A ruptured or torn cruciate ligament causes a dog’s knee joint to become very unstable, which consequently gives the dog a lot of pain. The reduced mobility and pain induced by the injury makes the ACL surgery an urgent medical procedure. Unfortunately, not all owners who have had their dogs undergo this surgery are aware of the recovery timeline and the things to expect.
A dog’s ACL surgery recovery can be broken down in several stages covering at least two weeks each, with each succeeding stage giving the dog more mobility and requiring less supervision.
If your dog has just undergone cruciate ligament surgery, is about to undergo ACL surgery, or your dog has just ruptured its cruciate ligament, then the information here will be very useful. To learn more about the recovery timeline, continue reading below.
What to Expect After Dog Has ACL Surgery?
After your dog’s ACL surgery, your vet will give you instructions regarding the aftercare to help your dog recover. A vet will usually give you short and long term instructions for a gradual return to activity. Expect medication for pain and inflammation, as well as icing the affected area during the first few days.
Your vet may suggest that your dog undergo a crate rest for 10 to 14 days. After this, they will most likely be teaching you how to help your dog do specific exercises that are meant to give them back the normal range of motion before the injury and the surgery. Keep in mind that your dog will have a very limited range of motion during the first few weeks, so don’t expect them to do things normally or as fast as they could before. The exercises that will be instructed by your vet will also depend on your dog’s size and shape, as well as the specific kind of surgery performed, so do it carefully and avoid overexerting your dog.
Right after you come home after the surgery, make arrangements within your house that would help restrict your dog’s movements. Place their things low on the ground and easy to reach, and block areas where your dog may move too much. Keep it this way for a couple of weeks, or as specified by your veterinarian.
What Should Your Dog Avoid While Recovering from ACL Surgery?
Your dog should avoid any physical activity that will overexert their body, especially the area near the surgical wound. This means your dog should not be running around, jumping, or doing other similarly strenuous activities such as climbing the stairs, and make sure that somebody is always around to watch them.
Do not force your dog to walk if they don’t want to, as it may take some dogs up to 48 hours after surgery before starting to put some weight onto the affected leg. Should your dog refuse to put weight onto the leg even after 48 hours, call your vet immediately.
Week by Week ACL Recovery Timeline for Dogs
It isn’t enough to just be doing the complete suite of post-operative care for your dog after the surgery. You should also be aware of how the surgical area heals, how fast it should heal, how fast or slow your dog’s range of motion is returning, as well as how your dog should be doing every step of the way. Having knowledge of the recovery timeline will help you immediately identify problems along the recovery.
Weeks 1 to 2
During the first 14 days, the first order of business is to adjust your home in such a way that it encourages recovery by limiting the areas that your dog can access, as well as their movements. How much home preparation you do here will set the course of the following weeks of recovery. This includes keeping their bed clean to avoid infection, and keeping their food and water nearby to avoid unnecessary movements.
You may need to put ice on your dog’s knee up to two times a day, lasting around 20 minutes each session. Make sure that you do not place the ice directly and wrap it with a towel. In addition, a strict crate rest (keeping them inside a crate/ cage) is highly encouraged. They could also stay in a small room instead of staying inside a crate, but make sure that there are no floor surfaces your dog can slip on, which means rooms that are tiled are out of the question.
Foam floors, rubber matting, and/or carpets can help prevent slips. You may let your dog out of the crate but only under the condition that someone is supervising them.
Toilet breaks during this time should be very slow and controlled — slow enough that your dog will be comfortable enough to put some weight onto the affected leg. It is recommended that they stay inside the crate for the first week, and allot 5 minutes of slow and controlled walking outside the crate everyday on the 2nd week.
Lastly, vet-instructed exercises should be done to promote the use of their post-surgical knee. Although the exercises may vary depending on the vet’s instructions, weight shifting and weight-bearing/three-point stand exercises are the most common ones. Do these with 10 repetitions two to three times a day.
At this stage, your dog still may be limping after their cruciate ligament surgery. Make sure you monitor any limping and raise any concerns with your vet.
Weeks 3 to 4
The next two weeks succeeding the initial two-week post surgery period will be focused more on active recovery methods instead of the more dominant passive methods of the first two weeks. With guidance from your vet, you may give your dog some simple and careful massages to encourage the release of endorphins from their body, which is a natural pain and stress reliever. This has an added bonus of serving as a form of bonding with your furry friend.
