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What Are the Treatments for Canine Knee Injuries?

I am sure you get many questions about the dreaded TPLO surgery. It appears my American Pit Bull Terrier has a partially (maybe total) torn...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  May 20th 2009


I am sure you get many questions about the dreaded TPLO surgery. It appears my American Pit Bull Terrier has a partially (maybe total) torn cruciate ligament. He is only 2.5 and sure has a lot more running, jumping and playing to do. I understand the surgery coupled with the recoup time can be fairly strenuous (for owner & pup). I want my boy to have the best life possible, but am nervous about this expensive surgery. Are there alternatives and if so what are they?

Thank you for your time.

Christine, mom of Nino & Mocha
Charlotte, NC

Knee injuries are painfully common in dogs. The most frequently encountered encountered major canine knee injury involves damage to a ligament known as the cruciate ligament.

Under normal circumstances, the cruciate ligament works with the muscles of the leg and a structure known as the joint capsule to stabilize the knee during activity. Damaged cruciate ligaments are associated with laxity in the joint. Laxity, in turn, leads to pain, limping, and arthritis later in life.

Surgical correction of the knee is recommended in many cases. Several different surgeries are available. The TPLO (short for tibial plateau leveling osteotomy) is considered by many experts to be the best option. However, it is expensive and must be performed by a certified specialist. Also, many experts dispute the claim that the TPLO is superior to other treatments. They state that there is no compelling evidence that TPLOs consistently lead to better outcomes than other less expensive surgeries that need not be performed by specialists.

Also, some individuals with cruciate ligament injuries are able to recover without surgery. This is most common when the ligament is not completely torn. Physical therapy directed at strengthening the muscles of the leg often suffices in such cases.

In short, although the TPLO may be the best option for many dogs, other reasonable options may be available.

In any case, however, you will need to brace for a long and somewhat unpleasant recovery. Dogs heal slowly from cruciate ligament injuries regardless of the treatment used.