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Alternatives to Dog Cruciate Ligament Surgery: Do They Work? 

Alternatives to Dog Cruciate Ligament

As a pet owner, it’s heartbreaking to see your furry friend in pain. If your dog has recently been diagnosed with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, you’re probably wondering what the best course of treatment is.

If your dog has suffered an ACL tear, you might be wondering if there are any non-surgical options for treatment. Many people assume it’s solely a choice between surgery or euthanasia for a torn ACL in dogs. While surgery is an effective option, there are non-surgical treatments which claim to be a viable alternative. But do they really work?

There are several non-surgical treatments that can be effective in managing an ACL tear in dogs. However, these are typically focused around symptom relief, or help support recovery alongside surgical treatments. There is little proof of their efficacy as a sole treatment. 

Ultimately, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to see if non-surgical treatment is right for your dog. Here’s what you need to know about non-surgical ACL treatments for dogs in Australia.

What Non-Surgical ACL Treatments Are There For Dogs? 

There are several non-surgical options that can be effective in managing the pain of an ACL tear in dogs. Medical management, pain relief, weight management, and physical therapy are all possible supplementary treatment methods that should be discussed with your veterinarian. 

In most cases, surgery will be necessary to repair a torn ACL; however, this decision should be made after careful consideration of all the risks and benefits involved. While surgery is the most reliable solution, you may want to consider some non-surgical treatments to help your dog recover faster in addition to recommended surgery. 

However, not all non-surgical ACL treatments are made equal. Some strategies, such as weight management and supplements, are common veterinary practice supported by vets. Others are considered alternative therapies with little evidence to support their effectiveness.

Read on to learn more about some non-surgical alternatives to cruciate surgery in dogs.

Medical Management

One of the most common non-surgical treatments for ACL tears in dogs is an overall ‘medical management’ plan. This approach involves a combination of pain relief, weight management, and physical therapy. 

Medical management is often used as a temporary measure to allow the dog time to heal and evaluate whether surgery is necessary. In some cases, medical management may be used as a long-term treatment option.

Rest and rehabilitation involves giving your dog plenty of time to rest and heal, while also providing physical therapy to help them regain strength and mobility. However, many dogs, especially those with underlying joint conformation issues, can’t simply recover with medical management alone. In that case, these techniques also help your dog recover from surgery. 

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy can help improve range of motion and muscle strength, including after cruciate surgery.

A physical therapist can design a rehabilitation program specifically for your dog that includes exercises and stretches to help promote healing and prevent further injury. Many dogs enjoy physical therapy sessions and find them to be very beneficial.

Weight Management

Weight management involves making sure your dog is at a healthy weight. This is because carrying around weight can put unnecessary strain on the ACL, which can lead to further injury.

If your dog is overweight, losing weight can help reduce the stress on the joints and improve mobility. Your veterinarian can help you create a weight loss plan that is safe and effective for your dog. Following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise will help your dog lose weight and improve overall health.

Re-evaluating your dog’s diet has many lasting benefits. Ensuring that your dog is receiving the right amount of vitamins and nutrients can also help speed up post surgery recovery. 

Pain Relief

Managing your dog’s pain is an important part of treating an ACL tear. Your veterinarian may prescribe pain medication for your dog, which may include an anti-inflammatory.

It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions when giving your dog medication, and to monitor your dog closely for any side effects. 

If your dog still appears to be in excessive pain, consult your vet before increasing the dose, and never give your dog any medication that wasn’t prescribed by a veterinarian. Many common household medicines intended for humans can be toxic or lethal for dogs. 

ACL Brace

Orthopaedic dog braces are adjustable wearables that give your dog’s knee some extra  support. Dog ACL braces are non-rigid braces that will help stabilise the knee joint of your dog. They are often marketed for ACL/CCL tears in dogs, as well as sprains.

The brace provides the support and stabilisation by limiting both flexion and extension of the knee so that a scar tissue can form a callus on the tear, which is the first step in the healing process. The support the brace gives is often a welcome addition for dogs that have recently undergone corrective surgery for an ACL tear. However, a brace alone won’t resolve the issue long-term, and isn’t a standalone treatment for cruciate ligament injuries in dogs. 

Massage Therapy

When a dog has an ACL injury, remember that the pain and/or discomfort is not contained within the injured knee joint, but extends to the rest of the body from there. As such, massage therapy can help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort if done correctly. 

