Anterior Cruciate Ligament surgery is one of the most common operations performed on dogs, alongside Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO), and is done to repair damage to the knee joint in both humans and animals.
Sutures are used to stabilise the joint, a nylon suture being looped around the fabellar bone and brought through the tibial bone and then secured in place by steel clips. Other similar procedures are also commonly performed, depending on your dogs’ injury and overall health.
How soon can a dog walk after ACL surgery? Your dog will be able to walk around after ACL surgery, but this should be limited as vets recommend at least six weeks of rest for your dog, with minimal activity and exercise to encourage the healing process and prevent any excess stress on the joints.
Once the surgery has been performed, your vet will be able to instruct a more personalised recovery plan for your particular dog. However, they will most likely recommend a recovery period of around 6 weeks of bed rest for your dog, with very minimal exercise to prevent any stress on the joint or over-exerting the other hind leg.
While normally dogs are taken for long walks twice a day, for the first six or so weeks after ACL surgery, walks should only be about five to ten minutes to allow them to go to the toilet, around three to four times a day.
Your dog also should not be allowed to engage in any overly active play, especially that which puts pressure on their operated leg. If your dog is restless and has too much excess energy from lack of exercise, there are different activities that you can do to help occupy them and avoid any destructive behaviour.
Give them new chews, toys and other challenges, such as slow-release food bowls and keep toys on rotation to keep things interesting for them.
How soon can a dog can walk after TPLO surgery?
Tibia Plateau Leveling Osteotomy, or TPLO, surgery is different to ACL surgery in that rather than the bone being held in place by a suture and clips, the angle of the shin bone is actually moved; with the tibia being cut and rotated into a new position before being stabilised with a metal plate.
While this may sound like a more substantial surgery than ACL, the recovery time is actually rather similar. Dogs are incredibly resilient and will be able to use their limb again very shortly after surgery, with minimal help.
How soon can a dog walk after TPLO surgery? Vets recommend only limited use of the joint for the first seven to eight weeks to avoid any stress or over-use of the other hind leg to compensate. As with ACL recovery, toilet breaks are necessary but should be limited to short five-minute trips, with bigger dogs needing slings to help keep the weight off of their hind legs.
Keep an eye on your dog and make sure that they don’t move around too much at home or take place in overly active play which can also put stress on the new joint.
At around eight weeks, your vet will take another X-ray to monitor the healing process, and you can begin to take your dog on longer walks, although your vet will have a more personalised recovery plan for your particular dog based on their recovery, health and lifestyle.
How long does it take for a dog’s ACL to heal after surgery?
Recovering from ACL surgery is a rather long process, taking between seven to twelve weeks. At almost three months, the prospect of having to keep your normally active dog occupied and happy while limiting how much they can move around can be daunting.
As mentioned above, for the first six weeks walking should be restricted to toilet breaks only, at around five to ten minutes long a couple of times a day.
Aside from that, your dog should be getting plenty of rest and keeping their weight off of the affected limb, as well as their other hind leg to prevent damage from over-reliance on it.
Over time, at your vet’s discretion, you can begin to take them on short walks, increasing in length as time goes on, with a few short walks per day at around week nine or ten of recovery.
You can begin to allow them off the leash at around week twelve; however, while your dog may appear to be fully recovered, the inner workings of their leg are still delicate, and they still shouldn’t be allowed to take part in any strenuous exercise or overly active play.
How do you rehab a dog after ACL surgery?
First six weeks
Your dog should have very limited activity and should be spending most of their time with their weight off of their hind legs. Stairs aren’t suitable to the climbed up or down, and they should be limited to a small living area to prevent any jumping, running or exploring that could put strain on the leg.
Larger dogs may often need a sling when walking to take the weight off of their hind legs, and ice packs can be applied to reduce any swelling.
Weeks seven to eight
Short walks should be slowly introduced, following the advice of your vet depending on your particular dog’s size, health and recovery process. Swimming is also a good way of exercising the joint without putting pressure onto it.
Weeks nine to ten
Walks can be steadily increased to about two to three walks per day. Your dog may seem to be fully recovered, but their joint is still delicate, and you shouldn’t encourage any overly active play or strenuous exercise.
Weeks eleven to twelve
Your vet may recommend occasional off-the-leash activities. However, be sure to keep them away from other dogs at this time as enthusiastic play can cause damage to the joint.
Twelve weeks +
As the recovery process continues, you will begin to notice real improvement with your dog, and your vet will be able to keep you updated on the state of the joint and whether or not longer walks and more energetic play can be reintroduced.
More questions on ACL and TPLO surgery
My dog is limping after ACL surgery
Limping is a way to keep weight off of a painful joint, and you may notice that your dog is doing this after having ACL surgery. If you do, you shouldn’t worry as this is very common during the first few days of recovery.
In fact, keeping weight off of the joint is just what we want them to do, but to avoid the risk of them straining their other hind leg it is recommended that they avoid walking around too much for the first six weeks.
For larger dogs, and dog dogs that may need help to climb stairs (although if you can pick them up, it is recommended that you carry them up and down stairs for the first six or so weeks, to prevent any strains), dog harnesses and slings are available to buy.
These go underneath the dog’s undercarriage and are lifted to take the majority of the weight off of the hind legs.
