If your dog has been having trouble walking or is favouring one leg, it might be a cruciate ligament condition. This guide provides more information on what cruciate ligament is, how it is treated, and what is covered by different pet insurance brands, so you're not out of pocket for thousands of dollars.
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What is a cruciate ligament and what problems can it cause?
The cruciate ligament is the name for two bands of fibrous tissue that connect the femur and tibia together in your dog's knee joint. It's vital for the proper functioning of your dog's leg, but unfortunately injuries to the cruciate ligament are extremely common and can occur due to sudden movement or from a slow degradation over time from diseases like arthritis or inflammation. In the latter case, the ligament may rupture from even gentle motion thanks to this gradual weakening.
Symptoms that your dog may be suffering from an anterior or cranial cruciate ligament or tear include:
- Walking on only three legs
- Problems with getting up
- Swelling of the knee or sudden leg pain
- Issues sitting or sitting consistently to one side
How prone your dog is to a cruciate ligament injury depends on age, genetics and previous trauma. Certain breeds are also known to be far more at risk from this kind of injury, for example Labradors, Staffies (Staffordshire Bull Terriers) and Rottweilers.
Once the problem has been diagnosed, a veterinary surgeon will generally perform one of three types of surgery on your dog:
- Extracapsular repair: generally only performed on small dogs. It involves stabilising the knee using artificial bands or sutures.
- Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy / Tibial Tuberosity Advancement: these are considered more reliable for bigger dogs weighing over 10kg. They involve stabilising the knee joint in a more reliable fashion than extracapsular repair, often with a metal plate that's inserted to assist in balance.
After surgery, it is likely your dog will be able to support its weight after a few weeks and should be back to its normal range of motion after 3 or 4 months. It's recommended you restrict your pup's exercise for these few months to assist in its recovery.
As with any surgery or treatment, the price depends heavily on what sort of surgery is being conducted, the particulars of your dog's condition, as well as the breed and age of your dog. However, you should expect to pay about $1,000 - $2,500 for the procedure, with a less complicated surgery like extracapsular repair costing less than the other, more complicated procedures. The average claim paid out for cruciate ligament surgery by the Hollard Insurance company (which underwrites a number of pet insurance brands) was $2,530 in 2016/17, so that should give you a rough idea.
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In the majority of dogs, surgery is highly recommended when a cruciate ligament injury has been sustained. Without surgery, your dog will likely eventually recover and start walking around within a few weeks, but with a damaged ligament the bones in their knees will rub together when they walk. This can lead to bone spurs and other nasty side effects that will put your pup in great pain. It's also very likely that the dog will sustain a ligament rupture in their other leg if they've already suffered one.
For very small dogs, it's possible to treat them with painkillers, bed rest and reduced exercise for four to six weeks. Make sure you seek a vet's opinion, though - an untreated or improperly cared-for cruciate ligament injury can cause long-term damage to your dog, and prevent your buddy from being able to walk again.
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