Partial ACL tear in 12 y/o dog-- how to keep him engaged and happy during forced restricted activity?

Hi all,
A routine dental visit for my 12 year old border collie mix yesterday turned awful when the vet diagnosed a partial tear of his rear left acl. I didn’t even realize anything was amiss, no lameness, slight weakness going up stairs which I attributed to general old age. Vet noticed inflammation of the joint in palpation, then did the drawer test while sedated and found some movement, and radiographs show “minor arthritic changes.” Dog is on Rimadyl for minor, generalized stiffness/difficulty getting up after hard exercise (retired working cattle dog, has had old injuries over the years). Also on Dasequin and fish oil, and I am starting Adequan next month. He is a little overweight and has been on a diet. Dog only really shows any soreness after a long hike (more than 4 miles) or after playing fetch (which we restrict). With Rimadyl stiffness is gone, lameness occasionally shows up in left front leg, but radiographs of spine, shoulder, elbow and neck show no changes there. He accompanies me on rides daily, usually 1-4 miles (I leave him home if they’re longer than that). He takes his time when he needs to, and is not a crazy wild Border collie, he’s a zen dog, pretty chill. He is also extremely stoic, and highly work focused, so he will not easily tell me when he’s in pain and will always do the “job.” I don’t have my mind made up, but I do I have consultations booked with two surgeons (one board certified, one a traveling vet who specializes in joint surgeries and comes monthly to my trusted vet). Research and vets are telling me his best quality of life improvements will come from surgery. My gut says he’s probably been in pain for a while and I’ve never noticed because it’s all such tiny things (he’s gotten slower navigating stairs, he’s a little needlessly cranky with the puppy, he hesitates before jumping into the car), so if i can get him through post-op, he’s going to be MUCH happier because he can do his “job” relatively pain-free for a few more years.

My BIGGEST concern:
-Either way, surgery or conservative management, I am highly concerned about his mental state-- if he isn’t allowed to do his “job” (accompany me on chores and riding the colts) I’m afraid he’s going to get depressed and shut down, especially when I take the other dogs and he has to stay inside. I’m not so much worried I can’t keep him calm, it’s that he is so work-focused that I’m afraid without it he will lose his purpose to live and give up. How can I keep him engaged and happy during recovery? He is not food motivated, he does not like to play, he does not like the company of other dogs. His sole purpose in life is to follow me around and get the job done, whatever that job is. He is super serious about work.

Also the mystery lameness in his front left: since x-rays show nothing, I am a little less concerned about this, but what if we do the surgery to repair his back end and suddenly his front end is locked up anyway? Will it be a waste? I don’t want to cause him unnecessary stress and pain if it’s not going to result in an improved quality of life.

Sorry for the novel. I am trying to process. It’s all just so shocking, you know? Routine yearly dental cleaning you know, and suddenly it’s like “oh, feels like he’s blown his ACL. Surgery is really the best treatment for that, here’s the surgeon’s info.” Like, what? From zero to a hundred, my mind is reeling. I love my dogs, but he is my best dog ever, my one-in-a-million heart dog. This dog has stood off wolves for me, he has gone home to fetch help like Lassie for me, he tracked down my husband when lost in the woods, he even killed me a grouse for dinner once when I asked him to. His entire life purpose is making sure I’m safe and the job I’m doing is done well. I just can’t let him down.

1 Like

What kind of surgery are you considering?

My 10 year old Brittany (now deceased) had TTA surgery as TPLO was not an option for him due to another injury sustained to the same leg (which probably is what made the CCL have to take over and eventually tear.)

Anyway…he felt so good after the surgery we had to ask the vet if it was inhumane to withhold pain meds from him to keep him quiet. (The answer was yes, that’s ok). And he was also used to a lot of off leash, outside running, so we were really worried.

But it was actually ok. He was restricted to our carpeted living room unless we were with him. The crate became our coffee table, and he was in the crate if we couldn’t supervise. I slept on a mattress on the floor with him so that he wouldn’t try to jump in our bed, and that also worked out fine. He was happy so long as he got to be with us, even if he didn’t get to run around.

And he ran hard on that knee for another 3-4 years before he died of unrelated issues. Worth every penny.


Honestly, at 12, if pain medications are managing symptoms, I would personally not operate. Quality of life is better than quantity of life. My dog was 9.5 when she broke her leg horrifically and had a 5 month VERY SLOW recovery process and she hated it (Australian kelpie). She died within 18 months and I always hated that she lost some of those months being crated/confined. I didn’t have the option though, she broke her foreleg in half and had to have extensive operation, but if it was something that I hadn’t noticed the dog noticing, I would not have operated.

I would look onto those acl braces for dogs. Recovery from surgery is hard and forced rest might cause the rest of his body to stiffen up. Mentally he will not understand the forced restrictions are for his own good. Tough decisions. Good luck with whatever you decide.

My border collie/golden cross, who usually does have that border collie energy, did very well post-surgery. He did have a complete tear. He’s 9 years old. He always liked his crate anyway so that part was easy. I shortened my work days away from home so he wasn’t in it too long. Slept on the couch so he couldn’t try to jump on the bed. Fenced off a small part of the yard and restricted running, but did not use the hoist for his back legs very long. We don’t play frisbee anymore, just ground balls. He is doing great 4 months post surgery and I’m glad I did it.

I had an Australian shepherd with a partial tear and a full tear at 8 years old. The recovery involves physiotherapy that you will be doing a few times per day. The routine increase in complexity as the dog gets stronger, so those are engaging for the dog. The dog will also spend a lot of time sleeping because it is exhausting to recover from major surgery. As the dog gets better, you could buy a few dog puzzles to keep his mind sharp, but I suspect he’ll find recovery to be a full time job.

