Earlier this summer my 8 1/2 year old German Shepherd Raffa whirled in mid-chase and tore his Cranial Cruciate Ligament, the doggy equivalent of our ACL.
Trips to several trusted vets yielded different opinions about whether a surgical or non-surgical approach was best.
The orthopedic surgeon made a solid, convincing case for a procedure called a TPLO. This would resurface the bones and add a plate to help the knee joint stay in the right place. This would reduce/eliminate pain and allow normal movement.
The non-surgical approach is a custom knee brace which holds the knee in place. This eliminates pain and allows the dog a normal range of motion and increasingly normal activity. There is wide support for this option. Many orthopedic veterinary practices make this available nationwide.
How to get an accurate diagnosis?
An MRI is the only definitive diagnostic tool that is commonly available. This will show whether the ligament is partially or completely torn. It will also show if the meniscus has been torn.
Other hands on techniques can give good guidance. Indications commonly associated with different injuries can point the way to a good diagnosis for the ligament. Maybe less for a meniscus tear.
Meniscus tears can be painful and require surgical repair. My understanding is that a brace will not be an option.
What are the Risks?
There were important risks for both treatment options.
Surgery: Adverse reaction to anesthesia. Infection. New hairline breaks from the surgery. Arthristis gets triggered. Lengthy 3 month recovery requiring confinement. High odds that the other leg will be stressed and require a TPLO surgery.
The knee brace also comes with caveats and complications. How do you measure? Will the fit be correct? What if it rubs? How many future adjustments will be required? How expensive and available will these be?
So which way do you go? We really don’t know yet.
Stay tuned. We’re in midstream. Look for Raffa’s next update.