When to put a dog down with torn ACL? (Explained)

When To Put A Dog Down With Torn ACL? Photo of a dog with torn acl.

If you’ve heard the news recently that your dog is dealing with a torn ACL, you might be considering euthanasia as a “treatment.” How do you know when to put a dog down with torn ACL? Below are the details you’ll need to help you make this difficult decision.

If your dog has a torn ACL, an expert will be able to help you determine whether or not euthanasia is the best course of treatment. This involves metrics such as quality of life expected after the surgery, the success rate for the surgery, and the dog’s age/health. You also may want to consider euthanasia for a dog with torn ACL if they’ve stopped eating, drinking, or moving.

What is a torn ACL on dogs?

Let’s start with the basics and work from there. A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is when the ACL ligament responsible for cushioning the lower and legger leg tears or rips. This is most commonly caused by a dog suddenly changing direction, and the ligament cannot compensate as quickly as needed, causing a rip.

This is a common injury with certain dog breeds. It’s also a common injury with professional athletes, which is probably why it sounds familiar to you! In dogs, particularly, this is a severe injury, and you’ll need to treat it as such.

What are torn ACL symptoms in a dog?

Since dogs aren’t exactly the best communicators, it’s up to us humans to figure out what is happening with our canine family members. Common symptoms of a torn ACL include:

  • Pain indicators
  • Difficulty standing and walking
  • A sudden change in gait
  • Dragging legs
  • Not putting weight on one leg

Most of these will come on quickly and seem very out of the ordinary. A torn ACL is very painful in dogs, so these symptoms will be easy to detect. Some dogs will become more aggressive, too, especially if you try to check out what’s going on.

Can a dog live with a torn ACL?

Yes, dogs can live with a torn ACL. There weren’t as many treatment options for dogs with ACL injuries back in the day, so most vets recommended euthanasia since this is an excruciating condition for dogs. 

Nowadays, experts are better equipped to offer treatment options and determine how bad the tears are through detailed scans and exams. All of this means a better treatment plan for your dog.

What treatments are available for dogs with torn ACLs?

Your vet and other experts will be able to determine whether a torn ACL is a strain or something more like a rip. This will help them figure out what treatment is needed as a result. Top treatments include:

  • Limiting movement
  • Prolotherapy
  • Leg bracing
  • Pain medications
  • Surgery

Limiting movement

In situations where the experts agree that the ACL injury is minor and is a minor tear or strain, they’ll often just recommend limiting a dog’s movement and giving the body time to heal.

They will often blend this with physiotherapy and pain medication to ease the recovery and help make the body stronger so that it doesn’t happen again or leave your dog with long-term symptoms.

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Prolotherapy

This highly technical procedure is often reserved for larger dogs or dogs with significant rips that aren’t quite at the surgical level. It can also be the first step if a pet parent isn’t ready to try the surgery.

This therapy is when an irritant is injected directly into the ligament. This irritant forces your dog’s body to send extra healing agents there to help your dog recover from it, and this speeds up healing as a result. Think of it like a “please prioritize” sign for your dog’s body! 

This kind of therapy is done only by certain specialists in these kinds of injuries since it has to be done just right to help your dog recover faster but not cause too much extra pain in the process.

Leg bracing

This can be an option to help your dog keep his quality of life if a pet parent is looking to avoid, or hold off on, surgery. This is as simple as it sounds: a specialized brace that is put on to help minimize the pressure on the ACL and restrict movement around it. This will help the dog keep moving as needed while “protecting” the ACL.

Pain medications

These are often recommended regardless of the path you choose since they will help dull a serious amount of pain for your dog. As mentioned, a torn ACL is very painful even in minor situations, so vets typically recommend pain medications!

Surgery

In modern-day, and in most cases, surgery is the best option for dogs. It is considered fairly routine surgery, and many vets will offer it with the support of a specialized surgeon. 

This involves creating a false ligament to put in place to help stabilize the dog’s ripped ligament. It sounds simple, but it is considered a major surgery since ligaments take quite a while to repair.

