Here's Tigger's story in more detail, followed by three other stories of non-surgical success. I have heard from thousands of people about their dogs' successful non-surgical recoveries after ligament ruptures.  Big dogs; Small dogs; Old dogs; Young dogs; Fat dogs; Thin dogs --- All kinds of dogs have successfully recovered from ligament injury without surgery after vets insisted surgery was the only option.  I chose these particular examples to include on this page because I think each has aspects that may be especially useful to people facing this problem with their dogs.
Tigger's story: (written in 2005)
        Tigger looks something like a mix between Black Lab and German Shepherd, but his ancestry is unknown.  He's a tall, long-legged dog.  He weighs a little over 100 pounds without being overweight. We got him at an animal shelter as a 3 year old in 1998.  He was the Most-Unlikely-To-Be-Adopted dog there. With no interest in people he skulked at the back of his cage where he had been for 18 months. The front of the cage had a card in a plastic sleeve with his history and many negative traits as reported by the person who turned him in at the shelter a year and a half earlier. This and his standoffishness made it clear that this dog had no hope of ever finding a home. That made him irresistable to us. We took him home and have never regretted it. He became a wonderful family member. Full of good qualities. My favorite dog ever.
        Tigger was seven years old when his ligament injury occurred.  Tigger had shown signs his rear legs were giving him a little trouble for a few months in early 2002.  He hesitated to sit.  He had some difficulty on steep hills, stairs, and jumping.  Then on May 12th 2002 he disabled himself severely by completely rupturing ligaments in both rear legs while chasing a fox.  After hobbling home he lay down for a few hours. Tigger was then unable to stand or walk at all. After a number of days of being carried in and out he could walk a little but his mobility was very limited.
        We didn't do an MRI, but every ortho-specialist vet had no doubt surgery was required based on examination of Tigger, especially the extreme 'drawer sign' slippage.   An appointment was made for TPLO.  But after research and contemplation I decided against TPLO or any surgery. I cancelled the TPLO appointment. 
        It is always easiest to accept the experts' advice.  But I wasn't comfortable with the idea of the surgery for several reasons.  The cost was not a factor. I wanted what was best for Tigger and would have paid any amount for him to recover.  A confluence of circumstances and doubts made me leery of the surgery. I decided that before resorting to surgery I would first try 'Conservative Management'.  
         'Conservative Management' or 'Conservative Treatment' is a general term used by docs for any non-surgical treatment.   In ligament injury cases this consists of restricted activity and avoidance of stress on the joints, often combined with nutritional supplements, physical therapy and/or hydrotherapy.   I wasn't at all certain at the time that I was right to reject the surgeons' insistence that TPLO was necessary, but I felt less uncomfortable with Conservative Management than with the surgery.
        In the early months I worried every day that I might have made the wrong decision in rejecting surgery. But slowly Tigger improved & could do more & more. 
        In the beginning, once Tigger could walk outside (rather than being carried out), he went for very short very slow walks every few hours.  When he went out he'd usually just walk 10 feet or so at first then we'd come back inside.  It was very slow and wobbly walking. Tigger setting the pace.  Lots of stopping.  He'd stop and stand for a part of a minute then walk forward again.  It was clear that he was carrying as much weight as possible on his front legs and pulling himself forward with them. 
        Gradually as the weeks went by he increased the distance he could go.   He'd stop and sit down when he decided he'd gone far enough.  I'd sit down with him. We'd rest a while, then head back home.  The trip home would be broken by more rests. These walks got longer over time. 
        I discovered what a great exercise swimming was for promoting recovery, and that became the biggest part of his daily exercise. 
        Progress went faster after the first few months.  By about six months after his injury Tigger was recovered to the point that I no longer restricted him at all.  Although at that point he couldn't jump as well as he used to, and went up steps more slowly, he was not at all what you'd call disabled.  
        He continued to improve after restriction ended.  After a few more months he could walk and run and climb stairs and hillsides just as he did before his injury.  And he resumed leaping off the ground like a pup when excited! (Tiggers are very bouncy, as you may know.)  We live in a remote area of forested hills.  The dogs are very active.  We go for long hikes nearly every day which include lots of critter chasing, swimming, climbing steep hillsides, leaping obstacles, etc.
        Tigger is doing great!  Tigger is a big 100+ pound dog.  He was much more disabled when first injured than most dogs with torn ligament injuries.  Yet he has recovered wonderfully well without surgery!  And continues to be fine now 3+ years after his injury without any sign of arthritic problems.  This experience prompted my interest in the subject of canine ligament injury treatment.  My research and interactions with others who have had experience with canine ligament injury led to my becoming convinced that many many unnecessary surgeries are done. 
 
