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Should You Put Down a Dog With a Torn ACL?

If your dog has been diagnosed with a torn ACL, you may be wondering if you should put them down. The answer to this question is not black and white; and it may seem like there are many factors to consider before making a decision. 

Since this type of injury is treatable, it’s rarely (if ever) medically necessary to euthanise a dog with an ACL tear. However, there are other factors to consider, including the opinion of your veterinarian and the condition of your dog and their quality of life.

If your dog has a cruciate ligament injury, the first thing you need to do is consult with your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to give you the best advice based on your dog’s individual circumstances, which is usually to have corrective cruciate surgery. They will be able to tell you whether or not your dog’s ACL can be repaired surgically and what the prognosis is for recovery. 

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to put your dog down is a personal one that only you can make. In this blog post, we will outline some things you should take into account. 

What is a Torn ACL?

ACL tears are one of the most common injuries in dogs, especially in active dogs. A tear can occur when the ligament is overstretched or completely torn. Symptoms of an ACL tear include lameness, pain, and swelling. If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s important to bring them to the vet for an examination.

The ACL is one of the major stabilising ligaments in a dog’s hind leg. It runs through the stifle joint (the dog equivalent of the human knee) and helps to keep the femur and tibia bones in alignment.

ACL tears often require surgery to repair and can be quite costly. However, with proper care and rehabilitation, your dog can make a full recovery and return to their normal activity level.

If you notice your dog has any symptoms of a cruciate injury, the first step is to make an appointment with your vet for a thorough examination. Your vet will likely recommend X-rays or an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. Once a torn ACL has been diagnosed, you’ll need to decide on a course of treatment. 

Should I Euthanise a Dog with a Torn ACL? 

Before making a decision, you should consult with your veterinarian to get their professional opinion. They will be able to tell you whether or not your dog is a candidate for surgery and what the long-term prognosis is. It’s worth noting that surgery will almost always be better than euthanasia for a torn ACL. 

Some of the factors to consider include: 

  • The age and health of your dog – If your dog is a senior or has other health complications, they may not be a good candidate for cruciate surgery. This decision is never easy, but it is important to remember that you are doing what is best for your dog. If they are in pain and their quality of life is poor, it may be time to let them go if your vet recommends it. 
  • Whether you can afford the surgery – You should also consider your own financial situation. Surgery for a torn ACL can be very expensive, and it may not be covered by pet insurance. If you cannot afford the surgery, then euthanasia may be the best option for your dog. However you should always speak to your vet about payment plans and options, as it can be very difficult to put down a dog especially when a torn ACL is a very fixable problem with surgery. 
  • If previous treatment has failed – If your dog’s ACL cannot be repaired or if the prognosis for recovery is poor, your vet may recommend putting them down. Not all surgeries have an equal success rate, and if your dog has received a soft tissue surgery, it may not be enough to resolve the underlying conformation issue behind the tear. This means that your dog may re-injure the ligament. Of course ACL surgery has very high success rates, so the chances of this situation occurring are very slim. 

Treatment Options for a Dog ACL Tear 

If your dog has torn their ACL, you may be wondering what treatment options are available. The good news is that there are a number of different treatment options available, and the best course of treatment will depend on your dog’s individual circumstances. 

There are two main options for treating an ACL tear:

  • Conservative Management: This approach involves managing your dog’s pain with medication and modifying their activity level to allow healing to take place. In some cases, weight loss may also be recommended if your dog is overweight.
  • ACL Surgery: There are two different types of surgery that can be performed to repair a torn ACL: suture repair techniques and osteotomy (bone-cutting) techniques. Osteotomy surgery is recommended in most cases and leads to the best long-term outcomes. 

Your vet will help you decide which approach is best for your dog based on their age, activity level, overall health, and the severity of their injury.

No matter which route you choose, it’s important to give your dog plenty of time to rest and heal. This means no running, jumping, playing fetch, or participating in any other high-impact activities until your vet gives you the green light.

ACL Surgery

If your dog is young and relatively active, surgery may be the best option. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on which type of surgery is best for your dog based on their age, activity level, and overall health. 

It’s important to note that even with surgery, your dog will need to have limited activity for at least six weeks to allow the knee joint to heal properly. 

Strict Rest 

If your dog is older or in poor health, surgery may not be the best option. In this case, strict rest may be recommended. This means keeping your dog from engaging in any activities that could put strain on their ACL, such as walking, running, or playing fetch. 

Strict rest can be difficult to maintain if you have an active dog who loves to play and go for walks, and bed rest won’t actually solve the injury. That’s why strict bed rest is recommended after surgery, not in place of. 

Physical Therapy 

For some dogs, a combination of surgery and physical therapy may be recommended. Physical therapy can help improve your dog’s range of motion and strength after an injury. It can also help prevent future injuries by improving muscular imbalances around the joint. 

