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What You Should Know About Labs and ACL Injuries

The Labrador Retriever is generally a healthy and hardy breed but they are prone to certain illnesses and injuries. One of the most common orthopedic problems seen in this breed is ACL injuries. Keep reading to learn more about how these injuries occur and what can be done to treat them.

Symptoms and Causes of CCL Injuries

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is the ligament that connects the back of a dog’s femur bone to the front of the tibia – it is similar to the ACL in humans. This ligament is responsible for stabilizing the dog’s knee joint and for keeping the tibia in place. Injuries to the CCL are one of the most common orthopedic problems seen in dogs and certain breeds like the Labrador Retriever have an increased risk for this type of injury. Obesity increases the risk of CCL injury in dogs as does occasional strenuous exercise. Male dogs that are altered before 5 months of age seem to have a higher risk for developing CCL injuries as adults and about 50% of dogs that experience CCL injury in one leg develop the same condition in the opposite leg.

The most obvious symptom of CCL injury in Labradors is lameness in one of the hind legs. The severity of the lameness could vary depending on the severity of the injury – there may be just a hint of impairment or the dog could be completely unable to bear weight on the injured leg. The dog may also exhibit swelling on the inside of the knee. In order to diagnose a CCL injury, your veterinarian will hold the femur in place and pull on the tibia – if the tibia can be pulled forward it is generally a sign of a torn CCL (this is called a “drawer sign”). Your vet may also use x-rays to confirm diagnosis.

Treatment Options and Recovery

If left untreated, the lameness caused by a ruptured or partially torn CCL will sometimes go away or show signs of improvement within three to six weeks. Even so, however, the weakened ligament will cause the bones in the leg to rub against each other which could lead to the development of arthritis, bone spurs, and decreased range of motion. This is particularly common in medium- to large-sized breeds like the Labrador Retriever. Non-surgical treatments for this condition do exist but they generally only work for dogs weighing less than 30 pounds. For Labradors, surgery is generally the best option for complete recovery. The rehabilitation period usually lasts at least 8 weeks during which the dog’s movement needs to be restricted in order to facilitate healing.

Injuries to the CCL in Labradors can be very severe, not only in terms of impairment to the dog’s movement but also in terms of pain. Take your Lab to the vet at the first indication of potential CCL injury to prevent the condition from worsening and to get your dog the treatment he needs in order to recover.

Photo credit: Eric Sonstroem/Flickr