A few years after the Aussie’s injury, my beagle suffered a partial tear. I felt he wasn’t a good candidate for surgery so, with the support of the vet, we set him up with leg braces and did the same physio protocol followed after surgery. Every day for three months I took him down to a boat launch to walk in the river for hydrotherapy. He made a full recovery but it was also a lot of work. He is normally a very high energy, anxious dog but he was pretty quiet during the recovery. By the time we bought the beagle two good braces (to support the good leg so it doesn’t tear too) and paid for a few physio sessions to make sure we were on track, it was almost as expensive as the surgery. But the beagle is now 11 years old and running around like a maniac, so he healed just fine.

Oh yeah! We rented a horse electromagnetic leg wrap and used that on the Aussie every day during her recovery. She seemed to respond positively to it so we did it for both legs. Her recovery was100% and she went on to live a very active life until she died naturally at 15. The vets said she was the poster child for tightrope surgery. Not sure why we didn’t use the electromagnetic boot for the beagle - I think I just forgot about it. But we used back on track blankets and braces for him.

What type of surgery did you have?

I don’t recall the PT being that rigorous, but I do think that depends on the type of repair. The TTA and TPLO are changes in the bone structure, compared to a a “fishing line” repair which replicates the torn ligament.

We did the “fishing line” surgery. I was pretty diligent about the physio because I was dealing with a senior dog with both legs done within a few weeks of each other. Maybe it’s not so intense with a younger dog or a single leg? I may also be mid-remembering it. I’m a worrier so I was pretty stressed through the recovery. But it was worth it for sure.

No, I think it’s very important for the fishing line type of repair. Until the scar tissue encases the sutures, it’s not very strong. And I think that you have to be very careful that they don’t lose range of motion.

My dog that had the TTA had a medial collateral tear in the same leg from a traumatic injury, so he had a similar repair. I remember having to do a lot of PT type work after that surgery, but the TTA was just more work keeping him quiet while the bone healed.

I believe we are looking at TPLO. The board certified surgeon only does TPLO, though I’m not sure what the other surgeon we are consulting with will recommend. He is not a candidate for the fishing line surgery as he is too large (almost 60 lbs).

Thank you for everyone’s experiences. It really helps to read what others have gone through. I know it’s going to be a ton of work, and I am mentally preparing myself for that, but it does seem like research shows dogs who go through surgery tend to have a better quality of life post-op than dogs who go through strict conservative management. I am lucky to have a close friend who is a vet (who is too far away to treat him, so no conflict of interest), and her pro opinion is that surgery is the best option, so that’s where I’m leaning. We’ll see what the two surgeons say after consult.

1 Like

My Mom’s elderly (I think she was 12) cocker spaniel tore one of her CCL’s. My Mom could no way afford surgery. I could have helped but just didn’t feel that was the right move. Mom could not do much and I couldn’t live there to do all the rehab. Now granted, she was a smaller dog but I kept going to vets until I got one that gave us a rehab protocol and some NSAID’s. He still wanted to do surgery but at least confirmed that we could try non-invasive methods. The first vet we went to said it doesn’t hurt…WTH!

Anyway, the big thing and how she hurt it in the first place was the steps outside her dog door. She used to literally launch herself through the door and past all the steps, landing in the yard about 8 feet from the house! Usually due to the UPS truck. I put a barrier up that prevented her from doing that. She had to slowly go out then turn to get into the yard. Initially, we shut the doggy door and only let her out when she asked. She was pretty quiet otherwise.

She healed up fine with no surgery. Had she had been a younger dog, maybe surgery but I just couldn’t see it at her age. I think she was 14 when we lost her to an unknown liver issue. Her she was sound until her death.


A year ago my Mastiff mix had TPLO surgery (full tear of CCL and meniscus). It’s a hard surgery plus we did 16 weeks of very careful restriction and rehab. We followed it with maintenance including Dasaquin/ Wellactin, limiting jumping and burst type running activities, using a ramp any time he gets in my truck and keeping him fit and at a good weight.
He was 3 at the time of surgery and if he had been older and the injury less severe, I may have gone with the treatment route rather than the surgery. A good friend with a 12 year old rottie with a partial tear who works at an equine rehab facility used a combo of cold laser, BEMER and aqua therapy and her guy is doing fantastic - so therapies like that might be something you want to look into

My Corgi (certifiable crazy ball dog) tore his right when he was 5. I tried several months of relative rest and ultimately did a TTA (Board Certfied Ortho) and it was a nightmare. Two salvage surgeries later he did recover good mobility but I really thought we might lose him. Three months later he tore the left, partial. I did full on crate rest with walks for 6 weeks and he fully recovered. We lost him to DM last year but in the interim he got back to 100% crazy ball dog. My biggest takeaway was there is never urgency to doing surgery. Waiting doesn’t change the surgical outcome success rates. Good luck with your guy!

Our 12 1/2 year old Beagle/Shepherd mix ruptured her right hind CCL in October. She was non weight bearing. The vet recommended surgical repair based on severity. At her age, we decided to play wait and see but, added daily loading dose of Dasuquin Advanced. I bought a brace but didn’t use it much because she didn’t like it. Seven months later, she is weight bearing and happy as a clam. She does have a slight hitch in her giddy up and we strongly discourage chasing squirrels and deer (cause of the original rupture). I don’t think she would have handled the surgery well. Hope you have positive results with whatever you choose to do.