CCL Tears in Dogs: Why it happens, What to do & How to Prevent it.

A cranial cruciate ligament tear is the most common knee injury, that affects the knee joint in dogs. The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is one of the major ligaments in the knee, located inside the joint capsule and plays a critical role in stabilizing the knee and preventing excessive forward movement of the shin bone (tibia) in relation to the thigh bone (femur).

Causes of Ruptured Cranial Cruciate Ligament

When a cranial cruciate ligament tear occurs, it means that the ligament has become partially or completely torn. This can happen due to various reasons, including:

Trauma: A sudden force to the knee, like a fall or a collision, can cause the CCL to tear. This is most commonly seen in active dogs or those involved in high-impact activities like working dogs, agility or sports.

Degeneration: Over time, the CCL may weaken making it more susceptible to tears. This process can be influenced by factors of aging, obesity, and genetics.

Breed predisposition: Some dog breeds are more prone to CCL injury than others. Breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Newfoundlands are known to have a higher risk.

Conformational factors: The alignment and structure of the dog’s knee joint can also contribute to CCL tears. Abnormalities in leg alignment, such as a narrow stance or an excessive slope in the tibial plateau, can increase the stress on the ligament and make it more prone to injury.

Types of Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tears

A CCL tear can be classified as either a partial tear or a complete tear and then can be further categorized based on the time frame in which they occur.

Partial Tear: A partially ruptured cranial cruciate ligament is when the ligament is damaged but not completely severed, i.e. some fibres of the ligament are still intact. The severity of a partial tear can vary, ranging from minor damage to a significant tear.

Complete Tear: A complete cranial cruciate ligament rupture is when there is complete discontinuity of the ligament where the ligament can no longer function to stabilize the knee joint.

Acute Tears: Acute tears refer to injuries that happen as a result of a fall, collision, or any sudden force applied to the knee joint and often cause immediate lameness and pain.

Chronic Tears: Chronic tears develop gradually over time, usually as a result of degenerative changes or repeated stress on the ligament. These are more commonly seen in older dogs or those with pre-existing knee joint issues. Dogs with chronic CCL tears may exhibit intermittent lameness, difficulty with certain activities, and progressive joint instability.

Anterior cruciate ligament ruptures and Cranial Cruciate Ligament rupture and Caudal Cruciate Ligament ruptures, Are they the same thing?

Yes, canine Anterior cruciate ligament rupture and canine cranial cruciate rupture refer to the same condition in dogs. Both terms are used interchangeably to describe an injury to the cranial cruciate ligament in a dog’s knee joint. The CCL is equivalent to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. Therefore, when a dog experiences a tear or rupture in the CCL, it is often referred to as a canine ACL tear or canine CCL tear.

Caudal Cruciate Ligament (CrCL) rupture are common in dogs. CrCL’s significance is debated, but it can also lead to similar symptoms and may require surgery. Early vet consultation is vital for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms and Signs

A CCL rupture in dogs can cause a range of symptoms and signs, which can vary in severity depending on the extent of the tear. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

Lameness: One of the primary signs of a CCL tear is lameness or limping, primarily hind limb lameness. The lameness may be sudden if the tear is acute or may develop gradually in the case of a chronic tear.

Difficulty or Reluctance in Walking: Your dog may hesitate to put weight on the injured leg or show signs of pain like difficulty or reluctance in walking, especially while climbing stairs, jumping, or engaging in activities that involve the affected leg.

Swelling and Heat: The knee joint affected by a CCL tear may exhibit swelling, heat, and increased sensitivity. The area around the joint may appear visibly swollen or feel warm to the touch.

Altered Gait: Some dogs exhibit a “bunny hopping” gait or hind limb lameness, where both hind legs move together in a hopping motion. This compensatory gait is an attempt to reduce stress and pressure on the injured leg.

Pain and Discomfort: Dogs with CCL tears may exhibit signs of pain, which can manifest as vocalization, panting, restlessness, or reluctance to be touched around the knee joint. They may also show signs of discomfort when the knee is manipulated or palpated.

These symptoms are not exclusive to CCL tears and can also be present in other knee injuries or orthopedic conditions. If you suspect a knee-related issue in your dog, consult your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.

Preventing CCL Tears

Preventing CCL tears in dogs can be challenging since certain factors, such as genetics and conformation, can make it inevitable, but, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk or minimize the severity of CCL tears:

Maintain a Healthy Weight:

Extra weight puts extra stress on the joints, including the knee. A healthy weight helps reduce the strain, decreasing the likelihood and severity of CCL injuries.

Regular Exercise and Conditioning:

Regular exercise can help strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, providing support and stability. When starting out, gradually increase the duration and intensity of exercise to avoid trauma to the ligament.

Avoid High-Impact Activities:

High-impact activities, such as jumping from heights or sudden changes in direction, can increase the risk of CCL tears. Avoid or minimize these activities, especially if you have a breed that is susceptible to knee injuries.

Provide Proper Footing:

Slippery surfaces increase the risk of injury, especially during play or exercise. Consider using rugs, mats or toe grips to help your pup gain traction when dealing with slippery surfaces.

Proper Warm-Up and Cool-Down:

A good stretch session doesn’t just work wonders for us humans but does for our canines too. Ensure your dog has a proper warm-up to prepare the muscles and joints for strenuous activity and a cool-down session to allow for better recovery.

Regular Veterinary Check-Ups:

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help spot any potential joint issues or abnormalities early on. Early detection and intervention are key to effectively managing and preventing a CCL rupture.

Treatment options for cranial cruciate ligament rupture.

Treatments are of two kinds Conservative and Medical, both are effective but depend on the severity of the cruciate ligament tear and the individual circumstances.

