The Complete Guide to Cruciate Ligament Tears in Dogs

cruciate ligament disease

The Complete Guide to Cruciate Ligament Tears in Dogs

How much does cruciate ligament dog surgery cost?

Well, that depends on a lot of different factors, but the average of cruciate ligament surgery cost for a dog in Australia is $4,000 – $7,000.

Cruciate damage is one of the most common orthopaedic injuries in dogs and it’s not something that you can just ignore. However, not every injury or dog is the same, so you need to know more about this type of injury before you decide how to help.

If you’re concerned that your pet may have cruciate ligament damage, here’s what you need to know.

What is Cruciate Ligament Damage?

It’s really hard to see your pet in pain, particularly when it’s something that could impact their ongoing health and happiness. And cruciate injuries can cause problems in the long and the short term.

Dogs’ knees have two cruciate ligaments that form a cross. The front of that cross, also known as the cranial” cruciate ligament, helps keep the shin bone and the thigh bone in place. This ligament is correctly abbreviated to CCL, but it’s often called the ACL because this is the name of the same ligament in humans.

Genetics, excess weight and other factors can cause the CCL to weaken. Once the ligament is weak the joint becomes unstable and everyday movement can cause damage or tears. This can be very painful and distressing for you and for your pet.

The Signs of Cruciate Ligament Damage

Some signs that your dog may have CCL damage are:


These injuries cause inflammation and swelling around the joint, which will make the injured knee look bigger. If the problem isn’t corrected, scar tissue can develop around the joint, which will make it look permanently larger than the healthy knee. Most owners can’t identify the swelling themselves, but experienced vets can feel the knee for a ‘medial buttress’ which is the technical term for the swelling that occurs in the middle of the knee.


A damaged CCL will obviously cause pain, which in dogs means lameness. This can occur unexpectedly at the time of the injury or worsen over time. Some dogs will refuse to put their bad leg down at all and others will develop a limp that gets worse with more exercise, for example, limping or slower walking after a park session.

Unusual Sitting Position

Dogs usually sit with their knees curled under them. But when they have a CCL injury, this posture will change. Curling their legs under them will cause pain, so your dog may get into the habit of sitting or laying down with their legs out to one side. Vets refer to this indicator as the ‘Positive Sit Test’ (INSERT PICTURE OF POSITIVIE SIT TEST)

General Leg Stiffness

CCL damage usually occurs in one leg at first, but this isn’t always the case. Your dog may injure both knees at the same time. Or your dog may injure one knee and then develop problems with the other over time. It’s quite common for the unaffected knee to become damaged if the original problem isn’t corrected.

In both of these cases, your dog may become generally stiff in the back legs and reluctant to stand or walk at all. Obviously, you will need to contact your vet as soon as possible if this occurs.


Your dog’s knee may click if it has cruciate ligament damage. This occurs when the knee cartilage becomes torn or damaged because of added stress on the joint. Your dog will experience significant lameness if the injury becomes this severe.

Diagnosing CCL Injuries

CCL injuries can be notoriously difficult to diagnose, particularly if the tear isn’t severe. Here are some strategies your vet might use to identify the problem:

  • A complete history of the injury
  • A physical exam to look for signs of swelling, pain, and joint flexibility
  • Joint testing under sedation if your dog is in too much pain for a complete physical exam
  • A joint tap, where your vet removes fluid from the joint while your dog is under sedation
  • An X-ray
  • An MRI

Obviously, all of these tests can be expensive and can add to the cruciate ligament dog surgery cost, so your vet will prioritise which tests will give the best information to make a plan.

Can a Dog Recover From a Torn ACL Without Surgery?

It’s impossible for a dog to heal a torn cruciate ligament on its own without cruciate ligament surgery. Once a rope is torn, it is irreversibly torn. Sometimes dogs will develop new ways of walking to alleviate the most painful aspects of exercise, so it can APPEAR that they look recovered, but all dogs with cruciate injuries are painful.

Regardless of whether you want your dog to have surgery or not, a CCL injury should not be ignored as it is a painful, debilitating condition. Once the ligament is injured, the knee becomes unstable and the bones and cartilage in the knee starts to rub and move in abnormal ways. This wears away the bone and cartilage and causes arthritis, bone spurs, chronic pain, and loss of joint motion which can have life long implications.

Even if your dog seems to improve after injuring the cruciate ligament, it’s rare that the joint will ever be normal again. So, how much does cruciate ligament dog surgery cost? Well, it costs a lot less than the long-term pain and lack of mobility that your dog may experience if this problem isn’t corrected.

How Much Does Cruciate Ligament Dog Surgery Cost?

There are a couple of different medical procedures that can help correct a CCL injury. Each of these have their own benefits and drawbacks. After a successful procedure, your dog will start to show signs of improvement in under 3 weeks. Around 3 to 4 months after the surgery, most dogs are back to normal activity levels.

The most effective surgeries for these injuries are:

Triple Tibial Osteotomy (TTO) Surgery

This Australian invention is most commonly used in medium sized to big dogs and involves cutting and removing a piece of the tibia. This makes the tibial plateau flat and eliminates pressure on the CCL. It leads to rapid return to function and most dogs start to walk on their operated leg within a week.

Tibial-Plateau-Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)

This American invention is another procedure that levels the knee joint by rotating the tibia down and securing it in place with a metal plate. This makes the tibial flat and eliminates the need for a cruciate ligament.

Extracapsular Repair (Lateral Suture)

This surgery is most often used in smaller dogs. During it, a surgeon will remove damaged sections of the knee, including the damaged or torn cruciate. A suture is then placed behind the knee and through a hole drilled in the tibia. This suture effectively replaces the cruciate ligament. After 2 to 12 months the suture breaks and the knee’s healed tissue is there to support the knee once more.

The cost of these surgeries will vary widely depending on the type of dog you have, the extent of the injury, what surgery they have, and other factors. So, you will need to talk to your vet for an accurate cost.

The Takeaway

While cruciate ligament disease is the number one cause of back leg limping in the word, cruciate ligament damage can be quite serious and needs to be addressed by a vet. So, if you’re concerned about the cost for ACL surgery on dogs, then talk to your vet about your treatment options. They can help you find a solution that suits your bank account and your dog’s needs.

We offer free second opinions for people whose dogs have cruciate disease, wanting to know all their options.