Cruciate ligament disease occurs in the dog’s stifle, a joint similar to the human knee.  The stifle is a joint where the tibia and femur articulate and the patella, the equivalent of the human kneecap, sits in a groove on the femur. The cruciate ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that form an X over the patella. They prevent the stifle from twisting or extending too far.

When a dog is diagnosed with cruciate ligament disease, these ligaments have been injured or completely severed. This occurs through degeneration or trauma. The signs you dog might show include:

  • Hindlimb lameness
  • Stifle Swelling
  • Pain
  • Instability of the joint
  • Loss of muscle
  • Sitting ‘wonkily’
  • ‘Pottery’ gait


If your dog is showing any of these signs, the veterinary surgeon will perform an orthopaedic examination. If they believe cruciate ligament disease is a possibility, they may then perform X-rays or an MRI and further assessments.

When it is confirmed that they have injured their cruciate ligament, there are four main treatments: tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA), lateral suture, tibial plateau levelling osteotomy (TPLO), and conservative management. TPLO and TTA surgeries are most commonly used and 90% of dogs have returned to normal activity!

Hydrotherapy is ideal for dogs who have cruciate ligament problems as it provides a non-weight bearing form of exercise which can help them build muscle with reduced pressure on the joints. The hydrostatic pressure of the water also helps reduce pain and swelling, while the warmth increases circulation and reduces muscle tension. The water’s resistance also helps increase muscle endurance and cardiovascular fitness. The use of hydrotherapy in the rehabilitative treatment of cruciate ligament disease has found to help the dog return to normal activity faster and with fewer secondary complications that arise from reduced use of the limb.

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