-old Cocker Spaniel, partially tore his anterior cruciate ligament while playing ball. You can read all about that in our first entry to this saga.

dog playing

We opted for cold laser therapy class IV. The cold laser therapy sessions were a shot in the dark, but one I wanted to try in conjunction with the other modalities of treatment we're doing. After four sessions, I cannot say I honestly see a difference. He isn't worse but he isn't “better.” I am keeping in mind that laser therapy is designed to be ongoing and one part of the conservative management approach. I am trying to not go down the surgical route, especially since this is not a full tear. We have 2 sessions left in this course. An ACL tear takes months to heal and many more months before dog parents should engage the dog in their normal activities so as to not have a recurrence or reinjury.

dog jumping

The folks at Dexter's rehab facility were kind enough to answer my questions about a stifle (knee) brace for Dexter to wear during his recovery process. I learned about My Pet's Brace, who provide orthotic devices for dogs that require bracing to support hip, stifle, hock and paw injuries in the hind legs and shoulder, elbow and carpal injuries in the front legs. With a prescription in tow and a lot of research under my belt, off we went to the “brace place” for pets. On a side note, the sheer volume of people I have talked to whose dogs have this injury has been overly concerning. We are pet parents with very active dogs, so it's nice to see veterinary medicine advancing in the direction of care to mirror its human counterparts.

my pets brace

The knee brace that was recommended for Dexter is designed to help him with his damaged ACL. We are told that after an adjustment period of a few weeks, Dexter will be able to resume climbing stairs, playing, and taking longer walks. We love brain games but are really ready to put the doggie games under the bed and head back outside to bunnies, squirrels, and squeaky balls.

We met with Jim Alaimo and Mark Hardin, who have a combined 30 years in orthopedic braces for people. Much of their primary clientele in dogs deals with ligament ruptures and tears. After a thorough examination and assessing Dexter's somewhat limpy gait, a stifle brace was recommended. He will need to wear the brace for 6 to 9 months during “active waking hours,” which for a 4-year-old Cocker Spaniel is well, quite often.

dog sitting

Why a Stifle Brace

Like humans, dogs routinely injure the anterior or Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) in their knees. Since the CCL prevents subluxation of the knee joint, maintaining its integrity is of primary concern. Since ligaments connect bones, when a tear in the ligament occurs, the stability is no longer there. A stable knee means a stable joint and scar tissue can then take the place of the tear. Ligaments cannot regenerate themselves, so scar tissue formation is crucial.

dog knee

Casting Call

The entire process took about five minutes to actually take an exact replica of Dexter's stifle area. This is best left up to the experts, and My Pet's Brace works with veterinarians all over the country. They send the kit to your vet's office, your vet can do the casting and then send it back to My Pet's Brace for custom creation. We videotaped a part of the casting session, as you can see below. Spending the time necessary to take a good cast in the proper final alignment is critical in obtaining a well-fitting functional device.

Once Dexter's cast was formed, the experts at My Pet's Brace will now craft the finished product. We went with a Scooby Doo design. They are true artisans and were kind enough to walk me through the on-site fabrication process. It takes about a week to 10 days for the brace to be made, and we will be traveling to My Pet's Brace when the order is ready. We will be taught how to apply the brace, care for it, and be given instructions in its care. The brace costs $625 for a dog of Dexter's size, which is a worthwhile investment. Surgery is not always needed, I am learning, and this is a more conservative route to take for dogs in a variety of situations.

dog stifle brace

Throughout this process, I've acquired some wonderful resources for pet parents who are going through ligament injuries in their dog, so I am listing a few of them here for reference: (by the way, in dog's the ACL is commonly called the CCL, or canine cruciate ligament)

My Pet's Brace FAQs

How to Heal a Dog CCL Tear Without Surgery

Questioning Canine Cruciate Ligament Surgery

 Cruciate Ligament Injury in Dogs

Preventing ACL Injuries In Dogs

ACL Injuries in Dogs: Non-Surgical Alternatives?

ACL Injuries in Dogs and Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy

These experiences are my own and that is not to say that your dog would take the same path. I highly recommend talking to your dog's veterinarian and getting a second opinion if needed. Surgery isn't always the answer and isn't always needed. We are hoping to avoid that route.

stifle brace

Pros to Having the Knee Brace

* Dexter can regain some of his regular activities of pre-injury with the brace on;

* We avoid surgery;

* Stabilization of the knee joint so that scar tissue can effectively form and heal the partial tear;

For some dog parents, surgery is not an option due to the age of the dog, other health factors, or perhaps money is a concern.  For me, the cost of surgery is not the issue; doing what I feel is best for my dog is first and foremost. We are taking a conservative management approach, and I am very grateful for how many less invasive options that are available so surgery can be avoided.

