Understanding Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tears in Pets

When you witness an athlete clutching their knee and going down during a sporting event, you can immediately identify it as a possible tear of their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a crucial ligament for knee stability.

But did you know that your pet can experience a similar knee ligament tear? Although it is referred to by a different name, the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), the problem is essentially the same.

What is a cranial cruciate ligament tear in pets?

The cranial cruciate ligament connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia) and plays a vital role in stabilizing the knee joint. When the CCL ruptures or tears, the shin bone thrusts forward away from the femur while your pet walks, resulting in instability and discomfort.

How does the cranial cruciate ligament become damaged in pets?

Various factors contribute to the rupture or tear of the CCL in pets, including:

  • Ligament degeneration
  • Obesity
  • Poor physical condition
  • Genetics
  • Skeletal shape and configuration
  • Breed

In general, CCL rupture occurs gradually over months or years due to the degeneration of the ligament, rather than from an acute injury to a healthy ligament.

What are the signs of a cranial cruciate ligament tear in pets?

A CCL tear, particularly a partial tear, can manifest with signs of varying severity, making it challenging for pet owners to determine if their pet requires veterinary care. However, a CCL rupture necessitates medical attention, and you should schedule an appointment with our team if your pet displays the following signs:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Lameness in a hind leg
  • Difficulty standing after sitting
  • Difficulty during the process of sitting
  • Difficulty jumping into the car or onto furniture
  • Decreased activity level
  • Muscle atrophy in the affected leg
  • Decreased range of motion in the knee

How can a torn cranial cruciate ligament be treated?

The treatment for a torn CCL depends on factors such as your pet’s activity level, size, age, and the degree of knee instability. Surgery is typically the most effective option, as an osteotomy- or suture-based technique is necessary to permanently address the instability. However, medical management may be considered as an alternative.

If your pet limps on a hind leg, it could indicate a torn cranial cruciate ligament. Contact our team to schedule an orthopedic exam.