It's bad enough to hear the surgeon say, "I suspect your dog has a torn CCL" and then on top of it we learn they have arthritis too. It's a shock for some people because they assume that arthritis only happens to old dogs. Some believe that it's caused entirely by the CCL surgical procedure. Neither is 100% true. In the majority of cases of dogs with CCL tears, degenerative osteoarthritis starts early on no matter how old they are and possibly well before they undergo a CCL surgical procedure.
Arthritis forms when there’s abnormal joint movement, and that's certainly what happens in the case of a torn CCL (sometimes referred to as an ACL). With a torn CCL the dog's knee joint isn’t as stable as it should be. Without a stable anchoring attachment (an intact CCL) from the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone) the tibia shifts forward (tibial thrust) during many normal canine activities and movements.
As the tibia shifts forward, the back part of the tibial plateau scrapes against the rounded bottom part of the femur called the femoral condyles. This causes inflammation and pain. Cartilage thins eventually diminishing the space between the two bones. That’s what osteoarthritis is. It’s the body’s normal, unstoppable and natural attempt at repairing and stabilizing an area where there's improper biomechanics.
Whether we're talking about pre-op dogs or ones recovering from surgery, their body is in healing mode. The problem is that healing doesn't necessarily correlate with a perfect return to pre-injury status. Edema (swelling) infiltrates the injured area. Bone cells, called osteoblasts, are called in to repair bones. Slowly, they build pointy spur-like projections. These extra bone growths, called osteophytes, put pressure on adjacent tissues resulting in decreased range of motion and continued pain. Scar tissue forms which is less supple than normal tissue and yet another reason for decreased range of motion.
There are things we can do to counter the symptoms of arthritis. These can be discussed with your dog's veterinarian and may combine various modalities such as weight loss, physical therapy exercises, laser treatments, acupuncture, supplements, hydrotherapy, massage, and/or prescription medications.
Things we can do at home include modifying activities to minimize added wear and tear on all joints. This means reducing high impact activities such as those involved in playing fetch: darting, fast or awkward stops/starts, high-speed running and jumping. We should replace those with short duration walks, controlled jogs, scent-work games or hikes where we control the pace and direct our dogs to level ground and easily-traveled terrain without ruts, rocks, logs, sticks, etc...
Keeping the fur trimmed between your dog's toes and under their pads helps arthritic dogs walk with more ease and confidence. Keeping their nails trimmed allows paws to contact the ground normally which they can't do when nails are overgrown.
Reducing slippery surfaces in the home by laying down carpet runners is another way to help your dog get around more safely. Replacing stairs with a ramp to get outside makes getting to ground level more comfortable for your pup. There are many more ways to reduce the load on your dog's joints.
Rest doesn't erase arthritic change, but forcing an arthritic dog to lay around all day isn't helpful either. The challenge lies in finding the sweet spot – which activity and how much of said activity is just enough to exercise your dog without aggravating their condition. An arthritic dog deserves to be engaged with his/her surroundings. They need to be emotionally and mentally stimulated, and it's our job to figure out new ways to achieve those things.
No matter what anyone says, there's no magical cure – no supplement, no surgery, no medical treatment that makes arthritis go away. It's about modifying activities, creating a safe environment, following the aforementioned grooming tips and managing arthritis symptoms in practical ways. Ask your dog's veterinarian or surgeon for guidance.
©RunAgainRover.com, May 2020