Wendy and her dog Zeek

 My name is Wendy.  My dog's name is Zeek. He is 5yo now.  He weighs about 85 pounds.
     When I was a teenager I read the autobiographical books by James Harriot about being a vet in rural England, beginning with the first one "All Creatures Great and Small".  I always loved animals and thought being a vet was the noblest thing a person could aspire to.  I wanted to be a vet, but my talents lay in a different direction.
    A few years ago I was surprised to learn many dogs have been routinely overvaccinated by vets.  The vaccine booster shots we've been routinely giving yearly are not needed so often.  It can be harmful to give them so often.   When I learned this what disillusioned me most hurtfully was that this was known by vets for many years but vets kept telling us to bring the dogs in every year for shots.  Shots every year was defended by vets as being the only way to get the dogs owners to bring them in for regular exams.  Vets lied about the vaccinations and gave excessive vaccine boosters which could hurt dogs.  I don't look at vets the same way now.
     I'm supposed to be writing about Zeek's ligament injury, but that vaccine disillusionment about vets is an important part of the story. Before I knew about the vaccine deception, I would have been more trusting of the vets who wanted to do surgery. 
     I didn't see Zeek at the moment of his ligament injury.  He was running with a dog friend in the park & I was talking with his friend's human.  Zeek came back to me limping and holding up his right rear leg.  When we went home I gave him aspirin with dinner and cancelled his playdates.  The next evening Zeek was still limping.  I decided to keep him home longer.  We didn't go to the park for almost a  week.  When we went back to the park he was happy to be running with his friends again.  After a few minutes I saw that he'd started limping badly again so I took him home and called our regular vet Dr C.
    Dr C diagnosed the injury as a torn ACL ligament.  He told me this is a very common injury that he has done surgery for a bunch of times.  I didn't know then but know now that he was talking about what is called a traditional ligament surgery.  They don't repair the ligament but secure the joint with wire so it can still move normally. Time goes by and scar tissue grows to hold the joint in place like the ligament used to.  I wanted a second opinion and told him so.  He said he understood and told me the best orthopedics vet in the state is Dr W.  I asked around about Dr W.  Everyone said he was good. 
    Dr W diagnosed a torn ACL ligament same as Dr C.  He had a different surgery he wanted to do. TPLO.  Dr W talked about TPLO as a miracle of medicine.  He left no doubt he believed TPLO is much better than the other surgery.  He had models of the joint and drawings of how the angle is changed so the ligament isn't needed after TPLO.  Dr W told me that the TPLO was invented because dogs have a knee joint that has a bad design.  The leg bones are the femur and the tibia. They meet on a slope.  This means the ligaments have to hold them in place or the femur would slide off the tibia. He had drawings to illustrate this. The joint is unstable when the ligament is torn like Zeek's.  Dr W said the TPLO solves the problem by doing away with the slope. TPLO= Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy.  After the surgery the bones meet without the slope, so the torn ligament is not needed any longer. 
    When I was in college I did ski jumping.  When a ski jumper lands, she always lands on a steep slope.  You're moving forward and down at the same time.  Landing on a slope lets you spread out the force of hitting the ground over a longer time. The ski jumper is falling from a height. If she landed on flat ground all the force of the landing would be there in an instant she'd be badly hurt.  That model of the joint with its slope reminded me of landing from a ski jump.  It looked to me that nature's design is that the slope is there so that when the dog jumped or landed the force could be distributed. The ligaments would be put under tension by the femur sliding against the tibia.  This would act to distribute the force of impact. So I asked Dr W if that could be true?  Could that be why nature provided the joint with this slope?  If the TPLO did away with the slope where the bones meet, then won't the smooth surfaces on the rounded ends of the bones in the joint be getting a lot more impact force concentrated on them where they meet than they did when the slope and the ligament were there?  He told me that wasn't a problem.  I thought he must know better than me.
    After Dr W finished explaining the TPLO procedure to me, he left me with his assistant to make arrangements for an appointment for the surgery. She had a preprinted form for me to sign.  She had filled in many of the blanks on the form and left others open for us to discuss such as the date for the surgery and so on. I was taken aback by the price. Dr W hadn't mentioned he wanted $2700 for the TPLO. The form had a section at the bottom which stated at length that this price didn't include any future surgeries or other treatment that might be necessary after the TPLO.  Dr W hadn't said anything about any other future procedures after the TPLO.  Here was this statement on the form though.  It made me think that there might have been some TPLO problems leading to legal problems in the past that this form was intended to protect against happening again.  Dr W had told me he never had a problem with a TPLO except rarely an infection that was easy to cure.  The form was troubling to me, but I was almost convinced by Dr W's reputation and his strong conviction that TPLO was a wonderful treatment for torn ligaments like Zeek's.
    My dad always insisted that before making a deal or signing any contract it was best to sleep on it.  I've found that to be a good practice.  So I didn't set a date for the TPLO or sign the form that day, although I was convinced Zeek should get the TPLO when we left Dr W's.
