When cruciate ligament damage occurs it is tempting to think that the dog jumped too high, or turned too quickly, or landed wrong on its legs. Ligaments, however, are made of incredibly tough connective tissue. It requires a tremendous amount of force to tear a ligament!
In order for a ligament to tear, the stress on the ligament must be huge (once I treated a dog whose hip was dislocated by a tree falling on it), or the ligament must already be damaged.
Why would our dogs have damage to their ligaments?
Poor conformation is certainly part of the puzzle. Many dogs, like my own Dutch Shepherd, are poorly assembled, with hind legs that are too straight and don't provide enough shock absorption for even normal activities.
Poor nutrition leads to challenges in repairing injured tissues, and inflammation in the connective tissues predisposes them to injury.
Inflammation of connective tissues is commonly caused by vaccines. After vaccination, dogs produce antibodies not only to the virus and all the other stuff in the vaccine, but they also produce antibodies against their own connective tissues. Blood and bones are also connective tissues, which explains why dogs get immune-mediated hemolytic anemia and immune-mediated thrombocytopenia after vaccination. Muscles are not made of connective tissue, but the wrappings around internal organs, around the brain and spinal cord (meninges), and all ligaments and tendons are made of connective tissue.
How then can we prevent cruciate ligament injury?
Feed your dog a raw, species-appropriate diet in order to make sure that there is sufficient nutrition for cellular repair. Ligaments have poor blood supply (that's why they're white in the photo), and have a difficult enough time getting nutrients. A processed food diet will not provide sufficient nutrition for cellular repair. This means that a raw fed dog has better odds of living longer and healthier.
Stop vaccinating your dogs. Once they have had the series of puppy shots, repeated vaccination does not benefit them. There's a previous blog post about this issue.
Walk your dogs. Literally. Many dogs just don't get enough exercise, have lousy muscle tone, and aren't strong enough to be weekend warriors just because you're at the cabin or the weather is finally nice enough for a strenuous ball session. Even those that do get a lot of exercise are often able to compensate without using their rear ends. My shepherd can chase a ball at a full gallop without actually using his hind legs a whole lot. He has a massively overpowered front end that hauls the rest of his body around.
Going for a walk is physically harder for him than chasing the ball, since he has to use all four legs much more evenly than when he's tearing around the yard.
Going for a walk on a hill (which we don't have where I live) would be even harder.
Walking along the side of a hill instead of up and down is even harder.
Think of your dog as an athlete. How much time does a pole-vaulter spend vaulting? Much less than the time they spend running, lifting weights, and gaining the strength and endurance necessary so that when they do pole-vault, they have maximum strength, ability, and agility, and minimum chance of hurting themselves.
And that is what we need to do for our dogs.