Our experience with cruciate injuries

By Joanne & Andre Gibson, November 2010

Caiti, our Heinz-57 rescue, is a very energetic little dog who loves nothing better than to dash madly after a ball or chase through the woods after squirrels & birds.

About 2 years ago, she showed classic signs of a cruciate injury:

• occasionally refusing to come for a walk;

• hopping intermittently whilst on the trot;

• limping very slightly on her right hind leg when getting up after a sleep

We kept an eye on her, but after a while decided all the symptoms were most probably down to her having strained a muscle on her most recent run in the woods. So we:

• reduced her exercise; and

• had a few sessions with an animal osteopath

Both of which helped, but after a month the symptoms still hadn’t completely disappeared so we took her to our vet, who suspected a cruciate injury straight away, and after x-rays to rule out anything else, confirmed a partial ligament tear of probably about 30%.

There were 2 options:

• drastic rest to give the cruciate a chance to heal naturally with the help of some medication;

• surgery

We tried the first option and things improved a little over about a month, but not enough, so we subsequently opted for surgery – and just as well, as the cruciate had not just torn, but completely ruptured by then.

The surgery went well – for more info on cruciate injury & repairs for dogs please see here.

Recovery was a very difficult time for Caiti as we had to crate her for about 8 weeks in order to ensure she rested her leg – the slightest run or jump would have put her back in hospital:

• For the first few days she was only allowed out for toilet breaks, with no other exercise whatsoever.

• Then she was allowed a slow & gentle 5 minute on-lead walk 3 times a day, but no stairs, slopes or unstable ground.

• This was gradually increased by 5 minutes every two weeks until she got up 45 minutes, 3 times a day on different surfaces and at different speeds.

During this time we also tried some Bach Flower remedies and RRA remedy (Rhus Tox,Ruta Grav and Arnica) to help with swelling and bruising.

We kept her amused with frequent “chats”, stuffed kongs and by moving the crate around the house so she always had company.

Once she was allowed a little more movement we did some limited clicker training with her, a bit of Tellington TTouch, and introduced her to the Nina Ottosson dog brick game, all of which she loved.

We started hydrotherapy after about 4 weeks to help exercise and strengthen both legs without putting weight on the joints. We were also given gentle, progressive physiotherapy exercises to complement the hydrotherapy and walking regime.

She recovered really well, but despite our best efforts, about a year later she tore the cruciate in her other leg and so the whole process had to be repeated. Once again the symptoms were intermittent and incredibly subtle, and in hindsight we realise that she was hiding a lot from us as she is so muscular and stoical.

Although both surgeries were successful and her recovery better than we could have expected, Caiti now has arthritis which is very advanced for her age in both her knee joints. To help her in this regard, we have put her on Hill’s Joint Diet, and she also has a glucosamine tablet once a day. We have also kept up the hydrotherapy, and she goes for a maintenance session fortnightly.

The moral of the story
It sounds obvious, but if you see any of the warning signs, have your dog checked out by your vet. At worst you will have paid for a consultation to give you peace of mind. If there is a cruciate injury, the earlier you identify it the better. Surgery is not always necessary – sometimes a partial tear can be healed with a strict regime of rest. If you leave it too long before getting treatment (like we did), you risk your dog developing arthritis in the joint, as well as there being a good chance that the tear will progress into a full rupture, which apart from being extremely painful for your dog, will require surgery and be extremely painful on your pocket. Also beware that some insurance companies will only cover the 1st cruciate injury, so if the other leg goes in the future (and there’s a 50% chance it will), you will not be covered.

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