When Dogs Go Weak at the Knees


The cranial cruciate ligament is one of the most important stabilisers inside the canine stifle (knee) joint and unfortunately rupture of this ligament is one of the most common reasons for hind limb lameness, pain and subsequent arthritis.

Cranial cruciate ligament rupture can affect dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages, but rarely cats. Certain dog breeds have a higher incidence, and obesity and sudden strenuous activity increase the risk. Chronic changes can also be responsible with few or no symptoms until the ligament finally ruptures without an obvious cause.

Typical signs your dog may exhibit include non-weight bearing of the affected leg, general lameness (limping), swelling or pain in the knee, difficulty with normal activity such as getting up or jumping into the car, or seeming a little stiff in the back legs.

If you notice any signs of pain or discomfort in your dog, the sooner you consult with your veterinarian the better.

Your veterinarian will initially watch your dog walk and feel the stifle joint to determine if ligament rupture is indicated. X-rays will need to be taken to evaluate the extent of damage to the stifle joint, including existing arthritis, and help to determine the best course of treatment.

Treatment or management may be surgical or non-surgical, and will depend on the dogs size, age, activity level and degree of damage. Surgical treatment is usually considered the best treatment as it is the only way to permanently control the instability and pain. The ligament itself is not repaired; instead the tibia (shin) bone may be realigned, implants inserted to change the angle of the bone, or specialised suture techniques utilised to stabilise the joint.

Careful post-surgical management at home is critical to reduce the chance of the surgical repair failing. Unfortunately, 40-60% of dogs that have had one knee affected will go on to develop a problem in the other knee.