The rehabilitation period for your dog following any operation can be challenging but when it comes to ACL surgery, the recovery complications can be significant. This type of surgery is one of the most major procedures a dog can have. It is stressful, particularly as your dog will want to walk soon after the ACL surgery.
Seeing your dog unable to do all the things they’re normally able to do such as walking can be distressing for both of you, but the key is to stay calm, not panic and be patient. With a surgery as major as ACL, it is worth bearing in mind that it will take a little bit of time for your pup to get back to their old self.
How soon can a dog walk after ACL surgery? Dogs can start to go on gentle, controlled walks from 5 weeks after ACL surgery. Walks can increase in length during the remainder of the recovery period with longer walks possible as soon as 7 to 8 weeks after ACL surgery.
What can I expect after my dog’s ACL surgery?
Below I will detail a rough guide and timeline for your dog’s post-operative care and rehabilitation, but it is important to remember that, like humans, all dogs recover at different speeds, so a lot of patience is required.
However, if your dog doesn’t seem to be making any significant progress soon after ACL surgery you should contact your vet as soon as possible.
Here are notes on how walking can be incorporated into your dog’s ACL surgery recovery exercises that your vet should have already briefed you on.
Dog ACL surgery recovery exercises and walking routines
The first 6 weeks
For this first phase of recovery, it is important that your dog’s activity is limited and that he rests as much as possible. Almost every dog will walk to walk soon after ACL surgery, but you need to take things very slowly.
Even if your dog seems like he wants to be active, keep walks to a minimum. This is to ensure the stitches stay in place, the leg heals corrected and so the other leg with the extra weight and support on it isn’t strained.
Weeks 1 to 2
It is imperative in the early recovery period that you encourage your dog to walk at a slow pace, because this means the dog will have time to place each leg correctly, which will help to speed up recovery. Unless your vet has stated otherwise, it is good to keep walking to a minimum at this stage.
The only time your dog should be walking soon after ACL surgery is for short toilet breaks 2 to 4 times a day in your garden or yard (half a block or equivalent). During these breaks, it is important to keep your dog on a short lead or else they might end up overexerting themselves and setting back their recovery.
These walks should only be for 5 to 10 minutes maximum.
You should assist your dog in walking by using a towel as a sling over their abdomen/behind as well as gently holding their collar at the front for balance – this is important because post-op, you can expect your dog to be unsteady on their feet.
Assisting your dog this way is especially important if they need to use stairs or walk on slippery and unstable surfaces.
If you have to leave your dog unsupervised, it is best to keep it in a small, controlled area such as a crate so they can rest and not get into any accidents.
Under close supervision, your dog can sit with you, but it is good to discourage too much activity at this stage (such as jumping on furniture) even if they are supervised. They might be encouraged to dash if they hear a doorbell or an animal outside, so if they are the excitable type it might be better to keep them in the crate or on a lead in the house.
14 days post-surgery, your dog’s stiches/sutures will be removed.
Weeks 3 to 4
Although your dog’s stiches and cone will, at this point, be removed, there is still a lot of recovery to do. Their walking activity should still be limited to their toilet breaks, but at this stage you can extend them by 5 minutes per week.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a garden and have been taking your dog to the toilet via half-block walks, you could consider extending that to a full-block walk at this stage so soon after ACL surgery recovery.
Weeks 5 to 6
You can now start to take your dog on slow-paced and gentle 25-minute walks. Flat and even terrain can start to be introduced, but it is still equally as imperative to keep them on a short lead at all times.
Weeks 7 to 10
After six weeks have passed, the most crucial and intense recovery phase is over. You should, however, still keep a close eye on your dog and ensure they stay on their leash when walking.
You should aim to increase the duration of exercise rather than the intensity, although at this stage you could try re-introducing your dog to slight inclines and declines on the walking route.
Although by this point your dog will be able to walk on the operated leg, their other hind leg will be at risk of injury from the extra strain put on it.
Subsequently, even if your dog seems fine, you should prevent them from walking too fast after ACL surgery, particular with relation to running, jumping or playing.
You should also be extra attuned to how your dog reacts to these gradually increased walk lengths. If they return from their walk lame or in more pain than they were before they left, you should avoid increasing the walk length for a while and shorten it again slightly until you see an improvement.
Their walking pace should still be slow, but as you approach the ten-week mark you can begin to introduce light trotting.
Weeks 10 to 16
By the time you reach the tenth week post-surgery, you can allow limited off-lead time for your dog. However, this should be confined to a small environment free from other dogs like your garden or yard, and they should be supervised at all times to ensure that they don’t start running too fast or jumping.
You can carry on gradually increasing walk-length but ensure that the length is long enough to exercise them but not too long for them to manage. Once you hit 12 weeks post ACL surgery, you should visit your vet so they can give the all-clear for your dog to resume normal activity (for the most part).
You should wait until 16 weeks post-surgery at least to reintroduce your dog to more strenuous forms of exercise/playing and environments which make this more likely (like the dog park).
What is ACL Surgery?
A common injury for dogs is a torn cranial cruciate ligament in the stifle (knee). This can make it difficult for them to walk, cause a lot of pain and result in several complications if it isn’t treated as soon as possible.
Whilst there are ways to treat your dog’s torn ligament without surgery, ACL surgery is usually the most effective option and, if the tear is especially severe, may well be the only treatment option possible.
As with humans, the purpose of ACL surgery in a dog is to repair that ligament in the stifle so, once they’ve recovered, their leg will return to full functionality and they’ll be able to resume normal activity and have the best quality of life possible.
As well as knowing how soon a dog can walk after ACL surgery, there are some other common questions too which I’ve listed below with responses.
Can a dog re-tear an ACL after surgery?
Yes, dogs can re-tear the ACL after surgery. This injury can occur twice.
Are there any complications with ACL surgery?
Although most dogs are able to make a full recovery – with 85 to 90% of owners reporting an improvement in their dog after the surgery – there is a level of risk that is present as with any operation including infection, a lack of stabilisation and a rejection of the implant used to help repair the ligament?
How much does ACL surgery cost?
Factors such as pet insurance and the specific technique of the surgery can all influence the cost of this surgery. The most common price range is between £3,000 and £4,000 in the UK, but it is best to discuss with your vet to see how much they charge.
The recovery period following ACL surgery is challenging, extensive and can be stressful for both you and your dog. The good news is, however, that they will gradually rebuild their abilities and confidence throughout the recovery period.
With the ligament in their leg repaired, they will be able to enjoy an active life without pain and will be back to their old selves, causing mischief in no time!
But, please exercise some caution. Dogs that walk soon after ACL surgery can damage the area if you aren’t careful – follow the dog ACL surgery recovery exercises listed above, and seek advice form a vet.