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Keep dogs fit to avoid ligament injuries
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Last year, one of my son’s favorite Georgia Bulldogs tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

One misstep and possibly the best player in the country had his knee injured to the point of requiring surgery. We hope he recovers fully and burns every team that passes him over in the draft.

But some of my patients do the same thing. Well, they don’t do it on a football field. In fact, they don’t often do it in an especially athletic endeavor. But some are bulldogs.

First, nomenclature. We, as humans, are two-legged, so we have a knee with an ACL. Our dogs are typically four-legged and have what is called a cranial cruciate ligament. It is situated similarly and does much the same thing, it just has a different name.

People, especially doctors, who say dogs tear ACLs really bother me. Because I am a nerd.

Most dogs with torn cruciate ligaments have degenerative processes that cause artificially advanced aging-type changes. Thus, an abnormal structure can undergo a normal force and be torn. In humans, it’s usually a normal structure that undergoes a bizarre force, such as a linebacker at full speed.

Dogs often tear the structure only partially and show signs of the damage for a few days. They then recover from the inflammation and any lameness disappears. But it is not healed. It is compensated.

Ligaments have poor blood supplies, and healing is delayed or fails outright. Still, signs abate.

This is problematic as the ligament helps muscles stabilize the joint. And the partial tear means more instability. Eventually, the abnormal ligament in the unstable joint will tear more. Then another episode may occur. Eventually the bone will change to support the wider range of motion and become thicker. Arthritis sets in.

Since it’s genetic, the risk is present in both knees. So what to do?

Keep your dog from being fat. Keep him in good shape.

If he comes up lame, get him checked out. Surgery is an option.

And don’t breed dogs with the problem in their family line.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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