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Cruciate Disease in Dogs

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What is Cruciate Disease?

Cruciate disease is the most common orthopaedic disease in dogs. It often requires surgical intervention. Joint instability occurs when the fibres have minor tears which cause an ongoing breakdown of the ligament. When the ligament is torn, it causes sudden pain and can result in lameness. This will cause instability in the knee joint itself and will remain unstable until treated.

When weight is put onto the unstable joint, the tibia slides forward into the femur. This abnormal motion causes wear and tear causing pain which leads to arthiritis in the joint.

Anatomy of the knee joint;

The knee is what we call a hinge joint. This is a joint that only allows backward and forward motion. The knee itself is fairly complicated and is made up of many parts. The femur is above the joint, and the tibia below. The kneecap (patella) lies in front and a small bean like structure called the fabellae lies behind. There are an assortment of ligaments that hold

There are two cruciate ligaments which cross inside the knee joint known as the cranial and caudal ligaments. The caudal cruciate ligament prevents the tibia from slipping forward and out from under the femur. It is one of the most important stabilisers in the canine stifle joint. It is not actually a single structure but is, in fact, made up of a bundle of individual fibres tightly bound together to form the ligament.

Cruciate Disease in Dogs

Why Does Cruciate Disease Occur?

Trauma to the joint – this can be acute or chronic. Any trauma can be enough to completely rupture the ligament.

Obesity or excessive weight – if the canine is overweight it can weaken the joint which causes it to tear easily. Obesity can also increase surgery recovery time.

Breed of dog – it is more commonly seen in medium to large breed dogs, over the age of four.


  • Symptoms of cruciate disease will depend on the severity of the injury but normally include;
  • Lameness
  • Swelling of the knee joint
  • Unable to bear weight on injured leg
  • Knee pain
  • Reluctance to walk to exercise
  • What can the Doctor do for my dog?

Cruciate disease can be diagnosed by our Doctors.

They will assess your pet during a consultation and the cruciate ligament will need to be checked through the use of x-ray. We recommend that X-rays are done under sedation as affected dogs can often be very painful. After initial X-rays the Doctor will be able to determine the severity of the disease and whether surgery will be required. Every patient is assessed for the degree of lameness, overall alignment of the limb, the range of movement, as well as the degree of stability within the joint.

What does surgery involve?

The aim of surgery is to improve the stability and to slow the progression of arthritis in the joint. The joint is surgically explored, the damaged ligament is removed and the joint is stabilised.

A tibial plateau levelling osteotomy (TPLO) is the technique used to improve the ligament. It is a procedure that requires a specialist surgeon and it can be done here at Southern Cross Vets. Performing the TPLO procedure is the best option as it gives the strongest likelihood of the ligament returning to normal function. The surgery involves a round incision, allowing the bone to be reshaped and screwed into a different position removing the need for a cruciate ligament.

As a general rule, over 90% of dogs return to normal activity after surgery. This generally means that dogs are so normal that owners are unable to detect lameness at home. We expect dogs to return to unrestricted exercise without any requirement for ongoing medications.

Physiotherapy after Surgery This helps the recovery of your pet

Six weeks post surgery we will perform post-op X-rays to ensure the surgery has corrected the cruciate ligament. Once we have made an assessment we can recommend physiotherapy to enable your dog to return to full mobility.

Physiotherapy will include:

  • Gentle flexion and extension of the knee
  • Equissage therapy to encourage blood flow and healing
  • Muscle massage
  • Hydrotherapy

Here at Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic, we are launching a hydrotherapy and physiotherapy centre so that your dog does not have to be referred for these procedures.

The list of benefits for physiotherapy is vast and includes;

  • Increased rate of recovery from injury and surgery
  • Improved functional abilities
  • Weight loss assistance
  • Pain reduction
  • Increased strength and range of motion
  • Performance enhancement of athletic dogs
  • Improved quality of life

Hydrotherapy is most beneficial when static or dynamic exercises are undertaken with the feet in contact with the ground.

Exercise is done in water to help dogs regain strength, reduce swelling and stiffness, improve range of motion, strengthen and builds muscle on your dog. It improves circulation and cardiovascular fitness and endurance while reducing the risk of further injury.

Research shows that underwater treadmill therapy can speed muscle strengthening and improve joint range of motion in dogs following surgery. Benefits can be gained in as little as 1-2 sessions per week.

Why Choose Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic?

  1. We have fully trained staff that work to a high standard of care. We treat every patient as if they were our own and ensure that their experience at the vets is as stress-free as possible.
  2. All our surgeries are air conditioned, and we regularly invest in the very best modern veterinary diagnostic instruments, x-ray, laboratory, anaesthetic and surgical equipment. This means your pet will receive the best possible care and treatment
  3. All patients are monitored throughout their anaesthetics by a fully qualified nurse. We ensure that your pet’s anaesthetic is suited to their needs, ensuring that every patient gets treated as an individual.
  4. We promise to update you regularly throughout the day. We know how stressful it can be to leave your pet at the vet and want to ensure that we keep your mind at rest.
  5. Everything we do is with the goal of making high-quality care for your pet affordable, whatever your budget.

To book your free pre-operative assessment and to discuss this package further please call the clinic now on 02 9516 0234

How much does cruciate surgery cost?

Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic have a package deal to cover cruciate surgery. This package includes a free pre-operative assessment, the preoperative x-rays and sedation, the procedure itself and all post-op procedures including physiotherapy treatment.

We encourage our medical staff to continue their education in specialist fields in order to expand their knowledge and keep it up to date. Our aim is to discuss all aspects of your pet’s health with you, offering you all the options that are available in treatment and prevention. The preoperative assessment will include a full health examination and discussion of your dog’s condition.

Once we have established the severity of the cruciate disease through radiographs, we will book your dog in for surgery. We will ask that you bring your dog into us during the morning, and surgery will be performed that day. You will receive regular phone updates to let you know how your dog is getting on. Once the surgery is completed, we will keep your dog comfortable with pain relief and allow them to recover in our recovery area. We will keep your dog overnight to ensure they are fully recovered before returning home.

At discharge, we will discuss your dog’s procedure with you and explain any post-operative medications. We will ask that your dog is kept quiet and has restricted exercise to allow the cruciate to heal. We will also discuss post-operative physiotherapy and the benefits of hydrotherapy.