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Imagine this: You come home from work and put your car keys down on the side table, but you don’t hear the normal footfall from your furry ball of energy. Instead, you have to call their name a few times. Then they come, limping and a bit sluggish. What’s this all about?

Unfortunately, it’s possible that your dog may have torn their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). A torn ACL is a fairly common bilateral condition in dogs that can cost you anywhere between $750 to $5,000.³ Here is what you need to know if you ever find yourself in this stressful scenario.

What Is an ACL?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a pair of fibrous tissue that connects the knee joint to the femur and tibia, the bones above and below the knee joint. In dogs, this is more accurately described as the cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL). Your vet will likely use this term to refer to your dog’s sudden limp. We’ll use the term ACL to keep things simple.

How do ACL injuries happen?

A tear in their ACL can be very painful for a dog due to their lack of mobility. In humans, the ACL is usually damaged due to trauma, like a football injury or poor form while lifting weights. Dogs, on the other hand, damage their ACL over time due to wear and tear. Dogs are long-distance runners whose bodies evolved to put a lot of stress on their joints.⁴ Torn ligaments in dogs and cats are exceedingly common and easy to overlook.

What are the symptoms of an ACL injury?

There are some contributing factors that lead to an ACL injury, including obesity, aging, and genetics.⁵ Signs of an ACL tear are6:

●      Lameness or limping

●      Walking on tip-toes or walking on three paws

●      Difficulty getting up from sitting

●      Difficulty jumping or stepping into the car

●      Sudden lethargy or lack of energy

●      Muscle atrophy in one or more leg

Two veterinarian technicians examining a small brown dog.

What Are ACL Treatment Options for Dogs?

Once you get a diagnosis from your vet, there will be several treatment options presented to you. Bring your questions with you and be sure to discuss your dog’s activity level, their age, diet, and other contributing factors. A good vet will take all of this into consideration before offering surgical options such as:³

  • Extracapsular Suture Stabilization: The surgical team will use a nylon suture to stabilize the ligaments which will allow scar tissue to heal on its own. This option tends to work best on inactive dogs or smaller breeds.
  • Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO):  Introduced in the 1990s, TPLO offers superior stabilization for larger breeds. Your dog’s bones will be structured at a 90-degree angle then secured with a plate and screws. It can be very invasive and expensive, but worth the investment if your dog is active, over 40 pounds, or in generally good health.
  • Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): Similar to TPLO, TTA positions the shin bone at a 90-degree angle. The key difference is where the screws and sutures are placed. Your surgical team will create a plan for your pet based on their physiology to ensure a smooth recovery.

How Much Does an ACL Surgery Cost?

The cost of treating an ACL depends on several factors, like where you live and the practice you use. You may find yourself being referred to a veterinary surgeon, so be sure to get an itemized list of fees from both offices to assess the cost. You and your care team should discuss your budget and payment options. Some of the items you may be charged for include:⁷

●      Diagnostic X-Rays

●      Epidurals

●      IV fluids, including pain medications

●      Surgery

●      Plates and screws

●      Sutures and surgical supplies

●      Antibiotics and pain medications to take home

●      Cones

●      Overnight hospitalization and care

●      Incision checks at 2 weeks post-surgery

●      X-Rays at 8 weeks post-surgery  

This isn’t an exhaustive list and your dog may need additional support during their recovery. Consider your dog’s personality and your lifestyle. Will they be comfortable sleeping in the bed they have? Are you able to carry your dog up and down the stairs or will you need to make arrangements? Discuss all these things with your care team as you prepare for treatment and recovery. Also, consider exploring pet insurance which can reimburse your out-of-pocket surgical costs

Is ACL surgery necessary?

ACL surgery may not be necessary based on the severity of the tear. During your dog’s initial examination, your vet may suggest not performing surgery. This is good news for your best friend and your wallet!

This route will take some effort on your part to avoid further injury. Monitor your dog to ensure they get proper rest. You may be instructed to modify how your dog exercises, such as shorter walks or limited play time. Physical therapy in combination with joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medication, and pain pills may be used to help your dog heal themselves.

What to expect in recovery from ACL surgery

If you take the surgical route, your dog may be away from home for roughly 48 hours. Expect to limit their activity for 6 – 8 weeks after surgery. This may be shortened if TPLO or TTA was performed.⁴ You will have to make some adjustments to their lifestyle and diet to ensure the health of their limbs. Physical therapy may be involved to speed up their recovery and avoid complications. Consider investing in a rear leg harness, extra towels, and dog pads; your best friend will likely need help relieving themselves for a while.⁵

A Torn ACL Can Cost Thousands of Dollars

Hopefully, you aren’t caught in this scenario where intensive care is needed for your dog. Torn ACL costs can be expensive, and also make life difficult for your pup if left untreated. Exploring MetLife’s dog insurance options can help you plan for this worst case scenario and may offset the cost of surgery and other treatment.1,2

Protect your Dog

Coverage in 3 Easy Steps

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 “ACL Surgery in Dogs: Costs & Healing Treatments”, K9 of Mine

4 “Treatment Options for Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury/Disease of the Dog Knee,” James L. Voss, Dvm, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Colorado State University

5 “Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Dogs,” VCA Hospital

6 “Torn ACL in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Cost,” Dogs First

7 “Everything to Know About Dog ACL Surgery Costs,” The Daily Paws