A torn ACL is painful and cannot heal on its own without side effects, complications, or problems.

How To Treat A Torn ACL On A Dog Without Surgery

Knowing how to treat a torn ACL on a dog can be challenging, as there are many options. When my Cocker Spaniel experienced a partial tear of his ACL (sometimes called CCL, or cranial cruciate ligament), we decided to try treating him without surgery.

My dog was four years old when he partially tore this ligament. Dexter loved to run, play, and go for long walks. My spouse and I explored various treatment options for a torn ACL on a dog without surgery.

A torn ACL is painful and cannot heal on its own without side effects, complications, or problems. If your dog tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and surgery isn’t an option, there are some things that may help. A properly fitted knee brace is still a viable option for some dogs with a torn ACL who are not surgical candidates.

Since I wrote this post, our dog experienced two ACL complete tears and two successful ACL lateral suture surgeries. We are thrilled to have found a board-certified orthopedic surgeon to perform these surgeries locally. However, surgery is not for every dog, and not every dog may be a candidate for a variety of reasons.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What Happens to An Untreated Torn ACL On A Dog?

In our article, What To Do For a Dog With a Torn ACL, we discuss that some dogs may not be ACL repair surgical candidates. Perhaps finances prevent the surgery or the dog has other health conditions that make anesthesia risky. Whatever the case, there are many dogs who tear their ACL and do not have surgery.

A ligament’s job is to bind the ends of bones together so the bones don’t move or dislocate. If the ligament ruptures or snaps like a rubber band, the integrity of the knee joint is compromised.

Thousands of dogs rupture their ACL every year, as this is a very common issue. The ACL is located within the knee joint (stifle) and acts to stabilize the femur as it rests on the tibia.

This ligament can suddenly rupture or tear or become weak as a dog ages, exercises, and engages in high-impact jumping, whether in agility or frequently from a couch, chair, or bed.

If you ignore a partial or full tear of the ACL, your dog will suffer the consequences. Aside from the pain involved, your dog’s body will try to stabilize the weakened stifle with scar tissue. More scar tissue means a stiffer joint. Some dogs will not be able to bend or extend their knee properly and arthritis will set in.


Cold Laser Therapy For Dog ACL Tears

After receiving the diagnosis of a partial tear, we were given the option of cold laser therapy class IV. The cold laser therapy sessions were a shot in the dark, but one I wanted to try.

Most veterinarians have cold laser therapy in-house these days, but back then, my dog received his treatments at a canine rehabilitation center in our area.

Dexter received a total of six 20-minute sessions that cost $250. I didn’t notice a huge difference, but I am a big proponent of non-invasive treatments. I purchased a cold laser for my dog that I use at home for his back arthritis.

The goal of cold laser treatments for an ACL tear is to restore health to damaged tissue cells by stimulating their ability to grow, heal, and survive naturally. Our veterinarian informed us that a partial ACL tear can take months to heal. In the meantime, the dog should not engage in jumping, running, or any other activity that can progress it to a full tear.

Dexter eventually progressed from a partial tear to a full tear of his ACL, but after cold laser therapy, we tried a custom stifle brace.

Torn ACL Dog Brace

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, a company that provides orthotic devices for dogs who need support for the 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. In the meantime, the sheer volume of dog moms and dads I’ve encountered whose dogs have this injury has been overwhelming. 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.

dog ACL brace
Dexter at a vet visit appointment for his ACL injury.

After a thorough examination and assessing Dexter’s somewhat hobbled gait, the staff recommended a custom fit stifle brace. He would need to wear the brace for 6 to 9 months during “active waking hours.”

The two staffers who worked on Dexter said he could resume climbing stairs, playing, and taking longer walks with the stifle brace on.

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.

Dog getting fitted for brace from torn ACL

ACL Braces For Dogs: How They Help

Ligaments cannot regenerate themselves, so scar tissue formation is crucial. In Dexter’s case, once the mold was taken, much like a human brace, they crafted the finished product.

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. We were shown how to apply the brace and care for it. At the time, the stifle brace for my dog’s ACL tear was $625. Price varies by need and dog size.

My friend and veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby, inventor of Toe Grips for Dogs, says while human anatomy lends itself to a knee brace, a dog’s anatomy does not. Some veterinarians promote the use of stifle braces for dogs while others do not feel they are beneficial.

Dr. Buzby is certified in acupuncture and animal chiropractic, so she doesn’t commonly send dogs right off to surgery for a torn ACL. She is, however, in the pro-surgery camp for canine cruciate tears.

However, not all dogs are surgical candidates. If your dog isn’t able to have ACL repair, a stifle brace is a viable option. I talked to my dog’s board-certified orthopedic surgeon about knee braces for dogs. Of the thousands of ACL repairs he performs every year, my dog was the only one who tried a knee brace that year in his practice.

Custom knee braces are your best option because they conform to the anatomy and need of each individual dog. They can be pricey, so some manufacturers sell generic stifle braces that are not custom molded.

As Dr. Buzby indicates, when the knee brace is off, the joint is unstable. A braceless, partially torn ACL is what incited my dog’s tear from partial to full. Here are some pros and cons of dog stifle braces for ACL tears.

More affordable than traditional ACL surgeryYour dog may not tolerate wearing a knee brace
A viable option for dogs who cannot undergo surgery Friction rub may occur, causing another issue
Helps to stabilize the knee joint when properly fitted and wornDoes not prevent meniscal injury
Your dog may engage in some activities with the brace onNon-custom braces are not made to fit your dog’s joint measurements
May help the dog to get around betterMay become worn over time and need replacing
May buy time to stabilize a partial tear Will not slow down arthritis

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.

More Non-Surgical Options For Canine ACL Tears

Whether you choose surgery or not, there are other options for dogs with a partial or complete ACL tear. After surgery, my dog had physical therapy combined with cold laser therapy and at-home exercises.

Other non-surgical options for canine ACL tears include:

Toe Grips: All-natural nail grips that fit on the toenails of your dog’s paws so he has instant traction on slippery surfaces.

Acupuncture: Often used to treat dogs with arthritis or joint inflammation, including stifle issues and degenerative joint disease.

Nutriceuticals: Supplements for pets that are not pharmacy-prescribed but can have a tremendous positive impact on a dog’s health. Duralactin is a very good choice in terms of soft chew for dog’s joints.

Vet-Prescribed Medication: NSAIDs and other veterinarian-prescribed medications may be a part of the long-term plan for non-surgical treatment of a torn ACL. Use caution as they may have harmful side effects.

Steps and Ramps: Dogs with a torn ACL should not jump up or down from furniture nor into cars. A quality set of pet steps or a dog ramp can help ease the impact on joints.

Dog Stroller: I am a huge proponent of canine strollers, especially for dogs with mobility issues, postoperatively, or those with injuries.

Swimming or Canine Rehab: With veterinary clearance, swimming is a wonderful form of low-impact exercise for dogs. Not all dogs enjoy swimming, so please don’t force a dog to partake if he isn’t fond of water sports. Canine rehabilitation centers can design a specific protocol of exercises with your dog’s physical limitations and injury in mind.

Dog ACL brace

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.



  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. 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

    1. 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!

    1. 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.

    1. 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. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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 😉

    2. 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. 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.

    1. 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: https://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.

    1. 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…

    1. 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!

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