    I was thinking about the things on the printed form as we drove home.  I was remembering about the vaccine deception.  I decided it would be foolish for me to trust the vets to be telling me all I needed to know.  I decided to get on the internet and see what information I could find about ligament injury, TPLO, and traditional surgery. I was up almost all night reading on the internet, and in the morning I was more uncertain than when I started.  I spent hundreds of hours in the following weeks searching for and reading everything I could find. I started out thinking that some kind of surgery had to be done.  I wanted to learn all I could to be able to make the right choice.  The TPLO grew less attractive the deeper I looked into it.  One thing I found was that surface fractures on the bones where they meet in the joint are something that is known to happen to some dogs with TPLOs.  It's called "Tibial Tuberosity Fracturing".  Dr W had told me this wasn't a problem.  I didn't know the name "Tibial Tuberosity Fracture" when I asked him so maybe I just didn't make it clear what I meant.  Regardless of that it bothered me that he told me TPLO was great for dogs who do agility and other athletic things.  If these "Tibial Tuberosity Fractures" are known to be a problem for some dogs with TPLO, why were vets recommending TPLO as great for athletic dogs who put a lot of stress on their knees?   Other bad things came up about TPLO, but I also found a lot of troubling facts about all surgeries.
    Then I found someone whose dog had recovered from a torn ligament without any surgery at all.  She directed me to someone else who wrote me a very long detailed email about healing from ligament tears without surgery.  Recovering from a torn ligament without having any surgery is called conservative management.  There are some vets who recommend this as the first choice of treatment for torn ligaments.  Neither of the vets Zeek and I saw ever said anything about this.  The more I learned about this conservative management the more I liked it.  Zeek had already started on it before I ever heard of it since I had been restricting his walks and not letting him run out of fear that he would be hurt worse before I decided on which surgery.  I could see that in the weeks since he hurt himself he was getting better.  After reading about dogs healing with CM, I understood that Zeek's joint had not just been sitting there waiting for me to pick a surgery.  Zeek had been healing. Giving Zeek a chance to continue healing without surgery sounded right and that's what I decided to do.
    Conservative management is simple.  It's not always easy, but it's simple.  Zeek simply had to stop all running and jumping and be restricted in using his injured leg so that scar tissue would grow around the injured joint to support it.  The importance of restricting him as I understand it was that while the healing is in its early stages it would be easy for Zeek to damage it.   Zeek also got to go swimming as often as I could arrange that.  He went a few times to use an underwater treadmill, but he seemed to like swimming better.  Usually at least once a week.  We also tried going to an acupuncturist.  Zeek didn't like that.  He did like having me massage him and move his leg through a full range of movement.  I invented games for him that would have him lifting his legs and extending them but always without jumping or sudden movement.  Zeek was usually good about being restricted but it would have been harder to restrict him when he was younger.  At 4yo he was not happy about restriction but he accepted it graciously.  
    I have always fed Zeek a raw diet.  I grind up raw chicken and vegetables with the chicken bones included.  He also got nutritional supplements. 
    To prevent Zeek jumping up on the bed or sofa I moved to the floor myself. I put the sofa in my spare bedroom except for the cushions which were left on the living room floor.  I bought some new cushions for the floor too.  I took my bed apart leaving just the mattress on the bedroom floor.  I bought a big cage to leave Zeek in when I went out because I was afraid he would run around and jump up and down if somebody rang the doorbell or there were noises outside that excited him.
    When I decided to try conservative management I started out thinking I would restrict Zeek for two and a half months, then let him run.  If he started limping again when his restriction was over, I'd get the traditional surgery.  I'd ruled out the TPLO completely.  As we came up to the ten week mark Zeek was fine.  We were both settled in to our new lifestyle of walking without running or jumping and sleeping on the floor together.  He had not been limping for a long time. 
     Maybe Zeek was ready then to be more active again.  But when I thought about the chance of a renewed injury I was afraid.  I decided to give the restriction another month.  After that month was over I was ready to start letting him off his leash, but the first time he ran my heart was in my throat.  I started by taking him out when I knew no other dogs would be around.  We played short distance fetch with his ball.  I worked up to longer fetching runs over a few weeks.  Then short play periods with other dogs. I arranged play dates with the least athletic dog friends at first.  I may have taken longer than Zeek needed to get back to normal. 
    It's over a year now since Zeek returned to normal activity.  He is fine.  
    Zeek and I are happy to have found conservative management for ligament injuries.  We are grateful to the people who helped us with it. I recommend it to anyone whose dog has torn a ligament.  I won't say any more about the vets who didn't tell us about CM and wanted to do surgery right away.  You can easily guess what I think of them.
Wendy 
Sept 2004
  