There are a number of different physical therapy exercises that can be performed depending on your dog’s individual needs. Your veterinarian or a physical therapist can help you create a personalised exercise plan for your dog. The main use of physical therapy is to help improve the recovery process after corrective surgery. 

Alternative Treatments 

If your dog has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), you’re probably wondering what the non-surgical treatment options are. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help your furry friend recover from this injury. However, it’s not common for a cruciate ligament injury to resolve on its own, even with alternative therapies. For that reason, treatments like an ACL brace, acupuncture or massage should never be the sole treatment. 

What Happens if I Don’t Treat My Dog’s ACL Injury? 

There are a lot of risks associated with not treating your dog’s ACL injury. If they’re not treated properly, they can lead to a lot of pain and suffering for your furry friend. In severe cases, untreated ACL injuries can even be fatal.

So, what exactly happens if you don’t treat your dog’s ACL injury? Let’s take a look.

The first thing that will happen if you don’t treat your dog’s ACL injury is that the pain will get worse. Dogs rely on their legs for just about everything, so when one is injured, it can make everyday activities extremely difficult and painful. If you don’t treat the injury, your dog will likely start to favour the other leg, which can put even more strain on the injured leg and make the pain even worse.

Untreated ACL injuries can also cause arthritis to develop in your dog’s joints. This is because the ACL helps to stabilise the joint, so when it’s damaged, the joint becomes less stable and starts to wear down over time. This can lead to a lot of pain and stiffness in the joint, which can make it hard for your dog to move around. 

Finally, untreated ACL injuries can also lead to chronic lameness. This is because the damage to the ACL makes it difficult for your dog to put weight on the injured leg without pain. Over time, this can cause the muscles in the leg to atrophy from disuse, which leads to chronic lameness. 

If your furry friend has suffered an ACL injury, it’s important to take them to see a veterinarian as soon as possible so they can start treatment right away. With proper treatment, most dogs make a full recovery and go on to live happy and healthy lives.

Can a Dog Recover From a Torn ACL Without Surgery? 

Any ACL rupture leads to instability, which results in ongoing inflammation and degenerative joint disease. This causes extreme and chronic pain for dogs. Without proper resolution of the ACL injury and underlying poor conformation of the knee, this problem is degenerative, and early intervention is the best solution.

Alternative treatments like physical therapy, massage therapy, veterinary acupuncture, proper nutrition and/or supplements can be used to help a dog’s ACL injury heal, or support recovery after surgery. However, these treatments aren’t a substitute for surgery and won’t resolve the problem long-term.

How Long Does It Take for a Dog’s ACL to Heal Without Surgery?

Generally, a dog’s torn or partially torn ACL will not heal on its own, and almost all partial tears progress into full tears if not treated. Even if a dog appears to recover from an initial cruciate ligament injury, the problem is extremely likely to return. 

Is It Worth Getting Surgery for a Dog ACL Injury?

In almost all cases, surgery is recommended to repair an ACL tear. If initial treatment options have failed or the tear is severe enough that it significantly impairs the dog’s quality of life, cruciate ligament surgery is the only way to relieve pain and help your dog regain their mobility. 

If surgery is recommended, your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits with you so that you can make an informed decision about what is best for your dog. 

What is the Success Rate of Dog ACL Surgery?

The success rate for dog ACL surgery is somewhere between 90-95%, making it an incredibly consistent and reliable option. Of the cases where the surgery is not successful, there is usually an additional underlying issue that is affecting the success of the surgery. 

Related Questions 

What Are the Symptoms of a Torn ACL in Dogs? 

When the ACL is torn, it can cause pain, lameness, and instability in the affected leg. ACL tears are most common in dogs who are very active or who participate in high-impact activities such as running around and playing fetch. Some breeds are also more susceptible to ACL tears due to their conformation.

How Can I Detect a Dog’s Cruciate Ligament Injury Early? 

Monitoring means recognising early signs of cruciate ligament injuries. Try to sneak in some check-ups when you cuddle, tickle, and play with your pup. Try to feel if there’s any hot swelling in their knees. When you walk, see if there’s anything unusual or uneven in their gait or listen for any clicking noises. When your dog sits or sleeps, check if it’s a normal sleeping position and that no leg is sticking out unusually – this can indicate pain or stiffness. 

How Can I Prevent ACL Injuries in Dogs?

As with humans, dogs need to keep a balanced diet. For one, this can ensure good health and prevent them from being overweight. Secondly, a diet with joint-repair foods, such as Omega-3-rich food, can ensure their joints stay healthy.

Walks and exercise should also be regular. This means avoiding the weekend warrior syndrome, in which you suddenly go for strenuous exercise on the weekend when you have time. Suddenly making your dog active after a sedentary week can lead to a trauma-caused cruciate ligament injury. But with regular exercise, your dogs’ muscles are strengthened, and their flexibility is improved. In turn, this creates good support for their joints.


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.