Pet Care Blog

How Much Is ACL Surgery For Dogs?

Dr. Ricky Walther
dog undergoing ACL surgery

Key Concepts to Chew On

  • A torn ACL in dogs is a stressful occurrence that fills many owners with concerns over their pet’s well-being and uncertainty about the financial implications.
  • Dog ACL surgery costs between $1,200 and $6,000 per knee, depending on the degree of injury and the type of procedure used to repair the torn ligament.
  • Most canines require a second surgery due to a subsequent injury of the other knee, which can increase the total cost to $10,000 or more.
  • Pre- and post-operative care can significantly increase the total expense.
  • Financial resources like pet insurance may be available to help cover out-of-pocket costs.

When a dog suffers a torn ACL, it's not just a physical injury — it's an emotional and financial whirlwind for the pet's loving owner. The heartache of seeing your beloved companion in distress is often compounded by stress over the cost of care that they so rightly deserve.

In today's post, we're breaking down dog ACL surgery costs to help you prepare financially in case your pet has torn a knee ligament. We'll go over factors that influence the price, different types of treatment that may be available, and financial planning tips, so you can make an informed decision regarding your pet's health and happiness.

Overview and Terminology

ACL surgery for dogs is a complex procedure that requires a skilled veterinary surgeon and post-operative care. Before diving into costs, it's essential to understand what this surgery entails and the signs that your dog might need it.

Do Dogs Have ACLs?

Dogs have a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) analogous to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. These terms are often used interchangeably, but the correct veterinary term for dogs is CCL.

A dog's ACL is located in the knee joint (or "stifle"). Its cross-like pattern resembles an "X" that connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia), preventing it from hyperextending, twisting, or moving out of place.

Factors like degeneration, obesity, and physical condition, along with the dog’s genetic makeup and breed, are the usual suspects in cruciate ligament diseases.

Signs Your Dog Might Need ACL Surgery

Recognizing the symptoms of a torn ACL in dogs is crucial for early intervention. These commonly include:

  • Limping
  • Difficulty rising or jumping
  • Decreased activity
  • Visible swelling in the knee area

In some cases, you may notice your dog holding the affected leg up or exhibiting a hesitant gait.

Moreover, when the CCL is injured, the meniscus (a cartilage-like structure between the bones of the knee) is often compromised, exacerbating the dog’s pain and further destabilizing the joint.

As the injury becomes more profound, your dog may display an outright refusal to bear weight on the leg, drawing attention to the need for a definitive diagnosis.

If you observe these signs, a veterinary consultation is essential to determine the severity of the injury before it worsens.

From Partial Tear to Ruptured Ligament

Partial tears of the ACL/CCL are not uncommon in dogs. Unfortunately, if not properly addressed, they often escalate from an incomplete tear to a fully ruptured ligament in dogs.

More often than not, a canine ACL rupture does not merely end with one leg; the stress on the dog’s other leg increases the risk of a subsequent rupture, occurring in as many as 73% of cases.1

Comprehending the severity of partial tears is crucial, as they can pave the way for more serious injuries. Early detection of partial tearing can help prevent a complete cruciate rupture and its long-term consequences.

How to Check for a Torn ACL in Dogs

Only a veterinarian will know how to diagnose a cruciate ligament injury in dogs through various physical examination techniques, supplemented by imaging tests. These include:

  • Observation of the gait
  • Palpations of the knee
  • Listening for an audible crackling sound caused by bones rubbing together within the joint, or a popping sound that occurs when cartilage is damaged
  • Checking for the "drawer sign", which refers to the tibia's ability to be pulled forward when the femur is held in place

Imaging tests such as MRIs and radiograph X-rays can also be used to detect a torn ACL in dogs.

These diagnostic tools are invaluable in assessing the extent of the injury and checking for associated issues like arthritis, joint fluid, and bone fragments that could have separated upon the ligament rupturing.

Only a vet can confirm a torn ACL in dogs.

How Much is ACL Surgery for Dogs?

$1,200 - $6,000 per knee

Average Cost of Dog ACL Surgery

The average cost of dog ACL surgery can range from $1,200 to $6,000, depending on the type of surgery and other factors. Traditional repair techniques typically cost between $1,200 and $2,500, while TPLO and TTA surgeries can range from $3,000 to $6,000 or more.

These figures include the surgery itself but may not cover additional expenses like diagnostics, pain medication, rehabilitation programs, and follow-up care.

