When To Put A Dog Down With Torn ACL

by Sonya | Last Updated:   April 25, 2021

We are reader supported and may earn a commission when you purchase after clicking our links. This website does not replace professional advice, always consult a licensed veterinarian to ensure your dog's well-being

Dogs are adventurous animals by nature and, as a result, they play fairly rough as compared to other pets. When they are joyful, they stand on their hind limbs. And when they are trying to play with/chase their tails they move around vigorously. It is always upsetting for an owner to watch their dog have an injury that prevents them from having fun.

There are many reasons why a dog may remain inactive, in contrast to his usual playful self. One of the reasons is an injury to something called the ACL. ACL is an abbreviation for the “Anterior Cruciate Ligament”; a ligament in the knee that supports your dog’s ability to keep his flexibility. An ACL injury is a tear of this ligament, right at the anterior (front) part of your dog’s knee.

When dogs go through ACL injuries, it can make their life a living hell; especially if it is a serious injury or full tear. Eventually, this leads to a decline in your dog’s quality of life.

Torn ACL surgeries usually cost a lot. Due to lack of insurance (click here to get a free quote for dog insurance) or availability of cash, most dog owners cannot afford this costly procedure. Another downside with ACL surgeries is that the surgeries may not always go as expected, and people can end up with dogs with even more degraded conditions and lower quality of life. So people often opt for euthanasia, as opposed to ACL surgery, as the more humane option.

The next sections of this article elaborate on why many people decide on euthanasia for dogs with ACL injuries.

A veterinarian imposes bandage a dog on a torn ACL

What is the Right Time to Euthanize a Dog with ACL Injuries?

If you do not have an insurance policy for your dog’s ACL surgery and your beloved dog is in excruciating pain, then you might be thinking about euthanasia as a last resort.

There are many available medications used for pain management of your dog following an injury; however, the older your dog gets, the more pain he is in. The agonizing and uncomfortable pain that your dog goes through might be too much for any medication to cure or even alleviate. In these situations, euthanasia might be the best and most humane option.

Ultimately, the most important question is, how much pain is your dog suffering? A few other facts to look at when considering euthanasia are:

  • Can my dog move around easily without pain?
  • Is it possible for the vet to truthfully predict a successful ACL surgery?
  • Can my dog sleep soundly without any pain?
  • Does my dog need assistance to lie down or stand up?
  • Does my dog eat without your assistance?
  • Do I have the means to pay for an ACL surgery for my beloved dog (if indicated by vet)?

Never make any decision without consulting your veterinarian. Engage your vet on all these questions and have an open and honest discussion regarding your dog’s future after his ACL injury/tear.

Can Your Dog Live Comfortably with an Injured/Torn ACL?

If your dog can live comfortably with a torn or an injured ACL, then there is no reason to opt for euthanasia. But first, you must consult your vet about the quality of life of your beloved pet. There are chances for survival with a torn ACL, but usually, the best option is to go for reparative surgery to correct/repair the tear.

In many instances, your dog will go through a lot of pain on a daily basis when it has a torn ACL. When you do not opt for surgery, all your vet can do is give some pain relief medications and treat it symptomatically. Your dog might have to stay on pain killers and other symptom-alleviating drugs for the remainder of his lifetime.

With time, your dog’s body would compensate for the tear in the ACL; leading to the development of scar tissue and making the joint stiff. In the long run, your dog’s mobility would be limited. Even engaging in day-to-day activities would eventually become difficult.

Arthritis is another disease that comes with old age; as the dog grows older, its joints become much more prone to having arthritis. The leg that has ACL is more prone to having arthritis, which is incurable by any surgical means. So far, there has not been any surgical procedure that can completely take care of an arthritic joint in dogs.

Is the Dog’s Breed a Factor in ACL Injuries?

One main factor in ACL injury treatment is considering your dog’s breed. Breed Type determines the most appropriate time to opt for either surgery or to euthanize a dog suffering an ACL injury. It is all about the size of the breed. Larger dogs are most susceptible to injuries from torn ACLs. 