At this stage in the recovery timeline, increasing your dog’s physical activity is highly encouraged. You can bump up the 5 minutes daily to as much as 15-20 minutes per day, depending on your dog’s energy and current comfortability in moving around with the affected knee. Keep an eye if your dog places all their weight onto their hind legs, during exercise, if they do this, perform low-impact exercises instead such as three-legged standing exercises, sit-to-stand, and puppy squats, among others.
Hydrotherapy can also be beneficial at this stage for the promotion of joint and muscle strength. But this should only be done if the surgical incision is completely healed, meaning the sutures are removed. Consult your veterinarian before deciding to do this.
Weeks 5 to 6
The fifth and sixth week’s focus will have to be on regaining the balance and body position of your dog. At this point your dog should already be able to stand on the affected leg. Hillwalking is a recommended exercise that’s easy enough to do for a dog at this stage in the recovery process. Going up and down a hill shifts weight into the hind legs so begin the exercise at low-incline floors and slowly but gradually work your way up. The repetitions may be increased depending on the hill’s size and slope.
A visit to the vet would probably result in the conduct of an x-ray test to assess the progress of the recovery from the past weeks. Another exercise to try during this stage is ‘curb’ walking’, which consists of stepping up and down while making an ‘S’ pattern while walking the dog.
Weeks 7 to 10
This is the period where you will probably be called by your vet for an assessment for your dog’s recovery. The vet will check if the bones are healing correctly, and will advise you whether it has healed enough to allow you to be much more lenient regarding crate rest and exercise/ play. It’s important to note that regardless of the good healing progress of the bones, the tendons and muscles, and ligaments of the affected knee are no longer as strong as it was before the surgery. As such, it is important to be consistent with the gradual increase of exercise intensity. Increasing it too much and/ or too fast will set your dog’s recovery back by a couple of weeks.
Weeks 11 to 16
During this period, you may release your dog from their strict crate rest, taking into consideration their temperament. If you know that your dog will start running around uncontrollably as soon as you let them out the crate, then limit the time that they’re out and about, and crate them again afterwards.You may start at 5 minutes for each session and gradually increase it as you see fit.
This is also the stage in your dog’s recovery where they can begin to return to full activity. You can start with controlled periods of play/ exercise on stable surfaces (e.g. 30 minutes on grass), then transition into 5 to 10 minutes of uncontrolled periods of play/ exercise (e.g. 10 minutes of play/ exercise on grass/ concrete), and so on. Just remember that you should verify that your dog isn’t showing any sign of lameness and/ or uncomfortability before stepping it up.
Week 17 Onwards
By this time, your dog would have practically fully healed from the ACL surgery and regained their fitness enough that they are able to do their usual activities pre surgery. There aren’t any visible marks and/ or abnormalities that will let people differentiate between a dog that has had ACL surgery and one that has not. However, keep in mind that dogs who have undergone the surgery are at higher risk of developing arthritis at the knee.
How Long Does Dog ACL Surgery Recovery Take?
Dogs will often recover from ACL surgery in 4-6 weeks. However, due to the differences in dogs’ sizes, breeds, predisposition to certain diseases and injuries, as well as the varying severity of torn cruciate ligaments, the exact recovery period from an ACL surgery differs from dog to dog.
It should be noted that the recovery timeline above is just an estimate and your dog could heal faster or slower. During the entire recovery period, your veterinarian is your best friend, keep them updated on significant developments on your dog’s post surgery knee, whether positive or negative. This will help them know how to move forward with your dog’s post treatment recovery.
When Can My Dog Resume Normal Activities After ACL Surgery?
Your dog should be strictly crate rested for the first six weeks after the ACL surgery (unless otherwise instructed by your vet, or for essential activities such as going to the toilet), before you can even begin to consider resuming your dog’s normal activities.
Although it highly depends on a case to case basis, the generally accepted rest time is around 10 to 16 weeks before strict crate resting can be minimised to allow your dog to move around and do things freely.
Can I Leave My Dog Alone After ACL Surgery?
No, you should not leave your dog unsupervised after surgery – it’s important to monitor them for any complications. It’s common for dogs to remove a cone or E-collar to lick and chew their stitches if left alone, and this can cause infection or bleeding.
It is not a hard requirement to be next to your dog constantly, and they may prefer some quiet time alone to rest, but ensure you check on your dog regularly.
Can I Pick Up My Dog After Surgery?
While it is possible for you to pick your dog up after surgery, most vets will advise against this until after a few hours or days after the surgery. This is to make sure that the surgical site has begun to settle and will not easily open or get infected.
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.