Dee's Dog Lass
 
Lass was running chasing a frisbee when she yelped and picked up her right back leg. We took her to the vet the next day. By then she was putting the paw down but was limping pretty bad. The vet examined her and said it was a torn ligament and needed surgery. I asked him was he sure. He said he'd need an xray to be sure but he said he'd schedule an xray to look at the ligament and be ready to do the surgery right after the xray. He said if the xray showed the ligament wasn't torn then he wouldn't do the surgery. He said doing it that way Lass wouldn't have to be anesthetized twice. Once for the xray and then again a different time for the surgery if she needed it. We said we'd think it over since it was a big decision.
     I was asking friends at work if any of their dogs had ever had this happen and one said yes that her dog had torn a ligament the same way. She took her dog to a different vet. She told me her dog did not have surgery and her dog was fine. So I took Lass to her vet to see what he'd say. Her vet said that he thought it would be better to restrict Lass and see if she got better in two months without surgery. We didn't know what to do and were puzzling over whether to have surgery or not. I was searching the internet to learn about torn dog ligaments and read that you can't see ligaments on an xray. So I called the first vet but I didn't tell him I knew this. I asked him to tell me again what he wanted to do with Lass. He told me again the same as the first time. I said "So you'll do an xray on Lass's leg and if you see a torn ligament you'll operate?" He said "Thats right." Then I asked him if there was any other way besides surgery. He said "No, the only way to fix Lass's leg is surgery." We knew at least one other vet didn't think that surgery was the only way, and we knew the first vet wasn't truthful about seeing a torn ligament on an xray. We decided to just restrict Lass like the second vet recommended.
     We didn't let her run at all. She had to be on leash all the time when she was outside. She only went for short walks. We could see she started getting better pretty quick. The vet said to still restrict her even though she wasn't limping any more. Her walks got longer, but Lass had to be on leash two months and after that we eased her into being able to run and play like before. That was almost two years ago. Lass is five years old. She has no trouble with her leg. We go to the new vet now. The one who told us to try just restricting her.
Dee & Lass
 
Kasie’s Great Dane Minna

I really do not think Minna's rupture was an injury.  In my opinion, she has what we homeopaths call "chronic disease" and this was just another symptom/part of her picture. Looking back, for several years she had, from time-to-time, been reluctant to sit when we requested her to. Also, she has never reliably sat square. So, in hindsight, I think her ACLs were something that had probably been "slipping" for some time - and just eventually ruptured completely.

The day before "it" happened, she was running like the wind at the beach for 3 hours with my other dog. Although we did this almost daily, she was running like I had never seen her do before - she barely touched the ground as she buzzed around in wide circles all over the dunes. She did yelp once while she was out there running. I had my back turned at the time, so I didn't see what happened. But she does yelp on occasion when my other Dane gets too close to her while she's running, or if he slams into her on accident. They both came running over to me straight after the yelp happened - so I assumed it was just the usual thing with them, not that she injured her ACL on that run. She was fine that night.

Next day, she had her hour walk in the early AM and my boyfriend commented on her not being normal on the walk. She laid down a few times on the trail, and he knew something was wrong, as she has only done this once before, when she had a neck injury which we had treated by a chiropractor. She also has IBD and sometimes this flares-up (though only about 1-2 times a year, and it's usually quite brief). She sees a chiropractor for some old neck/back injures from playing rough as a younger dog, so we thought perhaps she was having a problem with one of these things.

She wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary when it "happened". It was bath day for the dogs, and she didn't run around like a nut after her bath (which was totally unheard of). So I was watching her like a hawk, wondering what was going on with her and deciding if we should call her homeopath or move-up her regular chiropractic appointment. What happened is, she went to lie down on her bed and she faltered just a teeny-tiny-bit with one of her back legs. It was a split second of faltering/losing her balance, where she didn't regain balance for really, just a split second - but I knew then that something was really wrong. She's never lost her balance at all as she's an incredibly agile dog and can do the craziest antics with her body - so this was something I had never seen her do before, and it worried me.