The operated-on joint may also develop some swelling, which can cause discomfort to the dog. This can be remedied by applying ice packs and will usually go away after the first few days post-surgery.
Dog ACL surgery recovery exercises
Because of the amount of time spent off of their feet, when your dog is allowed to be steadily reintroduced to exercise it may be that light recovery exercises are needed to help strengthen the leg and burn off excess energy without putting too much pressure on the joint.
Within the first six weeks, the only exercises allowed are for short toilet breaks a couple of times a day. However, dog-massage and muscle-stimulating motion exercises can help stimulate the blood flow to the leg without putting any pressure on it.
Before doing any exercises, always check with your vet first as they may be able to assist you or advise against it if they believe that it would negatively affect your particular dog.
If your dog allows you to touch and handle the leg, follow these instructions and move your dog’s leg in a bicycle pedal motion, bending and extending the leg around 15-20 times, repeated a couple of times a day.
Massaging the affected leg is also a good way of preventing any scarring and stimulating the blood flow to encourage healing.
After the first six weeks, slow but steady exercises such as climbing low gradients, slowly climbing up a few steps and swimming. Swimming is a great way of letting your dog use their leg without putting any pressure onto the joint.
Always consult your vet before attempting any new exercises post-surgery.
Dog ACL recovery without surgery
An ACL tear is caused by the tearing of the ligament, usually from strenuous exercise or a sudden change of direction, similar to how someone can sprain their ankle. While it is a relatively easy fix, for dogs is it more complicated to fix than simply putting an ice pack on it, which is why it often requires surgery.
However, surgery can be traumatic, carry its own risks and it can also be very expensive. So, are there ways for a dog’s ACL to be solved without resorting to surgery?
The problem with ACL tears is that the problem will get worse over time, with weight being put on the joint steadily making it worse and worse and causing your dog a lot of pain. Your dog will most likely be limping and become very uninterested in any activities that could cause them pain, making a very miserable dog.
However, some owners have discovered that a leg brace is a good alternative to surgery, holding the joint in place as it heals in a similar way to the sutures fitted inside the leg.
There are lots of braces available on the market, specially made to limit the amount of activity on the leg and promote a speedy recovery.
Dog ACL recovery complications
As with all kinds of surgery, complications can occur during recovery and this can be common with dogs who are not aware of how delicate their joints are post-surgery.
Complications with a dog’s knee joint are usually caused by stress on the joint, with dogs jumping, running or playing causing the ligament to tear again.
If you have noticed that your dog is limping again during its recovery or is showing signs that the ligament has re-torn, please visit your vet immediately.
Your vet will be able to get an X-ray of the joint to see whether there has been any further damage and be able to advise from there about how to treat it.
Another complication can be infections setting into the healing wound, causing more discomfort to the dog and potentially causing more damage. Again, your vet will be able to prescribe a treatment plan for the infection, such as antibiotics and topical creams.
If you are worried about complications post-surgery, please consult your vet who will be able to talk you through the different complications and their treatments.
Can a dog retear ACL after surgery?
Similar to any kind of sprain or breakage, a dog can easily retear their ACL after they have had surgery, especially if they are not yet fully healed.
The ligament is still going to be very delicate up to and over twelve weeks after surgery, which is why overly active play and exercise is advised against until the joint is completely fully healed and okayed by your vet.
It is also quite common for your dog to end up injuring their other hind leg, because they will be favouring it and putting all of their weight on it when walking around, to take pressure off of their injured leg.
How long does a dog have to wear a cone after TPLO surgery?
The cone of shame is never fun for a dog to wear, and while it can look comical it is a very important tool that prevents your dog from worrying at, licking, biting or scratching at their stitches.
Dogs can easily chew through and pull out their stitches, causing major harm to themselves without them realising it, so keeping it on is a must.
Handy Hint: Find out what vets says about leaving your dog alone or in his crate when he still has his cone on in this guide.
It is usually recommended that you keep the cone on the dog for at least two weeks post-surgery, or until the wound has healed enough for the stitches to be removed.
If you have to take the cone off of the dog for a short time, keep an eye on your dog as they can chew through their stitches in less than 30 seconds.
If your dog is uncomfortable in a hard, plastic cone or is finding it difficult to sleep, softer alternatives are available on the market, as well as home-made ones made from folded towels and secured in place by strong tape.
My dog jumped after TPLO surgery
As with ACL surgery, exercise after TPLO surgery should be restricted to short walks only for toilet breaks, with no jumping, running or active play. However, dogs can’t really know how delicate their joint is and may end up doing these things regardless.
If you have seen your dog jump after having surgery and are worried that it may have caused damage, check for any symptoms of pain, such as limping, yelping, whining or them favouring their other legs when walking around.
If you are still concerned, phone your vet immediately and they will be able to feel and X-ray the joint to check for any further damage.
To prevent your dog from jumping around, put them in a room without any high furniture, steps or any treats or toys on shelves, and keep them away from any other animals that might encourage them to become overexcited and attempt to play. It can be hard to stop your dog from having fun, but they will definitely thank you for it later on.
Now you know how long it is before a dog can walk after ACL surgery I wish your pup all the best with their recovery. Hopefully it won’t be long before they are completely back to their old selves!
You might also find this article interesting which explains a personal experience of when to put down a dog who is suffering with a torn ACL.