Also, keep in mind that these cost estimates are for the treatment of one knee, but many dogs will require a second procedure on the opposite knee due to subsequent injury, which can double the total cost of repair.

Factors Influencing Dog ACL Surgery Costs

Several factors influence the overall cost of dog ACL surgery, making it important to consider all aspects when planning for the procedure.

Type of Surgery

The type of surgery chosen significantly impacts the cost. Traditional techniques generally cost less than advanced procedures like TPLO or TTA, which require specialized skills and equipment. The complexity and duration of the surgery also play a role in determining the final price.

Bone-cutting surgeries have faster recovery times and outperform the fishing line technique in long-term function by three to five percent, but they are also about 50% more expensive than traditional techniques.

Location and Veterinary Clinic

Geographical location and the specific veterinary clinic you choose can greatly affect the cost of ACL surgery. Clinics in urban areas or regions with a higher cost of living typically charge more.

Additionally, the reputation and expertise of the veterinary surgeon can influence the price, with more experienced surgeons commanding higher fees.

Many general practice clinics do not perform bone-cutting ACL surgeries due to the technical precision involved and may, therefore, refer you to a specialist.

Pre- and Post-Surgery Costs

Pre-surgery costs include diagnostic tests such as X-rays or MRIs, blood work, and consultations. Post-surgery costs encompass follow-up visits, medications, physical therapy, and any complications that may arise.

These additional expenses can add up, so it’s important to budget for the entire process, not just the surgery itself.

Treatment Options for Torn ACLs in Dogs

Depending on the severity of a canine ligament tear and the patient's physical condition, a veterinarian may recommend surgical intervention or conservative management through non-surgical alternatives.

Surgical Treatments

Non-Surgical Options

Traditional Repairs ($1,200 - $2,500)

  • Less invasive procedures that rely on sutures to stabilize dogs' stifle joint
  • Suitable for smaller, older, or less active dogs

Alternative Therapies ($200+ per visit)

  • Prolotherapy and laser therapy are examples of minimally invasive treatments effective at managing ACL pain in dogs
  • These new technologies may not be covered by pet insurance

Advanced Repairs ($3,000 - $6,000+)

  • Requires an experienced surgeon to drill or graph the bone
  • TPLO and TTA are more advanced but highly effective in dog breeds over 50 lbs

Conservative Management ($500 - $1,000+)

  • Typically includes physical therapy, weight management, pain medication, and rest
  • May be suitable for small dogs or partially torn ligaments

Surgical Options

Dog ACL surgery aims to restore the knee's stability, reduce pain, and prevent further joint damage. Several surgical techniques are available, each tailored to specific needs and conditions, with their own benefits and cost considerations.

Traditional Repair Techniques

Traditional repair techniques involve suturing the torn ligament or using synthetic materials to stabilize the knee. These methods are often chosen for smaller dogs or less active pets and can be cost-effective.

Though success rates are high, they may not provide the same level of stability as more advanced procedures, particularly for larger or highly active dogs.

Lateral Suture Technique

Also known as extracapsular repair, this technique uses a synthetic suture material to mimic the ACL and stabilize the knee. It is often used for smaller or less active dogs.

TightRope® Procedure

This procedure uses strong suture material threaded through bone tunnels to stabilize the knee. It can be an option for dogs of various sizes and activity levels.

Advanced Repair Techniques

Dogs weighing over 50 pounds may require a more advanced procedure in which a surgeon cuts, drills or graphs the bone.

TPLO Surgery

TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery is the most widely used method for treating canine ACL injuries, especially in larger or more active dogs.

This procedure involves cutting the tibial plateau and rotating it to change the angle of the knee joint, eliminating the need for the ACL.

TPLO surgery is highly effective but tends to be more expensive due to its complexity and the specialized equipment required.

TTA Surgery

TTA (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement) surgery is the newest, most advanced technique designed to stabilize the knee by altering its biomechanics.

This procedure involves moving the tibial tuberosity forward to prevent the femur from sliding backward.

TTA is known for its quick recovery times and effectiveness in larger breeds. Like TPLO, TTA can be costly due to the surgical precision and materials needed.

Non-Surgical Options

Alternative Therapy


Also known as regenerative injection therapy or proliferation therapy, prolotherapy is a non-surgical treatment that involves injecting an irritant solution into the joint that stimulates the body to heal itself by producing new tissue.