Note that you should consult your vet about the best technique for your dog’s injury to avoid exacerbating it. The generally recommended massage technique is to start from the toes and up into the knee joint. Massage therapy is sometimes used for dogs that have undergone surgery, and it can be a great way to strengthen your bond with your dog as well. 

Supplements 

Supplements are one way to aid in the recovery of a torn ACL/CCL in your dog. Although this alone will not heal the injury, it definitely helps the healing process and provides anti-inflammatory properties. 

Natural whole-food collagen and/or fish oil are some of the best and widely known supplements for these types of injuries. Their ingredients have nutrients essential for a healthy joint cartilage and connective tissue.

Prolotherapy 

Prolotherapy is generally promoted as an alternative therapy for chronic pain, both in humans and animals. In animals, it’s often practised alongside ‘aquapuncture’, or homoeopathic injections. 

The ‘prolo’ is a shortened name for proliferation, because prolotherapy aims to promote the proliferation/growth of new tissue in areas which have been injured or weakened. 

Prolotherapy involved injecting a proliferant (ie. a mild irritant, like dextrose and vitamin B12) into the affected ligaments and tendons. According to prolotherapy advocates, this causes a localised inflammation that consequently activates the healing process. However, no conclusive evidence has been found to suggest this has any reliable impact on tissue healing. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is another form of alternative medicine that is also done on humans, primarily to relieve pain and induce a calming effect. For acupuncture done for dogs and animals in general, it is referred to as veterinary acupuncture. 

The primary purpose of veterinary acupuncture is pain relief, whether before or after surgery. That’s why acupuncture should never be a sole or primary treatment for an ACL injury in dogs. If used, it should always be used in conjunction with other conventional treatment methods in order to properly heal a dog’s injury.

Reports of the effectiveness of veterinary acupuncture are mixed, and it can be expensive, but if this is something you’re willing to try, be sure to get prior consent from your dog’s attending veterinarian. Note that needles need to stay inserted for 5 to 20 minutes for veterinary acupuncture, so if you have a very active and wriggly pup, this treatment option may be extremely challenging!

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy may have gained traction from its use on humans, but it has also begun to be used on our furry friends too. Cryotherapy is essentially the use of extreme cold for therapeutic applications and can range anywhere from oncological care all the way to muscle recovery.

This alternative treatment is done through a cryoprobe, which is cooled with substances like liquid nitrogen and liquid nitrous oxide, among others.

Cryotherapy isn’t widely available as a veterinary treatment, but with further research, this may become a useful tool in future to help dogs with ACL injuries. A recent study in which cryotherapy was performed on dogs that were preparing to undergo Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery showed benefits in more than half of dogs studied. 

However, there is not enough evidence to support cryotherapy as a sole solution to ACL injuries. 

Stem Cell Therapy 

Although stem cell therapy has some negative press, medical studies show it has potential in treating joint injuries, both in humans and animals. Stem cells are, simply put, cells that are considered to be a “blank canvas” where any chosen genetic coding may be used. 

Research is beginning to suggest stem cell therapy can be an alternative to invasive surgeries for torn knee ligaments in canines. However, stem cell therapy and its technology is relatively new, particularly in veterinary applications, so it isn’t yet available for most pet owners. While not yet accessible outside of veterinary research, this is a treatment option that may become more commonplace in 10 or 20 years’ time. 

Why Might Pet Owners Choose Non-Surgical ACL Treatment?

There are several motivations we hear from dog owners regarding non-surgical ACL treatments. The cost of ACL surgery can be intimidating to many owners, and others are concerned about invasive surgery and recovery time. Finally, some dogs simply aren’t good candidates for surgery due to age or health concerns. 

However, there is strong evidence that the right type of ACL surgery is very effective in resolving knee issues in dogs. The prognosis for cruciate ligament surgery is excellent in almost all dogs, and alternative treatments tend to support the recovery process without being a substitute for surgery. 

Regardless of which route you ultimately choose, the most important thing is that you consult with your veterinarian to figure out what’s best for your dog. But considering that almost all ACL injuries will require surgery, non-surgical treatment options are going to help improve your dog’s quality of life and recovery after surgery, rather than replacing it.

Disclaimer:

This article is published in good faith, for general informational and educational purposes only. Paws and More Vet Centre does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. This article should not be used as a substitute for veterinary advice, including for diagnosis or treatment of a pet’s medical condition. Always consult a veterinary professional before making decisions on your pet’s health. 

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