As the day/night progressed, she was sometimes walking with her head down/back arched, and then started with the toe-touching. I had seen enough dogs with the torn ACLs to know that this is what it looked like when a dog ruptured their ACL. Anyway, next day she was not really putting weight on the rear right leg, and didn't have a good appetite (didn't even want treats) - just not a happy camper. That day, our regular homeopathic vet referred us to an excellent specialty practice where we could do full diagnostics on her and see a board certified internist as well as a board certified orthopedic surgeon. She had blood work, x-rays, ultrasound and drawer exams done. Ultrasound was for her abdomen as he palpated an abnormal spleen, but that turned out to be incorrect and her spleen was normal - thank goodness. In the end, she was diagnosed with bilateral torn ACLs. The recommendation was to schedule her for the TPLO within 5 days or "she would have horrible arthritis at a minimum, or possibly never be able to walk normally again."

The exam really made things much worse for Minna. My boyfriend was very, very angry when we picked up a dog unable to walk and in obvious discomfort. As a former vet tech, I knew her inability to walk may have just been the sedative they gave her to do the exam, and I expected her to be a bit sore from the exam, so I was more understanding. However, in the days following, she was totally unable to walk without a sling (and that was difficult for us - she is a Great Dane!) and in pain. It's hard to see your dog come out of a vet office significantly worse than when they went in. She had gone into the vet hospital toe-touching, but able to walk, jump into and out of the SUV and wagging her tail, happy-happy girl (she loves going to the vet!)

As someone who uses homeopathy successfully to treat all my animal's imbalances, I didn't want to put her through surgery, especially if there was another option available. I do not believe surgery is the answer for most illnesses, in general. I think the only case where I would allow for surgery would be for bloat that did not respond to homeopathy immediately, and spay/neuter surgery.

Also, the dogs I had known who had gone through ACL surgery never seemed to get truly back to normal afterwards. Their gaits always seemed very stiff to me, and they were not able to enjoy completely normal activity levels. The recoveries for these types of surgeries are extremely difficult, very painful, and the surgeries can have life-threatening complications. A close friend of mine who decided to do the traditional repair on her large dog's ACL has regretted it ever since - and 11 months after the repair, her dog started limping again on the very same leg. So, the surgery totally failed - and almost a year later. The surgery also "took years off her life", according to her person, and she's never walked the same since. As I researched more about treatment options online and saw the sobering studies done on the success rates for all of the available surgeries, I knew there was no way I would subject my dog to going through such a traumatic,life-threatening experience.

We kept Minna house-bound for 6 weeks at first (only very short potty breaks in the back yard, where we built her a sod box to pee and poop in -previously, she never used our yard to "go" in - we live in the city and it's a small yard - not like a suburban yard). Then we started with 15-20 minute leashed walks/twice a day, moving up to 45-60 minute walks/twice a
day, and now she does 2 hours walks (one day she does 1+ hour long walks twice a day, the next day a 1 hour walk in the AM and a 2+ hour hike in the afternoon). All walks are now off-leash. She is now allowed to play with our other (larger, male) Great Dane and other dogs, but we're not yet allowing her to do the same level of activity as she did pre-rupture. So, we allow for some running around and playing with other dogs and a bit of crashing around, but don't let it go on for very long. She does a lot of hill work (we live in San Francisco - mucho steep hills!), no swimming (she's water phobic), and, as I said, was treated by a classical homeopath. We have not, at any time, needed to use any pain medication or additional supplements. She is raw fed - always has been.

That first week, after the appointment with the drawer exam/ultrasound/x-rays, she was pretty much totally crippled and could not walk without assistance (we used a sling). Poor thing was so stressed that her IBD flared up, too and she wasn't eating well - so she was a bit of a mess for a few days before she got her remedy. But after she recovered from the exam, and got her homeopathic remedy, she has only gotten better and better. She was doing things like spinning and leaping and running at times on rare occasion in the house during the 2-3rd months, but she was always good about stopping (or at least doing a huge leap into the air/onto her bed to lie down) when we asked her to lie down. She's really well trained, and listens very well, so this made managing her behavior easier.

She is 8 years old, but EXTREMELY fit and active. Just prior to this, when she and her "brother" Dane would be playing in the park/at the beach and people asked me how old they were - I'd say, "seven" and they'd ask if they were 7 months old! This happened a lot - or people would ask how old my Dane puppies are. This only happened when they were running and playing, because when they slow down to the point where they are walking, you then see they have grey on their faces! She was doing 3-4 hours of off-leash running at the beach or on trails prior to her ruptures; and I expect her to be able to do 95% of this type of activity within the next 3 months or so. She's not the typical easy-going Great Dane!

Kasie