Laser Therapy

Sometimes referred to as "cold laser" or "Laser IV", laser therapy is a non-invasive, holistic treatment that can relieve pain and speed up the body's natural healing process. It works by penetrating deep into the knee joint to

Conservative Management

Also known as conservative management, this approach includes rest, dieting, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. It can be suitable for small dogs, older dogs, or dogs with partial tears.

Physical Therapy

Customized rehabilitation programs can help strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve mobility, and reduce pain. Techniques may include underwater treadmill therapy (known as hydrotherapy), laser therapy, and targeted exercises.

Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to reducing stress on both the injured knee and the healthy knee joint in the opposite leg that’s now under increased stress. This can involve dietary changes and controlled feeding.

Pain Management

Your veterinarian may prescribe pain medications for dogs, such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), that can help manage discomfort and inflammation associated with a torn ligament in canines.

Recovery and Post-Operative Care

Recovery and post-operative care are critical components of your dog’s healing process after ACL surgery.

Immediate Post-Op Care

Immediately after surgery, your dog will require careful monitoring and restricted activity to ensure proper healing.

This includes managing pain with prescribed medications, keeping the surgical site clean and dry, and preventing your dog from licking or chewing the incision.

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely to minimize complications and promote recovery.

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation

Long-term recovery involves a gradual return to normal activity levels and may include physical therapy to rebuild strength and mobility.

Rehabilitation exercises, hydrotherapy, and regular follow-up visits to the veterinarian are essential for a successful recovery. Fortunately, post-operative success rates reach around 90% for patients that receive the appropriate surgical and rehabilitative care.2

Patience and consistent care will help your dog regain full function and enjoy a better quality of life post-surgery.

golden retriever weight management for torn acl

Pet Insurance and Financial Aid for Dog ACL Surgery

Planning financially for your dog’s ACL surgery involves setting aside funds for the procedure and associated costs.

Start by obtaining detailed cost estimates from your veterinarian and consider setting up a dedicated savings account. Exploring pet insurance options and payment plans can make your dog's ACL surgery more affordable and accessible.

Additionally, some clinics offer discounts or financial assistance programs for pet owners in need.

Pet Insurance for ACL Surgery

Pet insurance can be a valuable resource when facing the costs of canine ACL surgery. Policies vary, but many cover a significant portion of surgical expenses, including diagnostics, surgery, and post-operative care — in some cases, you can get reimbursed for up to 100% of your vet bills after your deductible is met.

It’s important to review your policy carefully and understand the terms, such as coverage limits, deductibles, and waiting periods.

Payment Plans and Financial Assistance

Many veterinary clinics offer payment plans to help spread the cost of ACL surgery over several months. These plans can ease the financial strain and make the procedure more manageable.

Additionally, there are nonprofit organizations and charitable funds dedicated to assisting pet owners with the cost of necessary medical treatments, including ACL surgery.

Some pet insurance plans repay 100% of vet bills
for unexpected issues not present at enrollment

Enroll today for protection tomorrow.

Questions & Answers

Can dogs tear their ACL?

ACL injuries in dogs can range from partial to complete tears and are influenced by several factors such as degeneration, obesity, physical condition, and genetics, necessitating awareness for early detection and intervention.

These injuries can occur due to sudden changes in direction, sliding on slippery surfaces, or landing from jumps that place too much stress on the ligament, leading to partial or complete tears.

However, in most cases, a torn ligament in dogs is the result of gradual deterioration of the joint, known as cranial cruciate ligament disease (CCLD) or degenerative joint disease (DJD).

Factors like obesity and physical condition, along with a dog’s genetic makeup, are the usual suspects in cruciate ligament diseases. Torn ACLs are more common in certain dog breeds including:3

When a canine's ligament becomes compromised, either by acute injury or gradual degeneration, the repercussions are often immediate and distressing.

Can a dog's ACL heal on its own?

A dog's anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), also known as the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), generally does not heal on its own once it is torn. The ligament has poor blood supply, which hampers its ability to heal naturally. Here are some important points to consider:

  1. Partial Tears: In cases of partial tears, some dogs may experience improvement with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and controlled physical therapy. However, the joint remains unstable, which can lead to further injury or progression to a complete tear.
  2. Complete Tears: For complete tears, natural healing is highly unlikely. The joint instability caused by a complete tear can lead to chronic pain, arthritis, and further damage to the surrounding structures of the knee.
  3. Compensation: Some dogs may compensate by shifting their weight to other limbs, which can lead to issues in those limbs over time.
  4. Long-term Outcomes: Without surgical intervention, dogs with torn ACLs are likely to develop significant arthritis and chronic pain, reducing their quality of life.

