Let’s take this one step at a time. First, what is a ligament? It is a band of soft tissue that holds bone to bone. (Tendons, on the other hand, connect muscle to bone). It provides the stability needed when joints move, such as the “knee joint” of a dog.
Cruciate ligaments are in the knee joint of a dog. There are two. One is the cranial (as in “closer to the head”), also called the anterior cruciate ligament in dogs. The second is the caudal (as in “closer to the tail”).
They allow the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone) to move smoothly without rubbing against each other.
If the bones were to rub, it would cause wearing down of the bones at the point of contact over time.
When there is an injury to a cruciate ligament in dogs, it causes a variety of symptoms.
With one hand holding the femur (hip) and the other hand holding the tibia (shin) close to the joint, the shin is moved forward as if closing a drawer to see if it will in fact move in that manner. If it does, then the ligament has been torn.
There are lots of possibilities:
While the lameness and pain can resolve within one to two months without any treatment, because the two bones can now rub together, chances of bone wear, bone spurs or arthritis years later is possible.
Controversy over the effectiveness of surgery vs. medical treatment muddies the water for owners. Support for both options can easily be found. Certainly less is better when it comes to invasive procedures, but long term results can be difficult to determine until it is too late.
With smaller dogs such as a Sheltie, conservative treatment without surgery is an option. The conventional treatment is anti-inflammatories and rest. Lots of confinement for a long time. Think months, not weeks.
Physical rehab is also part of the medical treatment.
With this conservative treatment, weight must be maintained at a healthy level, sometimes weight loss is called for to minimize the pressure of the two bones rubbing together and wearing down.
Different procedures include:
information on what these surgeries are and a guide to post surgical rehab
check out this surgical vet’s website.