Weight is another factor that impacts your dog’s quality of life after an ACL injury. Bigger dogs suffer the most in an event resulting in a torn ACL. The reason is that larger dog breeds cannot properly distribute their weight. They often end up putting more weight on the injured leg and thus suffer more pain. So, without any surgical procedure, large dog breeds will often suffer more severe pains than smaller, lighter dogs.

From this, we can conclude that the genetic makeup of each dog breed plays a vital role in ACL injury as well as the likelihood of suffering debilitating effects following the injury, if one occurs. 

Dog breeds vulnerable to ACL injuries:

  • Labrador retriever
  • Rottweiler
  • Golden retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • St. Bernard
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • Newfoundland
  • Great Dane
  • English Mastiff
  • Neapolitan Mastiff 

Sometimes it is not apparent or obvious whether your dog has suffered an ACL tear, especially if the tear is very negligible and small. However, if it is left untreated and the tear increases in size and severity over time, the symptoms cannot be ignored. Some of these symptoms include swelling, redness, immovability, and volatility in the injured joint and a change of walking gait.

ACL tears/injuries usually start cascades of unhealthy events. Ultimately this leads to the spine being affected. First, the dog becomes inactive, leading to weight gain. Then this weight gain alters your dog’s walking gait, ultimately affecting spine curvature.

Your dog is likely to become lethargic as the injury progresses, and finally, it loses the ability to walk. When this happens, it is a sure sign that things have become too severe to repair, and it is best to either move forward with reparative surgery or put your dog down (following consultation and appropriate discussion with your vet regarding the appropriate treatment options).

Injured small dog with a cast on front leg being examined by a vet

Is it Possible for Dogs to Recover from ACL Injuries without Having Surgery?

Some dogs can live comfortably without having surgery for a torn ACL; however, this isn’t always the case. The ability to live without surgery differs from breed to breed. But as previously discussed, it is much more difficult/unlikely for large breed or overweight dogs.

Research shows that the most common surgery that veterinarians carry out is torn ACL surgery. The problem with surgery is that it is a very costly procedure that doesn’t have a guarantee of success. Therefore, euthanasia might just be the best option. Discussion with your vet on your options is the best way to move forward in these cases. 

What if the Surgery is too Costly and You Cannot Afford it?

If your vet has recommended a surgery to repair your dog’s torn ACL and you cannot afford it, euthanasia might not necessarily have to be the only option for your dog. There are other methods to manage the case symptomatically. Some of them include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Injection and Medications
  • Leg brace

In some areas, you can also surrender your pet to a shelter to be taken care of if you are incapable of paying for its surgery but your vet does not recommend euthanasia.

What is an Estimated Cost of ACL Surgery?

A common reason why people opt to put down their dogs is because of the cost of ACL surgery. It is a very expensive procedure. In the United States, the cost of an ACL procedure is anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 for each knee.

Most dog owners prefer to give pain meds to their dog rather than opting for euthanasia. However, if we consider the cost of the pain killer injection each month, and the suffering your pooch has to go through, it may sometimes be the kindest option to put him down. 

Knee braces are also used for dogs with torn ACL and are much less costly and more attainable than surgery. For dogs, the price ranges anywhere from $400 to $800 per knee. 

Another option you can look into is your local vet school where teaching is the main purpose. If you are able to schedule your dog’s torn ACL surgery there, they will most likely carry out this expensive procedure at a very nominal price as compared to your regular veterinarian.

Conclusion

There are many options available as far as the management of a torn ACL is concerned. You just have to choose the one that is most suitable for your dog and is recommended by your vet.

Always seek a vet’s opinion to make the right decision. Ask questions, so that you explore all the avenues available rather than making a hasty decision.

But remember when all is said and done, the responsibility lies on your shoulders. Make a decision that is in the best interest of your dog. The decision should be made based on what will be best and kindest for your pet, not based on your own emotions.

Sonya is a software engineer by day and recently earned her MBA degree, but she also loves spending her free time writing about her favourite passion, dogs! Click here to read more.
x
Welcome to SirDoggie