As many of you know, our dog tore his cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) and underwent tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgery. I’ve since learned that this is an incredibly common condition. The surgery is expensive with a long recovery time, but it is a full recovery in most cases.

Dogs who have this surgery are likely to experience tears in their other legs. Mobility is limited during recovery, causing muscles and ligaments to weaken. Therefore, I’ve been researching things that I can do–and it turns out that there are many–to prevent future CCL tears and boost overall health.

When this was all going on I worked with Petcurean dog food on a couple of articles, so I had access to their experts. I thought I’d ask Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, Petcurean’s Senior Nutritionist at the time, about the role diet plays in joint and ligament health. As a registered dietitian, Jennifer began her career in human nutrition, but in 2009, she decided to combine her interest in nutrition with her love of animals and pursue a PhD in pet nutrition.

Before asking these questions, I had no idea Dr. Adolphe’s dog experienced a CCL tear. See what I mean by common? This interview is from 2016. The questions are asked by me and the answers are from Dr. Adolphe.

What is the CCL?

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is a ligament in the knee (stifle) joint that connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone) to stabilize the joint.

One of my own dogs, an Australian Shepherd named Timber, suffered from a CCL tear a couple of years ago for which he underwent tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA) surgery. Unfortunately, Timber subsequently had damage to the stifle joint meniscus, a post-surgical complication that happens in a small percentage of TTA patients. However, I am very happy to report that he has fully recovered and, at 10 years old, can still keep up with dogs half his age!

What role does a dog’s diet play in preventing or treating CCL tears?

Cruciate ligament tears tend to be more common in medium to large-breed dogs. Nutrition during puppyhood is especially critical for large-breed dogs to ensure proper bone and joint development. Large breed puppies should be fed a complete and balanced dog food formulated for growth of large breeds for the first one to two years of life. Puppies should be portion-fed, not free-fed, to prevent high-calorie intake and maintain a lean body condition. Excessive energy intake in large-breed puppies promotes a high rate of growth and can contribute to abnormal skeletal development, which may predispose to musculoskeletal injuries.

In addition, excessive calcium intake has been shown to result in abnormal bone development. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has recently published revised calcium requirements which have reduced the maximum calcium content of dog foods suitable for large breed puppies from 2.5% to 1.8% calcium on a dry matter basis.

Excess body weight can exacerbate joint disease and increase the likelihood of CCL injury. Ensuring your dog achieves and maintains a healthy body weight is one of the most important things you can do to help your pet live a long, healthy life. A body score chart can help you determine if your dog is at a healthy body weight. If your dog needs to lose a pound or two, reduce the amount you feed gradually until you achieve a modest rate of weight loss of 1-2% per week. Weigh your dog’s food using a kitchen scale rather than using a measuring cup or free-feeding since weighing is much more accurate. While every dog deserves an occasional treat, be careful not to overfeed treats as the extra calories add up quickly.

Are there specific foods to avoid?

There are no specific foods to avoid to prevent or treat CCL tears. Choose a high quality, complete and balanced dog food to meet all of your dog’s nutrient requirements. When choosing a food, consider your dog’s health, age, breed and lifestyle. If your dog has a dull coat, upset stomach, ear infections or persistent scratching, it may be time to consider switching foods. A food that works well for one dog, may not work as well for another dog. Petcurean’s food finder is a great place to start if you need a little bit of help choosing a suitable food for your dog. Our dedicated team of Health and Nutrition Specialists is also here to help and can be reached at 1-866-864-6112.

Which supplements do you recommend for dogs with this condition?

Speak with your veterinarian about which supplements may be helpful for your dog. Dogs that have had a CCL tear are more prone to arthritis in the stifle joint. Some examples of supplements that may be recommended for joint health include glucosamine, chondroitin, green lipped mussels, natural eggshell membrane and omega-3 fatty acids. Many complete and balanced pet foods contain one or more of these supplements.

Achieving and maintaining an ideal body weight is important for dogs who have had a CCL injury to help prevent damage to the other stifle joint. L-carnitine and a diet that is higher in protein and fiber may help to promote weight management.

What other changes can pet owners make for dogs who are recovering from CCL tears?

Nutrition is an important part of aftercare for any surgery to provide the energy and essential nutrients that the body needs for tissue repair and recovery. In the immediate post-surgery state, follow the recommendations of your veterinarian for reintroducing food. If your dog’s appetite has been impacted by the surgery, try adding some canned food or low sodium broth to his usual kibble to help entice him to eat. Based on my own experience with Timber after his CCL surgery, patience and adherence to the rehabilitation plan provided by your veterinarian are key factors to a successful recovery.

See why a good diet is helpful for dogs with cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears.

Thank you very much to Dr. Adolphe for the very helpful insight!

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. American Bulldog with ruptured CCL, 95 pounds. Should I give him supplant vitamin C buffered with Calcium?

    Thank you

    Randy and Diesel

  2. Did Scooby have droopy eyes at all during the first couple days home when he was on all those meds? My golden retriever just had the TPLO surgery. I brought her home yesterday and her eyes are still red and droopy today. Also thanks for the great article on TPLo recovery. I have been so nervous and hearing what’s normal and what to do has been a massive relief.

  3. My dog is a lab mix, 7,5, and tore his ACL or CCL today. They don’t know how serious it is an we are taking a week of low activity and anti inflammatory meds.

    He’s NOT overweight, as a matter of fact it’s impossible to get him fat (I know a miracle) and has weighed between 62 and 64 pounds his whole adult life. He eats Zignature duck formula dry food and some times rice.

    He’s in pretty good shape, though I travel and his dog sitter leads a sedentary life but has a big back yard (I try to think about this when I return from a 2-week work trip and ease back into our lounge walks) I live upstairs and have a high truck to get in and out of. Thinking the truck isn’t the best….and maybe genetics.

    What in addition to the Zignature (which is a great brand/food and makes his coat look like he’s a pup) should I give him in order to a) help heal and b) to prevent this in the future?

    Someone suggested raw foods, salmon (but he reacts better to duck than salmon, skin wise) and glucosamine. What other supplements? Foods?

    the owner of Ace of Spades
    (PS the injury happened right after me being away and while he tried dodging some mean, loose Chiuauhas)