Though this wasn’t our first choice when dealing with our dogs ruptured cranial cruciate ligament, Conservative Management (or Conservative Treatment) is a non-surgical option of CCL treatment that should be considered by all dog owners prior to surgery.
Consider the human knee for example, you’ve all probably heard of torn or ruptured ACL’s (meaning the ligament is entirely severed), and you’ve also heard of partially torn ACL’s (meaning the ligament is still intact, but has definiate damage. Now, let’s consider a pro athlete, surgery will be necessary for either case – torn ACL or partially torn ACL. However, let’s say we have a 40 year old man with a desk job who doesn’t do too much physical activity. Surgery would be the best bet for a torn ACL, however he could probably get through the rest of his life with a partially torn ACL, and using a brace and conservative management in situations where any further damage to the ligament could occur.
The same hold true for dogs, however, the unfortunate thing is that we don’t have the option of giving a dog an MRI, which will actually show the extent of ligament damage. With dogs, we can have an x-ray, and we can have veterinarians check for instability (drawer movement), but we will not not for sure if the ligament is completely torn, or just partially torn. This is where conservative management comes in. Depending on the size of your dog (conservative management is typically not an option for large dogs – 40+ lbs), the amount of instability (drawer movement) in the stifle (knee) joint and the amount of lameness your dog displays in the injured limb, your veterinarian may recommend conservative management rather than a surgical procedure.
For conservative management, these principles must be strictly adhered to, otherwise the stifle joint will be unable to recover naturally:
- Weight management / Diet control – Here are some weight management dog foods
- Complete restriction of movement in the beginning, along with rest
- Use of anti-inflammatory medications
Weight Management is not only something that will be recommended in the case of conservative management, but it will often be recommended following surgical procedures as well. Our dog dropped 1/3 of her body weight after surgery through diet control and weight management.
Rest & Restriction is required to allow the knee joint to heal in any way if its going to. This process can take 4-8 weeks, and at the end of this period, if the dog is still exhibiting lameness in the limb, surgery might be the best option. During this period, it’s a good idea to keep your dog in a crate or pen. We actually ordered these two plastic pens for Roxy during her recovery.
Anti-Inflammatory Medications can be used in combination with weight management and rest & restriction to help remove the swelling in the limb and let it recover. Here are some natural and over the counter anti-inflammatories that can aid in conservative management.
Before beginning a conservative management regimen, it is always best to contact your veterinarian and have the CCL injury professionaly diagnosed. After seeing a friend of mine try conservative management with a Labrador, I’d recommend seeing a vet ASAP after the injury.