The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is a band of connective tissue that keeps the femur and lower leg bones of our retrievers working in concert so they can run, jump and retrieve ducks. A dog that outright tears its CCL, experiences several micro-injuries, or simple degradation to it will soon not be capable of any of those things.
It can happen to any sporting dog, but for reasons that aren’t quite known yet, is way overrepresented in Labs. According to Dr. Ira McCauley, owner of McCauley Animal Clinic, it’s not even close. “When it comes to CCL disease, Labs are clearly predisposed. We see tons of golden retrievers, and plenty of Chessies, (Drahthaars) , German wirehairs, and other breeds, but it’s the Labs that are blowing their CCLs like crazy.
“There seems to be bloodlines out there where the cruciate ligament is too short to handle the performance the dog is going to give, and in those retrievers it’s just a matter of time. They’ll end up limping, often at a very young age, and we’ll give them 10 days to see what’s really going on. Oftentimes, it’s the torn ligament.”
There is a strong genetic component to poor cruciate ligament construction. This seems to be the case, but the downside is there are no known genetic markers (yet) to identify the bloodlines where the predisposed pups will come from. This means it’s usually a matter of asking questions about the parents and grandparents, but McCauley says that’s only going to be so valuable.
“We see dogs come from litters where this issue pops up all of the time. But the problem is the puppies are already born and bought before the issue shows up in the parents of the litter. You might already be committed to a pup with a predisposition to CCL without knowing it, and at that point it’s too late.”
What You Can Do?
Research into bloodlines is important for a litany of reasons, and possibly identifying a pedigree that might be prone to CCL disease is one of them, even if it’s far from an exact science. But, there are other ways you can maintain your duck dog that will keep them from an expensive operation.
“If a Lab blows one CCL, the chances are 50 percent they’ll blow the other. Retriever owners need to be aware of that, because it is very common and they are not cheap surgeries. Sometimes it’s unavoidable because dogs are going to run in the mud, jump off of stuff, and put themselves in multiple situations each hunting season where an injury could occur. That’s the nature of their lives," says McCauley.
There are some things owners can do to help dogs from blowing out a CCL. For starters, a dog that is allowed to lay around and put on extra weight is far more likely to injure himself when the hunting starts, which is just a matter of physics. The more weight they put on a joint, the more likely it is to tear. Keeping a dog in good shape all year round and exercising them correctly is huge.
Give your dog a glucosamine supplement, or feed them a formula that advertises glucosamine as an ingredient, if they are injured.
“If your dog has an injury and some inflammation because of it, then yes, glucosamine is a good thing. You won’t prevent a CCL tear in a dog that is built for the likelihood of it by giving him supplements or a specific formula of dog food, however.”
The recovery for CCL surgery is around six months, which means that for half of a year your hunting dog will be out of commission. If that dog happens to need both CCLs repaired, that’s an entire year on the bench.
Conduct your due diligence as best you can before plunking down a deposit on a puppy and then keep that dog in top physical health all year round and you’ll hedge your bets that your dog will stay in the field and off the operating table.