Comparing Treatment Options for Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease
The cruciate ligaments are two bands of fibrous tissue inside the stifle (knee) that create a hinge between the femur and tibia. The ligaments criss-cross inside of the joint (the word cruciate means "to form a cross"), and allow the knee to flex while restricting side-to-side motion. Unfortunately, stifles lack 'interlocking' bones, like hips or elbows, making them more injury-prone. You can think of a rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in dogs like the common human injury, an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
When the CCL is torn, each step causes the tibia to thrust forward like an opening drawer from underneath the femur. The sliding motion causes damage to the cartilage and bones inside of the joint, and makes the knee feel unstable and painful. Your veterinarian will check for this instability through a physical exam - sometimes mild sedation or radiographs (x-rays) are needed to confirm the diagnosis.
(video of tibial thrust here)
To restore use of the joint, surgical stabilization is recommended. Performing surgery as quickly as possible will reduce pain and permanent joint damage. In some circumstances, conservative management may be the only treatment option available. This
40-60% of dogs that have CrCLD in one knee will, at some future time, develop a similar problem in the other knee.
Partial tearing of the CrCL is common in dogs and progresses to a full tear over time.