Last updated on December 30, 2015
Is there a genetic and/or familial connection for dogs who tear their ACL? According to veterinary medical research, there are some dogs, breeds, and even a familial component existing with regards to tearing their anterior cruciate ligament. Indeed, some dogs are more prone to ACL tears than others. I know first hand because:
A) My dog has torn his ACL in both legs within the course of one year;
B) My dog has had extracapsular repair of both ACL tears within the course of one year;
C) My dog’s littermate has experienced both A and B, following in his brother’s pawsteps.
If Your Dog Has a Suspected or Diagnosed ACL Tear
This is the one post you must read if your dog’s ACL is torn or you are considering surgery. And here is our summary in the event you want to walk a mile in our shoes and the experience we had with double ACL surgery:
March of 2013: ACL partial tear diagnosis from doing a jump for the ball at the park
April of 2013: Cold laser therapy sessions at the local pet rehab center
May of 2013: Custom orthotic ACL stifle brace to wear for 4-6 months with modified activity (read: no jumping)
Early August of 2013: 90 days the brace and all seemed well
August 2, 2013: A 90-day update of the ACL saga
Mid August of 2013: Limp – pop – stagger. My dog injured the same leg but worse. Surgery is required. A partial tear became a full tear.
September 3, 2013: Two-week postoperative assessment and update of ACL surgery.
Does ACL Affect Certain Breeds?
In his book, Advances in the Canine Cranial Cruciate Ligament, author Peter Muir, shares that the Newfoundland (“Newfie”) breed of dog has a high incidence (as high as almost 23 percent) of ACL (sometimes referred to as CrCL) rupture trait. Further, specific breeds of dogs have an increased risk of ACL rupture, which suggests a genetic predisposition.
These breeds include, but are not limited to, the Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Bichon Frise, St. Bernard, and others. Many dogs with a degenerating ACL will have the condition in both knees, and this is the case with both our Cocker Spaniel and his littermate. Knee cap issues can also predispose a dog to rupture their ACL. These knee cap issues include a luxating patella.
ANY dog at any age of any breed, lineage, or mutt can tear an ACL.
Those breeds that are less likely to tear an ACL, according to Muir, include the Greyhound and German Shepherd Dog.
Confirming an ACL Tear
The gold standard for diagnosing an ACL tear is surgery: Actually looking from the inside at the ligament and the knee. Most dog parents do not want to open a dog’s leg up for the sake of finding out whether a tear is present or not. Surgery, when performed, is used to repair the injury.
Dogs who do rupture/tear the ACL will generally appear suddenly lame, toe touch, or most often, hold the effected leg in the air (off the ground). The dog may use the leg again, but ultimately the lameness returns. Some pain may be present and arthritis will set in.
Do ACL Tears Happen to Littermates?
At this time, an ACL tear is considered binary; that is, dogs are either affected or unaffected. When it comes to littermates, our dog is from a litter of five; two of the five have had ACL tears with eventual surgical repair. The dogs were five years old when the first injury occurred, close to six when the second injury occurred, and they are both neutered, healthy, active males from a reputable breeder.
Incidentally, ACL rupture has a variable age of rupture. This makes genetic predisposition screening to determine propensity to tear an ACL since all dogs of all ages are affected.
Littermates, therefore, can be affected, as evidenced in our case. Both dogs are of a healthy weight and both are from the same litter. Is this the case across the board? There is not enough evidence nor scientific study to point to this, but in our own personal journey I have encountered several littermates with ruptured ACLs. Here are Dexter and McGee, for example, littermates:
How to Treat
ACL tears that are not treated at all are at very high risk for developing degenerative arthritis. Alternative forms of treatment if surgery is not an option include physical therapy, custom orthotic braces, an animal cell transplants. A “one size fits all brace” can actually do more harm than good on a dog’s recovery. Custom braces are made with the dog’s anatomy in mind, and you can follow our journey with a custom brace. We highly recommend a custom brace when surgery is not an option for a dog with other health issues or due to age. The brace worked for a while for us, but they are costly, at around $400-$700 in our region depending on the dog’s size. However, our dog’s tear did go from partial to complete because he is so active. We also experienced a rub burn on his leg and had to visit the clinic a few times for cushioning padding and support. Still, this is a viable option for some.
Is Surgery the Only Way to Go?
If a complete ACL tear is not surgically repaired, the knee cannot function as a hinge joint, this according to Stacey Hershman, DVM, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, in a Whole Dog Journal article. Conservative management is something we tried for the first partial ACL tear of our dog. Since symptoms did not improve and only worsened to a full tear, we are very grateful to have found a qualified, board certified, kind, caring, and highly skilled veterinary orthopedic surgeon to repair the tear.
Each dog and dog owner circumstance is different, so consulting with your vet and a qualified board certified surgeon are key. In addition, there are many types of ACL repairs, and you can search for “ACL” on our search engine for more information on these processes.
Fi-Dose of ACL Reality
Our dog’s board certified orthopedic surgeon is a gem. According to Dr. Chas McBrien of Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital, of the nearly 3,000 surgeries his practice performs every year, an average of 70 percent of the surgeries are for ruptured ACL of a dog. We were his first clients EVER to attempt a customized stifle brace.
How’s the Cockers Today?
Our dog is doing extremely well. We did physical therapy at home, and I received individual instruction via Skype video with Susan Davis in order to strengthen Dexter’s muscle and legs with in-home exercises. Dexter’s second ACL surgical repair took place June 13, 2014, and he has made a full recovery. We like to call him “bionic knees.”
Surgery is not inexpensive, and while we would do anything in our household to help our dog and his medical needs, having pet health insurance was wonderful for us. I am not being paid to let you know that I am a nearly 20-year Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) policy holder. It has taken us through canine cancer and two ACL surgeries. We have never had a problem and get extremely fast reimbursement that covers much of the bill. Feel free to do your own pet health insurance homework.
Our dog’s littermate had his second ACL tear repair on Thursday, November 20, 2014, and is home from the hospital. He, too, is doing well, and will start the in-clinic rehab process of underwater treadmill and physical therapy sessions. So far, so good. Here’s McGee in rehab the last time he had ACL surgery in 2013.
The Bottom Line
- Yes, littermates can be affected by ACL tears.
- Any dog can get an ACL tear.
- There is a genetic component for ACL tear propensity in certain breeds
- Our dog, Dexter, exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet, takes Omega 3 fish oil, Coconut Oil, and will be on a wonderful joint supplement for life.
- If a dog is overweight this put him or her at an increased risk of injury or re-injury to the legs, joints, and ligaments not to mention other bodily systems being affected.
Yes, I’d do it all over again the exact same way and I am grateful we tried CM (conservative management) so that we could try a less invasive route first. I am sure there are dogs out there who benefit greatly from CM; we just are not those dog people.
Question: Has your dog ever been affected by an ACL injury? What did you or would you do?
Note: I am not a vet and make no claim to what will or will not help your dog. Always seek medical attention for your dog’s individual needs and issues.