Canine Knee Injury? Brace Yourself

Ten years have handed since WDJ explored “conservative management” – the nonsurgical therapy – of knee ligament accidents (see “Saying ‘No’ to Surgery,” February 2010). Since then, though surgical procedure stays by far essentially the most extensively used knee damage therapy, client demand for complementary therapies, together with using custom-designed knee braces, has grown. 

Nearly all veterinarians have expertise with canine ligament accidents as a result of they’re so frequent. Depending on the damage’s severity, a canine could have a touch of hind-leg lameness, an apparent limp, or be unable to bear weight on the leg in any respect. The damage could also be a partial or complete ligament tear. 

“Most veterinarians recommend surgery as soon as they diagnose a ligament injury,” says Jim Alaimo, a board-certified Prosthetist Orthotist, “but that’s because surgery is their most familiar option.”

Alaimo, who based My Pet’s Brace in 2010, made the transition to veterinary braces after designing human prosthetics and orthotics for 25 years. Prosthetics are synthetic replacements for physique components equivalent to arms, legs, and joints, whereas orthotics are gadgets equivalent to splints or braces that help, immobilize, or deal with weak or injured muscle groups, bones, or joints. 

“Surgery is often the best treatment for canine cruciate ligament tears,” he explains, “but in some cases a dog’s age, medical history, activity level, home environment, or the cost of surgery makes it unsuitable. A well-designed custom-fitted knee brace can help a dog recover from a torn cranial cruciate ligament by supporting the joint while scar tissue builds stability.”

 Knee braces can be used for arthritis and post-surgical cruciate help. Like tendons, ligaments have a poor blood provide and, in consequence, heal very slowly. According to Alaimo, it’s the event of scar tissue that stabilizes the knee and helps an injured leg transfer usually.

An on-line search will convey up dozens of knee brace designs, however most veterinarians accustomed to bracing suggest custom-built braces which might be made for a particular canine’s injured leg utilizing fashionable applied sciences. The key to success is the brace’s capability to carry the leg in a accurately aligned steady place whereas permitting the canine to maneuver naturally.

Canine Cruciate Ligament Disease

“Torn ACLs” and “bad knees” are acquainted phrases on the planet of canines. Understanding what these phrases imply may also help in case your canine suffers a knee damage that requires medical consideration.

 In this text the time period “canine cruciate ligament disease” describes varied accidents that may have an effect on the canine’s knee. In generic use, the time period precisely employs the phrase “disease,” as a result of despite the fact that it’s usually a traumatic damage that causes an acute tear or rupture of the ligaments in a canine’s knee, the vast majority of ligament ruptures happen beneath regular exercise. 

Also, in response to an article revealed within the 2011 World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings (“Review of Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease in Dogs”), quite a lot of research recommend that almost all of knee ligament accidents are the results of power degenerative modifications throughout the ligament. 


Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that join bones and cartilage whereas supporting and strengthening joints.

The stifle (knee) connects the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (leg bone) with a patella (kneecap) in entrance and fabella (a small bean-shaped bone) behind. Cartilage (the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus) cushions the bones, and ligaments maintain every part in place. 

The cranial (entrance) and caudal (again) cruciate ligaments cross contained in the knee joint. The cranial cruciate ligament prevents the tibia from slipping out of place beneath the femur. The time period “anterior cruciate ligament” (ACL) is utilized in human medication and “cranial cruciate ligament” (CCL) is a veterinary time period, however each phrases check with the identical ligament and each are used to explain knee accidents in canines. 

Radiographs (x-rays) are generally used to test for cruciate ligament illness despite the fact that they don’t show tender tissue and can’t be used to diagnose a cruciate damage or differentiate between a partial and full tear. They can, nonetheless, rule out bone most cancers or different situations that could be a reason for leg ache. Advanced imaging research, equivalent to an MRI, do show torn ligaments however are costly and require anesthesia, so they aren’t often utilized in canines.

 The major diagnostic device for CCL tears is a process known as the “drawer test,” during which a veterinarian holds the femur with one hand and manipulates the tibia with the opposite. If the tibia might be moved ahead, resembling a drawer being opened, the cruciate ligament has been torn or ruptured. The drawer take a look at might be inconclusive if an apprehensive canine’s tense muscle groups stabilize the knee quickly, so anxious sufferers could also be sedated earlier than being examined. 

In the tibial compression take a look at, which is one other option to test for ligament injury, the femur is held regular with one hand whereas the opposite hand flexes the canine’s ankle. A ruptured ligament permits the tibia to maneuver abnormally ahead.

A latest estimate quoted by a number of veterinary web sites is that greater than 600,000 canines within the United States have cruciate ligament surgical procedure yearly. 