Stay tuned for more information and updates as Dexter hobbles along and gets ready for his knee brace and getting used to wearing it.

dog at vet

Have you ever had a dog with knee or ligament issues? Would you consider a brace if in the same situation? Bark at me in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. This is absolutely great. Pets are family and of course, if these creatures will have knee injury, we always think of what’s the best way to help them. Just as what happened in the story, this kind of situation is never fun. And this non-surgical approach applied to his best pet is indeed amazing and so helpful, too. Thanks for sharing this interesting article!

  2. Leslie Riddle says:

    Hi Carol,
    I really enjoyed reading this article especially since Puccini just had his knee cap dislocated by that 7 foot table that fell on him. I am so thankful that it wasn’t worse!! We haven’t done the x-rays yet with the orthopedic surgeon, but the internist didn’t think any bones were broke and has him on pain medicine & an anti inflammatory at the moment. I asked him if they had knee braces to keep his little knee cap in place but he said no???
    What do you think?
    Thank you,
    Leslie & Puccini

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Leslie – first I am so glad Puccini is okay… thank God. I need to smooch Puccini when I meet him in June.

      They make braces for dogs and cats of all sizes… go to MyPetsBrace.com – they can even send the kit to your vet to have him fit your dog. They even told me they did a very small cat, too. Highly recommended. Let me know if I can help at all. Happy to.

  3. How interesting Carol! Thanks for sharing the information and process of the brace! How nice that their is a place that offers that near you and that you could be there to watch the process!
    I just got done writing the 5th update on Sherman’s conservative therapy for his cruciate tear for tomorrow’s post. Our experience with the laser treatment seems to be going very well so far but we did have our set backs.
    I will be really interested to see how the brace works and it’s nice to be able to compare notes and see what therapy’s work and which ones don’t for different dogs!

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Going to look for that post, Jen. You’ve been on my mind. Will Sherman be at BlogPaws with you? You can see Dex with his brace at BlogPaws next week!

  4. Thanks for sharing this Carol.

    We’re off to see a specialist tomorrow as our dog Dexter(!) most likely has an ACL injury (not confirmed yet). We’re also having our first child in about 2 weeks, and while that makes surgery out of the question – we too are believers in conservative management. But we’ve found it very hard and have made many mistakes along the way (the injury has been getting progressively worse for many months and only recently have we – and many vets – decided that it could be ACL). I think a brace will be our next move – thanks for the info on My Pet’s Brace. This looks better than A-TraC by Woundwear – which I was considering but have not seen much positive feedback. I’ll stay in touch, because 2 Dexter’s is better than 1! Best of luck.

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Thanks for stopping by. Congrats on your new baby and the caring you have for your dog. A brace is an awesome option; let them know I referred you.

      Keep me posted and indeed, 2 Dexters are better than one ;)

  5. lesliegg says:

    This was very well put togther. My good girl Midnight is 14 (possibly 13) and she started licking and licking all her joints until they would become infected. The dumber than me doctor would give her a cortizone shot and some prednisone w/ anti biotic as needed. This went on for years and he never suggested anything else. Oh, well he did call her a nervous Nelly. That was his diagnosis. About 5 months ago I took her to a different vet who did blood, work, and other expensive things that I didn’t realize (Because the the said “Oh Sure!” with a happy smile any time I asked if she could possibly cut her nails, look at her hiney area, how about her eyes. DING DING DING!!!!!!! PA CHING!!!! $375.00. Now I just shut up. The problem seemed to be an allergy to food, apparently ALL food, except one called z/d and between the cans and the bags it’s now $100.00 to feed Midnight for one week. I keep trying to sneek in other healthy sounding food but the itchys comes right back. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that she can run and play but if anyone has any kind of suggestions of what I could possibly feed her without such a high price….O Please do tell me. ps I have also found some bitter lime spray that keep some of the lick, lick, licking away. I need a better food formula. HELP Ruff!

