Cruciate Ligament Disease in Labradors

Cruciate Ligament Disease in Dogs

Cruciate Ligament Disease in dogs is also known as Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease and is sometimes abbreviated to (CCL) or (CrCL). It’s essentially the same as Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in humans. However whereas in humans the causes are usually sudden and often the result of sporting activity, in dogs it tends to be gradual.

I have recently been reminded how relatively common Cruciate Ligament Disease (CCL) is. Three dogs belonging to customers and friends have been affected by this issue this year. This has been a stressful experience for the dogs and their owners. I wanted to provide some basic information about this issue. Any comments from readers with personal experiences of dealing with CCL with their own dogs would be very welcome.

What is Cruciate Ligament Disease (CCL) & the causes

The Cruciate ligament is a layer of tough tissue which joins the thigh bone to the shin bone. This layer stops the shin from moving forward from the thigh. It keeps the knee within a safe, normal range of extension and rotation.  Injury or sudden trauma is the less common cause, even in younger dogs. Younger dogs who are overweight or who are given only occasional bouts of extreme exercise can be more vulnerable.

Most commonly the damage occurs over a period of time. There is very good evidence of genetic issues being a significant factor.  Partly because in certain breeds the dog is affected in two legs rather than one in about half of cases. This factor is more common in specific breeds of dog. Such breeds include Labradors (my Lio had symptoms from 13 years old), Boxers (lovely young recent walking customer currently being assessed and treated), West Highlands (my friends 9-year-old dog just diagnosed), Newfoundland’s and Rottweilers are known to be amongst the higher risk breeds.

Signs and symptoms of Cruciate Ligament Disease

The ligament gradually weakens. This causes the dog discomfort or pain. The dog will limp or hold leg up, trying to lessen discomfort by limiting weight bearing pressure on area. The severity and frequency of these signs varies greatly from dog to dog and can be inconsistent in individuals too. In more extreme or advanced cases the dog may cause owners alarm by suddenly not being able to stand up or get up from lying down.

Understandably owners usually assume dog has a minor injury or trauma and initially just ‘keep an eye’ on the dog’s mobility.


Some experienced veterinary surgeons can give a pretty clear and accurate diagnosis of cruciate ligament disease with a physical examination. Obviously, there are many vets who specialise in all elements of this issue. The local vet where I grew up in north of Scotland was very respected in diagnosis and treatment. I am interested in hearing positive comments on any excellent treatment resources that people in Bedfordshire have used and would recommend. This examination is commonly followed up with X Ray and sometimes MRI.

Further diagnosis can be done by arthroscopy (detailed checks via keyhole surgery). This equips the surgeon with maximum detail to then decide on treatments and interventions best for the individual dog. Age, weight and advancement of problem will also be important factors.

In some cases, non-surgical intervention is decided (my Lio was very old and had other health issues). A limited exercise routine and diet plan are obviously common elements. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy often used. My friends older dog is having limited walks, compensated by swimming which the dog loves at local lake. He is on a reduced diet and has pain and anti-inflammatory medication. His quality of life is very good and he appears happy and comfortable because of his owners loving care and an excellent local vets advice.

Surgical intervention

Very commonly advised. There are several different options for procedures depending on the individual details and the surgeons involved. I am not going to try to give details on these in this basic item. What is always the case is that the dog will not be allowed to weight bear for a few weeks after procedure and exercise will be significantly restricted for at least a couple of months.

The dog I know who has been through all of this, including now has a pretty normal lifestyle now. It was stressful for her and her owner in spite of early diagnosis and surgery. She’s a very lively dog and keeping her movements restricted for a couple of months was a long haul. All worth it in the end though.

Financial costs of diagnosis, scans, surgery, medication, hydrotherapy etc., etc.…

Again, I would be interested in anyone passing on thoughts about their first-hand experiences of the costs involved and any particularly positive experiences with locally accessible services. The general issue of insurance options / costs as dogs get older is obviously a big factor for many of us.  We know this can involve very difficult decisions in the most emotional sets of circumstances. My own vet was exceptionally kind and understanding when this mattered most. A good topic for a future blog post maybe?  but a huge and complex one.

For more information about Cruciate Ligament Disease you might want to read the following article on the Fitzpatrick Referrals website. As you probably know Noel Fitzpatrick is the famous TV vet.

(CrCL) in dogs – Fitzpatrick Referrals

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