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons ( canine cruciate ligament illness threat components embody growing old of the ligament (degeneration), weight problems, poor bodily situation, genetics, conformation (skeletal form and configuration), and breed. Most ligaments rupture on account of delicate, gradual degeneration that has taken place over months and even years slightly than due to an acute trauma to an in any other case wholesome ligament. An estimated 40% to 60% of canines with cruciate ligament injury in a single knee ultimately injure the opposite knee. The ACVS advises that, left untreated, partial tearing of the cruciate ligament is more likely to progress to a full tear over time. 

The ACVS states that CCL accidents can have an effect on canines of all sizes, breeds, and ages, with the Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Staffordshire Terrier, Mastiff, Akita, Saint Bernard, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Labrador Retriever generally affected. 

Neutering earlier than the age of 1 12 months has been statistically linked to torn cruciate ligaments. On July 7, 2020, the journal Frontiers of Veterinary Science revealed “Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for 35 Breeds of Dogs: Associated Joint Disorders, Cancers, and Urinary Incontinence” (Benjamin Hart, et al,) that confirmed vital will increase in cruciate ligament threat associated to the early neutering of male Bernese Mountain Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, and Miniature Poodles; female and male German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Rottweilers; and feminine Saint Bernards and Australian Cattle Dogs.

The examine concluded, “A likely mechanism by which early neutering may lead to a joint disorder is related to disturbance of the closure of the long-bone growth plates by gonadal hormone secretion as the animal approaches maturity. We have proposed that neutering much before the closure of growth plates allows the long bones to grow a little longer than normal, and may sufficiently disturb joint alignments in some neutered dogs to lead to a clinically apparent joint disorder.”

A associated examine, “Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for Mixed Breed Dogs of Five Weight Categories: Associated Joint Disorders and Cancers” (Frontiers of Veterinary Science, July 31, 2020, Benjamin Hart, et al), confirmed related leads to blended breeds, particularly for canines weighing 44 kilos or extra and neutered earlier than one 12 months of age. 

 Owners can’t change the standing of canines who’re already neutered, however there may be a lot we are able to do to guard the knees of our at-risk companions. As the ACVS web site explains, “Poor physical body condition and excessive body weight are risk factors for the development of canine cruciate ligament disease. Both of these factors can be influenced by pet owners. Consistent physical conditioning with regular activity and close monitoring of food intake to maintain a lean body mass is advisable.”


Different producers use completely different supplies and strategies to create {custom} braces, which can be known as knee, stifle, ACL, or CCL braces. Braces are additionally designed for canine wrists, ankles, hocks, and hips.

The first step in {custom} brace design is a overview of the affected person’s measurement, breed, medical historical past, exercise degree, and setting to find out how sturdy the brace needs to be to help the canine’s weight and actions in addition to what particular options the brace could require.

Next, casts or detailed measurements create a mannequin of the canine’s knee. Jim Alaimo at My Pet’s Brace makes use of fiberglass to create a forged of the canine’s affected leg. 

Alaimo describes, “We fill the cast with plaster, and that gives us a positive model of the leg. Then we remove plaster from some areas and add it to others in order to increase or relieve pressure as needed. We add knee joints, foam, and any needed reinforcements. Then we take polypropoline (a thermoplastic polymer), heat it, and vacuum-form it over the modified model of the dog’s leg. After it hardens, we cut it off, take it to the machine room, smooth out the edges, add joints and straps, and we have a finished brace. We use closed-cell foam and stainless-steel fasteners to make the brace fully waterproof.”

The last step is a becoming appointment throughout which any crucial changes are made together with movies and photographs of the canine strolling and transferring within the brace. “During the eight or nine months that the dog wears a brace,” says Alaimo, “we schedule follow-up appointments to measure progress.”

After a break-in interval, the canine wears his or her brace throughout waking hours. “Most dogs put it on in the morning and take it off in the evening before bed,” he says.

Penny, a energetic 83-pound Newfoundland dwelling with Regina Helfer in Maine, injured her proper hind leg in September 2019, shortly earlier than her ninth birthday. “She tore her ACL,” says Helfer, “and the vet on duty recommended immediate surgery.” Instead, Helfer requested Penny’s breeder (in addition to the breeder of her different canine) for recommendation. Both breeders advisable My Pet’s Brace.

“We received the brace in September,” says Helfer, “and Penny did very well with it. She didn’t have any challenges in any respect. Penny is a remedy canine and a Reading Education Assistance Dog. She loves going to the library, working with youngsters, going for walks, and going for swims. We obtained her a sizzling pink brace and every time we put it on her, she would stick her leg out to assist. 

“Penny wore her brace every day for nine months, by which time she had fully recovered. It’s here in case she needs it, such as if she goes on a long or challenging hike just to keep the leg stabilized, but so far she’s doing fine without it.”