The surgery itself is relatively quick and takes approximately an hour. Most dogs are monitored for 12-24 hours afterward to help keep them comfortable for the first several hours after the surgery.

What is the average cost of ACL surgery for a dog?

It will vary depending on the specialization of the surgeon performing the surgery, the services included, and the size and health of the dog. However, most ACL surgery quotes tend to fall between $1,000- $6,000. These often will include basic pain medication and post-op care, as outlined above, and often check-ups at set intervals afterward to see how your dog is doing. 

However, there are also charges to think about, such as physiotherapy, extra pain medication (if needed), and specialized equipment to help keep your dog’s activity limited while they recover. These can range widely based on the situation, but your vet can often suggest personalized estimates!

What is the dog’s ACL surgery success rate?

The success rate for a dog’s ACL surgery is very high, often between 80-90%. This is why it is so often recommended early on with dogs. It has a high success rate and will often provide them with excellent quality of life after healing. It won’t be this high in every case, of course, since there are factors that can lower it. Common examples include age, health profile, and the severity of the tear or rip in the ACL. Your vet will be able to explain these to you!

Should you put your dog down with a torn ACL?

As mentioned briefly above, many factors go into determining whether putting your dog down is the best course of action for your dog. This is not a decision that you should ever make on your own. You will want to have your vet’s professional opinion, a second opinion, and a specialist’s opinion.

All of these together will help you understand just what you’re looking at and what will determine a suitable treatment from a bad one.

How to decide if you should euthanize your dog with torn ACL

As mentioned above, this is a serious question that you need to discuss with your vet and with other experts that you agave available to you. Consideration factors include:

  • Quality of life
  • Your dog’s personalized success rate
  • Your dog’s age
  • Your dog’s health
  • Your available funds

Quality of life

As you’ve read, most specialists agree that ACL surgery gives your dog an excellent quality of life. However, not every dog is going to have the same potential. Some may tell you that an ACL surgery can only give them a slightly better quality of life than they currently have. This could be due to age, or it could be that it’s another injury or illness, etc. You’ll want to see the quality of life as one of the main factors to help you decide what’s best! There’s no reason to put your dog through pain if it’s not going to help them enjoy less of it in the future, after all.

The other thing to think about is your dog’s quality of life in their movement. If they are not eating, drinking, or moving other than what is necessary, this counts in the “quality of life.” If they are miserable and unable to care for their most basic needs, you need to factor this into your decision.

Your dog’s personalized success rate

This is something that you need to talk seriously to your vet about. Remember that your dog’s success rate will be completely different from another dog’s rate. Make sure you understand what the rate is what it is and then use that to help you figure out if it’s a chance that you want to take or not. It’s essential to consider this number seriously since you are betting on your dog’s comfort and health, not something physical like a lottery.

Your dog’s age

The younger your dog is, the better their chances for recovery. An old dog just can’t heal the same way a young one can, and their age will factor in. The other thing, too, is that a young dog will have more opportunity to enjoy their fixed ACL than an older dog. Surgery may be all risk with only a little reward if they only have a few months or a year left to live. Still, it is a personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer.

Your dog’s health

Certain dogs will have pre-existing health conditions that make success rate and recovery a little more complicated. For example, joint issues, previous injuries, and even conditions like diabetes or cancer complicate recovery. All of these will make surgery and its recovery harder on your dog. Sometimes the surgery can even trigger inflammation in your dog, worsening arthritis, and similar conditions like this after the fact.

Your available funds

This is not a fun discussion point, but it is imperative to keep in mind! If you can’t afford the surgery and its required post-op care, you need to be honest about this. While some will offer financing options, or you could consider insurance, the cost is the cost.

If you are nowhere what you need to do it properly, you’ll need to consider your options seriously. Your budget is something you can bring up to your vet freely, as they can sometimes have local connections to services that can help.

When you’ve considered all of these options, you may find that euthanasia is the best course of action. This can be a heartbreaking conclusion, of course, but it is important to keep it in your mind. If your vet s recommending it, this is another reason to consider it seriously. Euthanasia would be seen as a kindness to your dog rather than an ending of their life.

