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Canine Knee Braces: A rehab professional’s guide

Knees, Rehabilitation and Braces: A Guide to Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury

By: Kirsty Oliver, VN, DipAVN (surgical), CVT, CCRP, CVPP

Kirsty OliverThere’s no denying it, we all have knees, even our canine companions. Knees are sometimes a source of discomfort and most often, injury. Athletes and non-athletes alike are likely to have some sort of knee issue during their lifetime.This can also be said of our canine counterparts.

Just because they walk on four legs instead of two, does not make them any less likely to encounter an issue.The knee, or stifle joint in dogs (and cats), is prone to a common injury where one of the two ligaments that criss-cross in the knee, tears or ruptures.

This ligament is the cranial cruciate ligament and it is responsible for keeping the joint from overextending, overt inward rotation and incorrect forward movement. The cranial cruciate ligament or CCL is also frequently referred to as the ACL or anterior cruciate ligament.

Injury may occur after such actions as: sudden starts, sudden stops, tight turns, jumping and running. Pretty much all the fun things dogs enjoy doing! Cruciate tears may occur suddenly (acute) or more chronically over time. Most pet parents notice a limp, stiffness, pain and sometimes, swelling or heat in the joint.

At some point, surgical intervention is required to restabilize the joint; however not all pets are candidates for surgery. There are several different techniques to restabilize the joint and your veterinarian will guide you as to which procedure is right for your pet.

Physical rehabilitation is used both pre and post operatively to treat joint pain and swelling, promote better joint range of motion, improve weight bearing and thigh muscle mass. This can be done using a variety of modalities including manual therapy, aquatic therapy, low level laser, exercise and thermotherapy.DSCN0284 Cropped Final

Not all pets are candidates for surgery. This may be due to underlying medical conditions or concerns. Cruciate or canine knee braces play a pivotal role in being able to maintain stifle stability, while maintaining adequate weight bearing in the limb to limit thigh muscle atrophy. The wonderful folks at My Pet’s Brace will custom make a brace for your pet to support the stifle in an anatomically correct position. This will allow your pet to walk, bear weight and limit the stress and strain on the other limb. They can even make it in your pet’s favorite colour!

These braces are also extremely useful after surgery. They allow for weight bearing and support as tissue heal and take the load off the other knee. They can also be used during the rehabilitation process.

Just remember that most human cruciate tears are associated with top athletes, so even though your pet may prefer surfing the kitchen counters rather than big waves, your pet is in good company!

KIRSTY OLIVER is a veterinary rehabilitation professional seeing patients at the Center for Integrative Veterinary Medicine at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey. (732) 747-3383

How do dogs adjust to wearing a canine knee brace for ACL injury?

canine knee braceAt My Pet’s Brace, we often are asked “How do dogs react or adjust to wearing an ACL knee brace?” After fitting over 600 ACL braces for dogs with knee injuries, we feel confident that we know the answer:  they do extremely well.

How will my pet react to a dog knee brace?  It’s quite amazing when dogs take their first steps in an ACL brace (also known as a Stifle brace). They generally look back at the brace and seem to wonder “What the heck did you just put on me”? Then after some slow walks they feel the stability it provides and begin to ignore the brace altogether.  Often, after just a few days (sometimes a little longer) we’ll see that as the dog is walking the rear paw pad becomes flatter on the ground and not raised up as before. This shows that they are putting more and more weight on the injured knee.

Will my dog wear the leg brace all the time?  Generally ACL braces for dogs are worn during their waking hours; not at night when sleeping.  We always provide a break-in period that allows the family to get used to applying the brace on a regular basis and helps the dog adjust to the straps and some knee motion limitations. The break-in period for a canine ACL brace typically starts by having the pet wear the brace for three hours on the first day and then increases wearing time by one hour a day until full-time use is achieved. Less active, senior dogs only need to wear the brace while outside, going for walks, playing with other dogs and during other vigorous activity. We recommend that dogs with new knee braces (aka stifle braces) maintain a reduced activity level for three weeks as they work their way up to normal activity levels.

Will my dog leave the ACL brace alone?  Occasionally a dog will try to remove a strap or pad but rarely do we see bite marks on the braces. We’ve found that if a dog wants to remove the brace it is because something is bothering him or her:  a strap fastened too tightly, an abrasion from a sleeve or strap, or hair caught in the Velcro. If this occurs the first thing to do is remove the brace and look closely at the dog’s skin and under the hair to determine the cause of the discomfort. Most minor scrapes can be addressed with powder, or if the condition persists contact My Pet’s Brace at (610) 286-0018 to discuss an adjustment.

dog with ACL brace
Getting rehabilitation and/or exercise is one of the most important things you can do to help your dog recover from an ACL injury. Our next blog will address how to get stronger legs and build up the muscle lost due to an ACL injury.

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Jim Alaimo CPO Owner