At simply 5 years outdated, June was identified with arthritis and a torn cruciate ligament, with surgical procedure advisable for the torn CCL. Her homeowners opted for a Hero Brace as a substitute, and June recovered nicely. Her homeowners nonetheless use the brace when taking June on lengthy hikes.

Ben Blecha has a private in addition to skilled curiosity in leg braces. An osteosarcoma survivor whose leg amputation at age 21 impressed him to assist others, Blecha grew to become a board-certified Prosthetist Orthotist. Until 2005, when he was requested to assist create a brace for a canine, all of his sufferers had been human. He went on to associate with Wayne Watkins, DVM, to create Hero Braces for canines.

Last 12 months, June, a 5-year-old 100-pound German Shepherd Dog belonging to Ben Elsen of Dallas, Texas, started favoring her left hind leg. “June lives with her sister and littermate, Shiner,” says Elsen, “and they have always played hard every day. Starting two years ago, my wife and I were warned that June’s knee was beginning to show signs of wear and tear.” 

Despite a diminished train schedule, June stopped leaping onto the mattress and couch. In October 2019, she was identified with arthritis and a torn knee ligament. “Our veterinarian recommended immediate surgery,” says Elsen, “but we had misgivings, both about the cost and because June and her sister are always together, so weeks of rehabilitation would be stressful for both of them. When we asked about braces, our vet said he didn’t recommend them. But when he referred us to a surgical center, we met a rehabilitation specialist who thought highly of braces and recommended the Hero Brace.”

The specialist made a forged of June’s leg and 10 days later she was fitted along with her brace. “She was fine with it from the start,” says Elsen. “We kept it on her at home and on walks, and her knee responded just as expected. We still use it while hiking, but otherwise, June is doing well without it. She’s back to jumping onto the bed and sofa, and she doesn’t favor her left side at all.”


Australian Cattle Dog Howdy, seen right here in his Posh brace, was born with spinal bifida and suffered a cruciate ligament damage shortly after he was adopted on the age of 6 months.

Most {custom} braces are designed round fashions of legs that had been forged in a veterinary clinic or on the consumer’s residence with supplies supplied by the brace producer. The ensuing forged is submitted with supporting measurements in order that the brace might be designed to suit. In some circumstances casting needs to be repeated due to injury to the forged throughout cargo or as a result of the forged was incorrectly made. If accomplished in a veterinary clinic, the appointment provides to the brace’s value. 

The Posh Dog Knee Brace was developed seven years in the past after Pasha, an 11-year-old, 77-pound Golden Retriever, injured her left hind leg. Pasha’s veterinarian identified a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament and torn meniscus for which he advisable instant surgical procedure, warning that if left untreated, the pressure would trigger an analogous damage to the correct leg, end in extreme arthritis, and forestall Pasha from ever dwelling an energetic life.

Pasha’s homeowners, Florida residents Jim Morison and Beth Scanlon, might afford the $5,000 surgical procedure, however they apprehensive about Pasha’s age and medical historical past, which included an opposed response to anesthesia. Instead of scheduling surgical procedure, they ordered a custom-made knee brace, and Pasha’s restoration started. 

While delighted with Pasha’s progress, Morison thought that a number of options of the brace could possibly be improved. He started designing changes and within the course of launched his personal knee brace firm, which he named Posh, one among Pasha’s nicknames. Within six months of carrying her improved brace, Pasha was working by way of tide swimming pools and swimming on the seashore, and inside 9 months she had fully recovered. 

“Posh started with the type of brace that requires a casting mold, but we now use a different design,” says Nikki Bickmore, who as lead veterinary technician at Posh, solutions questions from purchasers, supervises the service division, and oversees manufacturing. 

“In order to eliminate casting, Posh hired a team of orthotists and veterinarians to design a new system,” Bickmore explains. “The result is a semi-rigid brace instead of hard plastic, with multiple padding layers, so the brace works with the dog’s muscles as they move and contract. Ours is the only brace that uses Tamarack brand double-reinforced hinges mounted on two layers of plastic to improve the brace’s strength at critical stress points. The brace fits without any rubbing, irritation, or slipping and attaches with quick-release micro buckles found in high-end snow sports and water sports equipment.” 

Using measurements as a substitute of casting to supply a mannequin of the canine’s leg each hurries up and slows down the ordering course of. Once correct measurements are supplied, most braces arrive inside per week, however as a result of purchasers should examine video directions and take measurements with two folks beneath the supervision of a veterinary technician throughout a dwell video convention, ordering takes longer. Before a Posh brace might be worn, it have to be fitted in one other video convention, once more beneath the supervision of a Posh vet tech. 