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Leslie, I am sorry to hear about everything Midnight has gone through. It sounds like one of the things to do is Nutriscan allergy testing. I did a post about that, too: http://fidoseofreality.com/does-the-nutriscan-kit-to-solve-dog-food-allergies-work/

      My dog eats The Honest Kitchen diet. He loves it and though pricey, it is worth it.

    • My dogs eat raw meat and bones. chicken, beef, anything you can get. just do NOT give cooked bones. there are lots of raw sites on lines for animals, but it is best to buy the meat yourself instead of a prepared raw food. It costs nowhere near$100 week for 2 large dogs and they have no allergies. If I feed them dog food for even 2-3 days, my male starts licking and scratching. Honest kitchen is good, but pricey.

      • Carol Bryant says:

        So glad that is working out for your dogs. My dog is loving and thriving on The Honest Kitchen. Having had a dog lose her battle with irritable bowel and suspected liver cancer, I am very grateful for a diet that is working. Thanks foro the comments ;)

    • If your dog has allergies. Raw food diet at pet food express will take care of that. It is much better for them. I see a big difference in my dog. The vet wanted to put her on rx dog food. I fid research and know several people who do the raw. Its also healthier for them. Hope this helps

  6. marshall says:

    Hi all, I have a 3 year old pit mutt that hurt her leg. She was holding it up when walking so we went to the vet and she said that there is clicking in the knee and it seems swollen. The vet then immediately says that surgery is needed. We love our dog and want what’s best, but to the tune of $2-4k for acl surgery?!?! No X-rays were done; the vet gave us a referral to a surgeon. After a few hours of research and reading online, I see that there are other treatment options. Does anyone have options or opinions for me? Should I have x-rays done and will they be accurate enough to see ligament and cartilage damage? Some even suggest that the surgeons promote surgery and vets get kick backs for referrals… We’re quite in the dark on this matter. My email is marshallh1@yahoo.com if anyone has extra info or expert opinion. Thank you.

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Marshall – I am not a vet but have been through a lot with my dogs. My last Cocker Spaniel needed knee surgery because her knee was luxating – the knee slipped out of place. Surgery was curative. And it was $2,000. We would do anything for our dog(s) but we had veterinary pet insurance then and do now. It helped big time and I believe in it strongly.

      My dog never had x-rays and I had two opinions. I trust our vet. If this route with laser therapy and the brace did not work we were going to do surgery.

      Some links you can read that helped me a lot include these: http://fidoseofreality.com/a-non-surgical-approach-to-my-dogs-acl-tear-brace-time/

  7. We have an appointment at My Pet’s Brace tomorrow to have our 13 year old Labradoodle fitted for a brace. Surgery was recommended as an option for his ACL tare, but he also has arthritis in his back and possibly a bulging disc so we were reluctant to do surgery on one area, without considering surgery on his back as well. Thanks for the video and explaining the process.

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Randi, good luck at My Pet’s Brace. I am convinced the brace saved my dog from having to have surgery – that and be careful, not overdoing it, etc. You are so welcome. If you don’t mind, keep me posted. You can tell them you saw the video here, too. Best wishes and a tummy rub for your Labradoodle.

  8. I liked reading ur experience and i wish you a speedy recovery with ur dog. My dog Franklin tore his ACL on his left rear leg a few months ago. He is a 2yr old Olde English Bulldogge. I have tryed to avoid surgery for this time but have seen no real improvment. I met with a highly recomended surgon ( Dr. Clark in RI) and have sheduled the surgery for 8/9/13. Ill let u know how it goes. I want my buddy back feeling good and pray this goes perfectly. Its a hard decision to make. I have done plenty of reading about this injury and know surgery is not always 100%. Franklin is tough so im staying positive that he with my help will be on the mend soon. Thanks for ur website. The more informed us owners are the better.

  9. We’re going through the same:( how is that brace working out? I would prefer not to put Flo through a surgery, especially with the cost – touch! I’m glad I found this, of course my vet said that braces are not available. Hmmm…

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Mimi- the brace has been amazing, and I highly recommend it. Your vet is wrong. Braces are available. I encourage you to check out mypetsbrace.com – they can work with your vet to do a custom brace. They are costly but worth it. There are other companies, and perhaps one closer to you. But I totally know I feel good having tried it. My dog ended up tearing his ACL completely. He had to have surgery and he is coming along – slow but steady.

      It is worth it and I hope your dog feels better soon. Pls. keep us posted!