How long can a dog wait for ACL surgery?

The timing for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery in dogs, also known as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) surgery, can vary based on several factors including the dog's overall health, the severity of the tear, and the dog's activity level. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Immediate Attention: If the dog is in significant pain, unable to bear weight on the affected leg, or if there is a lot of swelling, immediate veterinary attention is required. Surgery should be scheduled as soon as possible to prevent further damage and alleviate pain.
  2. Within Weeks to Months: For dogs that are more comfortable and able to bear some weight, surgery can typically be scheduled within a few weeks to a few months. During this waiting period, strict rest and limited activity are crucial to prevent worsening of the injury.
  3. Conservative Management Period: Some veterinarians may recommend a period of conservative management with pain relief, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy before surgery, especially in older or less active dogs. However, if there is no improvement or the condition worsens, surgery should not be delayed.

Considerations for Delaying Surgery:

  • Age and Health: Older dogs or those with other health issues may need a longer pre-surgery preparation period to optimize their health.
  • Activity Level: Highly active dogs, especially working or sporting breeds, may require more immediate surgical intervention to return to their active lifestyle.
  • Severity of Tear: Partial tears may allow for a slightly longer waiting period compared to complete tears, but this should be closely monitored by a veterinarian.

Risks of Delaying Surgery:

  • Joint Instability: Delaying surgery can lead to increased joint instability, causing further damage to the joint structures, including meniscal tears.
  • Arthritis: The longer the joint remains unstable, the higher the risk of developing arthritis, which can lead to chronic pain and decreased mobility.
  • Muscle Atrophy: Prolonged periods of inactivity can result in muscle atrophy, making recovery more challenging post-surgery.

It is essential to have a thorough discussion with a veterinarian to determine the optimal timing for surgery based on the specific circumstances of the dog.

Regular check-ups and monitoring are crucial during the waiting period to assess any changes in the dog's condition.

Are there alternatives to surgery for a torn ACL in dogs?

Non-surgical options like physical therapy and braces can help in some cases, but surgery is often recommended for the best long-term outcome.

Do braces help dogs with torn ACLs?

While braces can be helpful, they are not a cure for a torn ACL in dogs. The effectiveness of a brace depends on the severity of the tear, the dog’s overall health, and the specific design of the brace.

The primary goals of using braces in these cases include:

  1. Stabilization: Braces help stabilize the knee joint, reducing abnormal motion and providing support during weight-bearing activities.
  2. Pain Management: By stabilizing the joint, braces can help alleviate pain associated with the injury.
  3. Improved Mobility: Dogs may experience improved mobility and be able to resume some level of physical activity while wearing a brace.
  4. Post-Surgical Support: For dogs that have undergone surgical repair of the ACL, braces can provide additional support during the recovery period.

Oftentimes, surgical intervention is recommended to provide the best outcome for long-term joint stability and function.

Consultation with a veterinarian or a veterinary orthopedic specialist is essential to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for a dog with an ACL injury.

How much does TPLO surgery typically cost?

TPLO surgery can cost between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on various factors including the clinic and surgeon’s expertise.

What factors affect the cost of dog ACL surgery?

The cost of dog ACL surgery is influenced by:

  • The type of surgery
  • Geographical location
  • Veterinary clinic
  • Pre- and post-surgery expenses

What is the recovery time for dog ACL surgery?

Recovery time varies, but most dogs require 8 to 12 weeks of restricted activity followed by gradual rehabilitation to regain full mobility.

Navigating the Costs of Dog ACL Surgery

Navigating dog ACL surgery costs can be daunting, but understanding the different treatment options, price variables, and financial resources available can help you plan ahead.

By exploring all your options, you can ensure your pet receives the necessary care without undue financial stress.


  1. BMC Musculoskelet Dirsord, "Canine ACL rupture: a spontaneous large animal model of human ACL rupture" Feb. 5, 2022; 23:116. Accessed Jul. 9, 2024.
  2. University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, "Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture" Accessed Jul. 9, 2024.
  3. AVMA, "Studies analyze factors, outcomes associated with cranial cruciate ligament rupture, surgery" Mar. 16, 2023. Accessed Jul. 9, 2024.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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