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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Stifle Injuries




Condition Overview

The stifle joint is stabilized by a number of ligaments. The two large ligaments that cross in the middle of the joint are the cranial and caudal cruciates. The ligaments that stabilize the sides of the joints are the medial and lateral collaterals.


The sudden onset of rear leg lameness suggests a rupture. The lameness may disappear with rest, then recur with exercise. In some cases, the presenting sign is persistent lameness in one or both hind legs.


Rupture of the cranial cruciate is a common and serious injury of the stifle. It occurs in all breeds at all ages, but is more likely to occur in younger, active dogs. There may be a congenital or developmental predisposition in some dogs. If one tears, unless it is repaired, the ligament in the other knee also eventually tears.

Rupture of the medial or lateral collateral ligament is usually caused by a severe blow to the side of the joint, or a twisting motion, especially at speed. The affected ligament may be stretched, partially torn, or completely severed.

Severe blows to the stifle may also cause joint fractures. Dogs may need to be anesthetized for a thorough evaluation of the stifle.

Injuries to the meniscus are associated with injuries to the cruciates. If a cruciate injury goes untreated, secondary damage to the meniscus occurs in the weeks and months that follow. The end result is a degenerative arthritis and permanent lameness. Isolated meniscus injuries are rare in dogs.


The diagnosis is confirmed by palpating the stifle joint. In many cases the medial collateral ligament is also damaged.

Diagnosis for damage to the medial collateral ligament is made by manipulating the joint and looking for a degree of looseness.


The treatment of choice for ruptured cruciate ligaments is surgical repair. If this is not done, the joint becomes unstable and is subject to further damage. Following surgical repair, physical therapy and restricted exercise are important for successful recovery. The complete rehabilitation program may take months for dogs to return to near full athletic performance levels.

Collateral ligaments that have been stretched but not torn usually heal satisfactorily with rest and restricted activity.

Meniscal injuries respond well to surgical removal of the damaged part of the cartilage.


There is no prevention for this condition.


Please seek veterinary assistance with questions regarding this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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