“What people most like about our braces,” says Bickman, “is that they are easy to use and fit well. They like our system of straps and buckles so there’s no need for Velcro, which can get tangled in a dog’s hair. The brace is comfortable because we use a soft rather than hard shell, and it allows for more freedom of movement, plus it’s durable and super easy to clean.”

Howdy, a 3-year-old Australian Cattle canine, was born with spina bifida and nerve injury in his hind finish, in addition to incontinence. “He’s a favorite of the Posh staff,” says Bickman. “Alicia McLaughlin adopted him at 6 months, and soon after that he injured his CCL, plus he had a luxating patella concurrent with the CCL tear. Many people thought he should be euthanized, but with bracing, and lots of love and patience, he now lives a happy country life in New York with Alicia.”


The creator’s energetic and athletic Labrador, Blue Sapphire (seen right here), wore a brace for a month to recuperate from a sprain of her proper knee; the creator says the brace not solely helped her canine heal from the damage however supported the weakened tender tissues and prevented an exuberant Blue from making the damage worse.

All of the producers talked about right here present detailed directions for homeowners and caregivers relating to train, advisable actions, do’s and don’ts, and different pointers.

“The success of a dog’s recovery depends on an educated owner,” says Jim Alaimo. “Owners have to be good observers and also use the brace consistently. Our goal is to provide a conservative treatment modality for owners so their dogs can resume a full, active lifestyle as quickly and comfortably as possible.”

Paul Brumett, DVM, is a Colorado veterinarian and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner. Since 2018, as a consultant and advisor for Hero Braces, he has introduced instructional seminars about braces to veterinarians. “Over the past 10 years,” he explains, “veterinarians have become more interested in learning about braces, partly because so many of their clients ask about them. Braces are not a cure-all, but not every dog is a good candidate for surgery, and I help veterinarians like myself understand the proper use and benefits of custom bracing.”

Dr. Brumett estimates that 25% of his canine sufferers endure from cruciate ligament illness, and for five% to 10% of them he prescribes a {custom} made knee brace. 

“During the healing process,” he says, “dogs are helped by complementary therapies such as acupuncture, laser therapy, nutritional support, chiropractic adjustments, pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, massage, stretching, and rehabilitation exercises that improve core strength and balance. The braces are waterproof, allowing dogs to exercise on underwater treadmills or swim while wearing their brace, and they can walk in the rain and enjoy snow as well.” 

Dr. Brumett recommends a gradual break-in interval that introduces the canine to his or her {custom} brace over per week to 10 days. Leash walks are stored brief, equivalent to 15 to 20 minutes at first, and the pet wears the brace for longer intervals every day. 

“Many dogs need time for the muscles around the knee to get strong enough to support longer walks,” he says, “which is why it’s important to work with the prescribing veterinarian or physical therapist. Wearing the brace protects the knee from abnormal movement such as when the dog stands suddenly because the doorbell rings. We want the custom brace to be in place so it can do its job. Gradually, pets work up to eight to 12 hours of wear each day.”

“The main challenge owners have is actually using the product consistently and planning appropriate activities for their dogs,” says Nikki Bickmore. “It breaks my heart when someone forgets and lets a dog who’s been using a brace for two months run outside without the brace. That can result in a major setback. I know it’s hard, but keeping dogs in a conservative management program while their knees strengthen and the muscles come back is so important.”


If your canine begins to favor a hind leg, don’t assume the issue will go away by itself. It may, however it could possibly be a symptom of cruciate ligament illness. Schedule an appointment along with your veterinarian to make certain.

Surgery requires cautious consideration, however so does using a brace. The custom-fitted braces described right here are usually not cheap, and their profitable use relies on commitments of time and a spotlight. Not each canine is an effective match to bracing and neither is each proprietor. The key to creating knowledgeable selections is gathering data and having a sensible understanding of what’s concerned. 

To discover {custom} knee braces, go to the web sites of firms listed right here. Consider how the brace is manufactured, who makes it and what their {qualifications} are, what warranties the corporate gives, how buyer help works, the price of alternative braces, the corporate’s expertise with canines like yours, and brace coloration or ornamental design decisions. 

Where out there, learn buyer feedback and watch movies that exhibit brace becoming and use. Custom braces are made to final a lifetime. Some firms supply reductions if two braces are wanted (one for every hind leg) or to transform a brace to be used on the other leg at a later date. 

Several of the producers listed within the desk on web page 17 create braces or prosthetics for animals apart from canines in addition to braces for different physique components. This checklist refers solely to custom-made canine knee braces. For greatest outcomes, seek the advice of along with your veterinarian, Certified Canine Rehabilitation Specialist, or different professional for recommendation and proposals. 

Montana resident CJ Puotinen is a long-time contributor to WDJ and the creator of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and different books. 

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