What Is A CCL Tear?

Were you just told by your vet that your dog has a CCL tear or do you suspect your dog might have one? It happens to be one of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs!

So you may be wondering, what even is the CCL and how did this happen to my dog?

The Cranial Cruciate Ligament, or CCL, is very similar to the ACL in a human. The CCL lends stability to a dog’s knee joint. Without an intact CCL, the tibia or lower leg will jut forward when the dog is weight-bearing through the leg whether in standing or during walking.

Unlike humans who generally tear their ACL in a traumatic event, CCL tears typically occur progressively over a long period of time. A CCL tear is often characterized by a slow deterioration of the ligament, and that is why you will hear a CCL tear also referred to as Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease. This is one reason why CCL tears can be seen in adult or senior dogs. Once this ligament is partially or fully torn, the stability of the knee becomes compromised.

What Breeds Are Most Affected?

Any dog, of any breed, can be affected, but some types of dogs are more likely to experience CCL disease. In general, a female, spayed, large-breed dog is one of the most likely candidates. As you can imagine with a degenerative disease, if one knee is affected, it is likely that degeneration is present in both knees.

Classic Signs of a CCL Tear

Your dog may often be seen sitting in what can only be described as a “sloppy sit”. In rehab terms, you will see an exaggerated knee and ankle extension. Compare that to a dog who sits “squarely”.

Other signs you may notice include:

  • Lame or intermittently lame on their affected back leg
  • Muscle wasting on the hind limbs
  • Decreased hind limb or knee flexibility
  • Pain and swelling
  • Warmth around the knee joint
  • Shifting weight to the opposite leg

These are just a few of the clues that can lead to a diagnosis of a full or partial CCL tear.

Research shows that approximately half of the dogs with a CCL tear in one knee will rupture both CCLs at some point, whether or not the first knee is surgically repaired.

Treatment Approaches


Let’s say you decide to go with the recommendation from your vet for a TPLO surgery to help repair the cranial cruciate ligament. You think that surgery should fix everything if it is successful. True!

But your dog may have already started to develop compensations long ago. Your dog will have better success after surgery if you start to address some of these compensations now.

In the human physical therapy world, this is called “pre-hab”. Simply put, it’s the implementation of canine rehab before surgery to promote better outcomes post-surgically.


Now on the other hand, maybe your vet says that your dog only has a partial tear and it’s up to you whether or not you’d like to go forward with surgery or instead try a conservative approach first.

The good news is, conservative management of a CCL tear can be successful with the right plan of care specifically designed with your pup in mind!

How Alpha Animal Rehabilitation and Fitness Can Help

Let’s not forget, as mentioned above, that half the dogs who rupture one CCL will go on to rupture the CCL in their other leg at some point.

This should perhaps be the MOST supporting evidence of the need for proper (not cookie-cutter, one size fits all) rehabilitation for your dog no matter the approach, surgical or conservative.

No matter how you go about it, having someone who can recognize and address your dog’s compensations and tailor a program just to their needs will help prevent and treat future issues.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Alpha Animal Rehabilitation and Fitness at (908) 454-2273.

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