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Sprains and Ligament Injuries in Dogs

Stifle Injuries

The stifle joint is stabilized by a number of ligaments. The two large ligaments that cross in the middle of the joint are the cranial and caudal cruciates. The ligaments that stabilize the sides of the joints are the medial and lateral collaterals. The meniscus is a cushion of cartilage between the femur and the tibia and fibula.

Rupture of the cranial cruciate is a common and serious injury of the stifle. It occurs in all breeds at all ages, but is more likely to occur in younger, active dogs. There may be a congenital or developmental predisposition in some dogs (see Osteochondrosis). If one tears, unless it is repaired, the ligament in the other knee also eventually tears.

The sudden onset of rear leg lameness suggests a rupture. The lameness may disappear with rest, then recur with exercise. In some cases the presenting sign is persistent lameness in one or both hind legs. The diagnosis is confirmed by palpating the stifle joint. In many cases the medial collateral ligament is also damaged.

Rupture of the medial or lateral collateral ligament usually is caused by a severe blow to the side of the joint or a twisting motion, especially at speed. The affected ligament may be stretched, partially torn, or completely severed. Diagnosis is made by manipulating the joint and looking for a degree of looseness. Severe blows to the stifle may also cause joint fractures. Dogs may need to be anesthetized for a thorough evaluation of the stifle.

Injuries to the meniscus are associated with injuries to the cruciates. If a cruciate injury goes untreated, secondary damage to the meniscus occurs in the weeks and months that follow. The end result is degenerative arthritis and permanent lameness. Isolated meniscus injuries are rare in dogs.

Treatment: The treatment of choice for ruptured cruciate ligaments is surgical repair. If this is not done, the joint becomes unstable and is subject to further damage. Following surgical repair, physical therapy and restricted exercise are important for successful recovery. The complete rehabilitation program may take months for dogs to return to near full athletic performance levels.

Collateral ligaments that have been stretched but not torn usually heal satisfactorily with rest and restricted activity.


WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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