Conservative Treatment

Rest and Restricted Activity:

For mild CCL tears or in cases where surgery is not feasible, rest and restricted activity is suggested where activities that put excessive stress on the knee joint, such as running and jumping, need to be restricted. This allows the cruciate ligaments to heal naturally over time.

Medical Management:

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are used to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. These medications help improve comfort and mobility. However, long-term use should be done under careful supervision due to potential side effects.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation:

It aids in strengthening the muscles around the knee joint and improving joint stability. Therapeutic exercises, controlled movements, and hydrotherapy boost recovery and is a great option for dogs dealing with excessive body weight.

Assistive Devices:

Braces, orthotics, or supportive wraps provide external support to the knee joint and help stabilize and reduce stress on the torn ligament. These devices are typically recommended for partial tears or as a temporary measure until surgery can be performed.

It’s important to understand that while conservative and medical treatments can help manage symptoms and improve function, they may not completely resolve a CCL tear. In cases where the tear is severe or causes persistent lameness, surgical intervention is often the preferred option to restore stability to the knee joint.

Pros and cons of Conservative Treatment for CCL Tears:


Non-invasive: Conservative treatment does not involve surgical intervention, which can be less stressful for some dogs and their owners.

Cost-effective: Compared to surgery, conservative treatment options may be more affordable.

Suitable for certain cases: Conservative treatment is most suitable for partial tears, minor injuries, or dogs with pre-existing health conditions that make surgery risky or not feasible.


Limited effectiveness: Conservative treatment alone may not fully address the underlying instability of the knee joint caused by a CCL tear, potentially leading to persistent lameness or progression of joint damage.

Prolonged recovery: Healing time for CCL tears can be longer with conservative treatment, and there may be a higher chance of reinjury during the recovery period.

Potential for secondary issues: Without surgical stabilization, compensatory movements and altered gait patterns may put stress on other joints, potentially leading to additional orthopedic problems over time.

Surgical Management

Surgical treatment is often recommended for CCL tears in dogs, especially for complete tears or cases where conservative management has not provided satisfactory results. Several surgical techniques can be employed to address dog CCL tears, including:

Extracapsular Repair:

This commonly performed technique is used mostly for smaller dogs and dogs with a less active lifestyle. It involves placing a suture or implant outside the knee joint to stabilize it. The suture or implant helps mimic the normal function of of the CCL and provides stability to the joint during movement. Over time, scar tissue forms, providing long-term support.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO):

TPLO surgery alters the alignment of the bones in the knee joint. It involves cutting the tibial plateau and repositioning it to change the mechanics of the joint. This technique helps neutralize the forces acting on the knee, reducing the need for an intact CCL. TPLO surgery is often recommended for medium to large dogs or those with more active lifestyles.

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA):

Tibial Tuberosity Advancement is another surgical procedure that modifies the alignment of the bones in the knee joint. It involves cutting the tibial tuberosity and advancing it forward, altering the angle of the patellar tendon. This adjustment shifts the stress on the joint and reduces strain on the CCL. TTA is commonly performed on medium to large dogs or those with more active lifestyles.

TightRope Technique:

The TightRope technique is the least invasive surgical option and involves placing a strong suture material through bone tunnels in the femur and tibia. The suture material is then tightened to provide stability to the knee joint.

Pros and cons of Surgical Treatment for CCL Tears:


Restores stability: Surgery aims to restore stability to the knee joint by repairing or compensating for the torn ligament, reducing lameness and improving long-term joint function.

Faster recovery: Aids in quicker recovery and return to normal activities compared to conservative treatment alone.

Lower risk of re-injury: Surgical stabilization provides a more robust and lasting solution, reducing the risk of re-injury or the development of secondary joint problems.


Surgical risks: As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with anesthesia, infection, bleeding, and potential complications. However, these risks are generally low with experienced veterinary surgeons.

Cost: Surgery for CCL tears can be more expensive than conservative management, considering the costs of anesthesia, surgery, post-operative care, and potential follow-up visits.

Recovery period: Dogs undergoing surgery require post-operative confinement, physical rehabilitation, and controlled exercise, which may require additional time, effort, and commitment.

Success Rates and Prognosis

The success rate and prognosis for CCL tear treatment depend on factors like, the severity of the tear, the chosen treatment approach, the dog’s age, overall health, activity level, and compliance with post-treatment care.

Conservative Treatment:

The success rate of conservative treatment for CCL tears is generally lower compared to surgical treatment. While rest, restricted activity, and physical therapy can help manage symptoms and improve function, conservative treatment alone may not fully address the underlying instability of the knee joint. This can result in a higher chance of persistent lameness, progression of joint damage, and increased risk of reinjury. However, conservative treatment can be effective for dogs with minor tears or those where surgery is not a viable option. The prognosis for conservative treatment can vary, and some dogs may eventually require surgical repair or intervention if symptoms persist or worsen.

Surgical Treatment:

Surgery for CCL tears typically provides a more favorable outcome, especially when the chosen surgical technique is appropriate for the dog’s size, activity level, and individual circumstances. The success rate is generally higher in terms of restoring stability, reducing lameness, and improving long-term joint function. However, it’s important to note that surgical outcomes can vary depending on factors such as the surgeon’s experience, surgical technique used, post-operative care, and adherence to rehabilitation protocols. The prognosis for surgical treatment is generally more favorable, with a higher likelihood of returning to normal activities and a reduced risk of reinjury or development of secondary joint problems.

It’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian or veterinary orthopedic specialist to assess the specific case and provide a more accurate prognosis. They can evaluate the dog’s condition, discuss treatment options, and offer guidance tailored to the individual circumstances, maximizing the chances of a successful outcome.