December 1, 2008 Veterinary orthopedic surgeons developed a procedure to fix cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) deficiencies in dogs. A method adapted from human ankle surgeries, the procedure cleans up the joint tissue and meniscus of the knees by stabilizing the ligament. This is accomplished by inserting a device into the leg via a small incision, ultimately replacing the function of the ligament. Surgeons then drill through the bones to anchor it in place.
A common sports injury in human knees is even more prevalent in dogs. Every year, about 1 million canines undergo surgery for torn ligaments in their knees. A new procedure is offering a quicker and easier way to ease their pain.
Stephanie Gilliam knew something wasn't right when her dog Payton struggled to get up.
"My dogs are my kids, and it was very important to me for him not to be in pain and be able to live a healthy, normal life," said Gilliam.
When she learned of a new veterinary surgery to fix Payton's knee, she jumped at the chance.
"Owners are looking for it, quite frankly," said James Cook, D.V.M., Ph.D., a veterinary orthopaedic surgeon at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. "They want the same quality of surgery ... as they would in themselves."
Dr. Cook developed the tightrope procedure to fix cranial-cruciate-ligament, or CCL, deficiencies in dogs. It's a method adapted from human ankle surgeries.
"The reason it's so common is that it seems to be a degenerative process in dogs," Dr. Cook said.
The procedure involves cleaning up joint tissue and meniscus, protective cartilage at the knee joint, and stabilizing the knee ligament by inserting a "tightrope" into the leg through a small incision. Then, the veterinarian drills through leg bones and anchors the device to the bones.
"It really just replaces the function of that ligament by going through bone tunnels, and it's a really nice suture device that we can place with very small incisions," Dr. Cook said.
Dr. Cook says the procedure has less potential for serious complications and a quicker recovery time than traditional surgery that involves cutting a dog's bone.
Gilliam is pleased with Payton's new knee.
"Once he gets up and takes off running, you'd never know anything ever happened," Gilliam said.
After the tightrope procedure, most dogs, like Payton, are back on their feet in about 12 weeks. Not all dogs are candidates for the procedure. They must weigh more than 40 pounds and have no other medical issues. The surgery costs between $2,200 and $2,400.
WHY DO DOGS NEED KNEE SURGERY? Dogs are susceptible to knee problems, mainly due to degeneration and tears, not necessarily acute injuries. Over 1 million ligament repairs are done in dogs every year, at a cost of over $1 billion dollars to U.S. dog owners. This surgery is often performed on both hind limbs of a dog at the same time. The surgery is not intended for small dogs because the leg bones must be strong enough to endure the drilling required for the surgery. Newfoundlands, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers are among the breeds that most often require this surgery.
THE HUMAN EQUIVALENT: A healthy knee bends easily, absorbs stress and glides smoothly so that we can walk, squat, or turn without pain. When the knee is damaged, it is less able to handle stress, causing pain and swelling. Injuries to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) are the most common. Often there is a loud "pop" -- the sound of the ligament tearing --followed by pain and immediate swelling. After those symptoms subside, the patient may still experience episodes of instability, often likened to walking on roller skates. The knee may feel loose. In serious cases, surgical repair may be required.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.