How long can a dog go with a torn ACL?

Dogs can do months or years with a torn ACL, but it’s not recommended. As soon as you notice any of those symptoms above, get your dog to a vet right away. The sooner it’s caught, the easier you can treat it. 

If left untreated, it can cause a curvature in the spine and long-term, chronic spinal issues. Simply “ignoring it” isn’t going to do anything but cause your dog a lot of pain and make the eventual fix to be much more expensive and intensive.

Can a dog with a torn ACL walk?

Technically, a dog with a torn ACL is capable of movement. That movement will involve limping or dragging the impacted leg, though, since putting total weight on it will cause your dog distress. Their instinct will be to keep the weight off the leg with the injury, and it’s important not to force them to do otherwise.

How much pain is a dog in with a torn ACL?

A dog with a torn ACL, from a minor tear to a full one, will be in a lot of pain. This is why, as mentioned, vets will recommend some form of pain medication. It’s our choice whether you give them that medication, but most vets will strongly suggest doing so.

Can a dog recover from torn ACL without surgery?

Yes, dogs can recover from a torn ACL without surgery. This will involve some sort of physiotherapy and rehabilitation. It will also include pain medications, massage therapy, and often a brace or some sort. The recovery’s success rate will depend mainly on the same parameters as above and the pet parent’s ability to keep up with all of these different facets of a dog’s recovery.

How long does it take for a dog’s ACL to heal without surgery?

There is no way to estimate this since every injury and recovery plan itself will be very different. The most specific that you can keep in mind is a minimum of several months. Even when every piece of advice and healing therapy is followed perfectly, it will still take months for the ACL to recover.

How to care for a dog with a torn ACL

When looking to do what’s best for your dog when they have a torn ACL, your treatment is going to focus on a few factors:

  • Following your vet’s advice (all of it)
  • Administering the pain medications as directed
  • Limiting their movement (especially jumping)
  • Being patient throughout the process

Other than that, it’s going to be mostly about following your dog’s signals and understanding that you’ll have to get used to watching for problems in the future. A torn ACL is a serious injury and will need proper check-ups and treatments even down the road after the initial injury has passed.

How to massage a dog with torn ACL

When done correctly, massage therapy can offer a lot of comfort for your dog. If you’re considering it, then you’re going to want to make sure that you do it, you guessed it properly!

This means having a consultation with your vet or expert. Or, better yet, a trained pet massage therapist! They will show you the proper stretches and approaches to help alleviate the pain your dog is feeling.

Don’t be afraid to ask them for signs that you aren’t doing it properly, either, since most will be happy to fill you in on those important indicators. Consider bringing your dog in for regular, professionally monitored sessions with an experienced pet massage therapist if you have some extra cash! It can be an excellent support for monitoring your dog’s pain and also helping speed up the healing process.

Can I get a leg brace for a dog with a torn ACL?

Yes, you can get a leg brace for a dog with a torn ACL! Regardless of what approach you go for with treatment, a leg brace can offer a lot of comfort for your dog. While most won’t recommend it directly after surgery, it can help before the surgery and after the initial 8-9 weeks of post-op care. 

A leg brace should never be used as the only care method for your dog after a torn ACL, of course, but it can help manage things while you determine the best approach.

In essence

Sometimes a trained professional can repair a torn ACL through surgery, physiotherapy, and/or leg braces. However, sometimes vets and other experts will recommend euthanasia for dogs due to several factors.

These factors can include their quality of life, their personalized success rate after the surgery, and other health and age factors. A vet and other experts will offer the best professional advice that you can use to guide your decision. It is not one to be made lightly.

Deciding to euthanize your dog with a torn ACL is a hard and painful decision all around. Still, it is crucial to understand what factors go into it and why it could be the kindest decision. Ensure you get the proper professional support you need to help you do so. 

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Hi, I'm Andre and I'm the owner of Sula the Border Collie. I love writing about this amazing dog breed here. I joined the Council to be able to reach and educate more people on the joy of having a pet dog.