Can a Dog Recover from an ACL Tear Without Surgery

When people find out their dog has a torn ACL, many ask the question – can a dog recover from a torn ACL without surgery? The answer, as with many things in life, is it depends. There are certainly cases where dogs have healed naturally from torn ACLs, but there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way.

If your dog has an ACL tear, the best thing you can do is consult with your veterinarian to get their professional opinion on the matter. In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about whether it’s possible for a dog to heal naturally after a torn ACL.

Is It Possible for a Dog to Recover from a Torn ACL without Surgery?

Yes, it’s possible for a dog to recover from an ACL tear without surgery. Dogs without treatment or surgical intervention will adapt over time. Over the next few months after the injury, their body will begin to heal and adjust on its own.

However, as previously mentioned, there’s a proper way to go about letting their ACL naturally heal, and a less than ideal way that’ll more than likely lead to future complications. The way to give your dog the best chance at a full recovery without surgery is to get them a custom-fit orthotic knee brace.

Knee Braces for ACL Tears

Knee braces have come a long way, and when you get one designed specifically for your dog, it helps keep their knee in place as best as possible to allow their ACL to heal. Non-customized braces, splints, or neoprene braces are the best options after a custom-made knee brace. 

Since these solutions aren’t made to precisely fit the unique structure of your dog’s leg, they aren’t able to provide the same level of support as a custom knee brace. But, they’re a much better option than leaving their leg without any orthopedic support at all.

Interestingly, what many people don’t know is that pet insurance completely covers the cost of getting a custom-made, medical-grade knee brace if the injury wasn’t pre-existing. However, pet insurance does not cover any procedures necessary in the future to other body parts that become injured due to a previous ACL tear.

Which is another reason why a custom knee brace is a good option to take if the situation fits.

Your dog may walk funny or be unable to move or jump as they did before the injury, but with time and proper care, it’s possible for them to make a full recovery. There have been quite a few cases at our family’s clinic where dogs have fully recovered without surgery and had no signs of an ACL injury.

Of course, it’s always best to discuss with a vet about your specific situation. The severity of the tear plays a significant role in what a vet will recommend, and it’s essential to have them look at your dog to give you the best advice possible.

Unfortunately, after an ACL tear, they’re likely to always have some form of joint pain with or without surgery.

Pros & Cons of No Surgery vs. Surgery

Deciding Not to Get the Surgery:

Pros

  • Saving $1500+.
  • Possibility that your dog heals on their own.
  • Option to take a less expensive and less invasive route to help them heal (e.g. a knee brace).

Cons

  • Higher chance of joint pain.
  • Likely to develop arthritis earlier in life.
  • If the tear is severe enough it will take longer for them to get back to normal (if they ever do).
  • Create an injury to the compensating limb.

Deciding to Get Knee Surgery:

Pros

  • Increases stability in the joint.
  • Can heal faster and can get back to normal quicker.
  • Likely to get most of their mobility back..
  • Delay, or prevent, arthritis developing in their knee.

Cons

  • Expensive bill ($1500+).
  • No surgery is 100% successful (however, a lateral stabilization suture is a very simple surgical procedure).
  • Will still have pain but with more stability.

5 Tips To Help a Dog Recover from a Torn ACL Without Surgery

1. Weight control

Weight control is extremely important because it will help take pressure off their knee. While it’s important to give them time to heal without putting excessive strain on their knee, once they’ve healed and mobility has started to come back, it’s important to keep them at a healthy weight.

When a dog is overweight, this alone is a large cause for them to get joint pain early on in life, and having a previously torn ACL only adds to this.

 2. Less stair climbing and jumping

While it’s important for them to get some exercise, too much jumping and climbing stairs can put a lot of strain on their knee which will delay healing and cause them further pain. You’ll want to limit the amount of stair climbing and jumping (on people as well as on and off of furniture) your dog does to ensure they don’t further injure themselves.

3. Knee brace

As previously mentioned, a custom-fit knee brace is a good way to help support their injured knee and give it stability while they’re healing. Knee braces help keep their knee and surrounding joints in place while their body does the ‘heavy lifting’ and heals itself.

4. Joint relief supplements

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a type of pain reliever that can help with the pain and swelling associated with their injury.

There are also joint supplements available that contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which can help to lubricate and protect their joints as they age. These supplements can be added to their food or given to them in pill form.

5. Pain killers

Pain killers can also be given if you notice your dog is in a great deal of discomfort/pain. As with any medication, you’ll want to talk to your vet first and make sure it’s okay for your dog to take and that they don’t have any allergies.

You should also only give them the recommended dosage as giving them too much can lead to serious health problems.

Vet Recommendation

The severity of the tear will hold a lot of weight in what the recommended course of action is. For dogs with a completely severed ACL, Dr. David Littlejohn, DVM, recommends getting surgery. For severe ACL tears like this, more often than not, he does a lateral stabilization suture as it’s the simplest surgery and more affordable than some of the newer surgeries.

If the tear is less severe an orthopedic knee brace can be a great solution. Sometimes surgery isn’t necessary and it’s a much better option than leaving their leg to heal on its own.

With the right care and treatment, your dog can live a happy, healthy life even after an ACL tear.

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Guest Author:
Dr. David Littlejohn, DVM

Alec Littlejohn grew up in a family of vets where pet care & training were discussed on a daily basis. He’s also a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association Of America and now the lead editor at Pawscessories.

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