What is an Achilles Tendon Injury or rupture on a dog?

Your dog’s Achilles tendon, also known as the common calcaneal tendon, is in his hind limb and composed of multiple muscles. Your dog’s injury may be classified as traumatic, such as from a blunt force trauma or laceration, or atraumatic with the cause being degeneration.

Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose your dog’s injury by utilizing radiograph (x-ray) and ultrasound imaging.

Surgery is the ideal treatment plan in order for your dog to be able to use his leg properly again. Recovery is a long process but is possible. An Achilles tendon injury is extremely serious. If your dog has hurt themselves suddenly or if you notice your dog stops using his or her leg, take your dog to the veterinarian for an evaluation ASAP.

What happens when a dog ruptures or tears it’s Achilles Tendon?

An Achilles tendon rupture is also known as a rupture of the gastrocnemius tendon. The tendon is actually composed of 5 different tendons, the two most important being the superficial digital flexor and gastrocnemius tendons. The gastrocnemius tendon is the largest of these, and is the most powerful extensor of the hock (ankle) joint. Both the superficial digital flexor and gastrocnemius tendons attach to the heel bone, called the calcaneus bone. A rupture of the Achilles tendon may be a partial tear, which means just the gastrocnemius is torn, or a complete tear, in which all five tendons have been torn.

Which dogs are most likely to rupture their achilles tendon?

Dogs that are affected by an Achilles tendon rupture are primarily from the large sporting and working breeds, and are usually 5 years of age and older. The Doberman pinscher and Labrador retrievers seem to be overrepresented in this condition, but it can occur in any dog or cat, no matter what age or breed.

What are the signs my dog has a ruptured or torn Achilles Tendon?

With a partial rupture, the gastrocnemius tendon is torn, but the superficial digital flexor tendon is still intact. Animals with a partial rupture will have a dropped hock, be lame in the affected leg, and will stand with curled toes.

Dogs that have a complete rupture and all five tendons of the Achilles tendon are torn will have a completely dropped hock, so that he is walking flat-footed rather than on his “tippy toes” like normal, and will show signs of lameness.

Pain and edema (swelling) will follow the injury. Eventually the gastrocnemius muscle will contract, and the area between the bone and the tendon fills with fibrous tissue.

Symptoms of Achilles Tendon Injuries in Dogs

Symptoms may include:

  • Refusal to move or add weight to a hind leg
  • Flat footed stance
  • Toes curled downward
  • Swelling Heat in the area of injury

Types of achilles tendon injuries in dogs

The Achilles tendon is the largest complex tendon in the dog. It is the combined insertion of five different muscles.

There are three different types of Achilles tendon injuries.

  • One type is a complete disruption of the of the tendon apparatus itself; this means there is no tension placed on the Achilles tendon when the hock is flexed. Dogs with this type of injury typically have a plantigrade stance.
  • The second type involves a lengthened Achilles tendon system.
  • The third type of injury occurs when the Achilles tendon is still intact but inflamed.

How did my dog rupture / tear / injure it’s Achilles Tendon?

Injury to the Achilles tendon may be acute or chronic. Chronic injuries are typically more difficult to repair than acute injuries. Chronic tendon injuries results with the contracture and fibrosis difficult to identify as well as the apposition. Acute injury can be a result of a trauma to the tendon. The Achilles tendon is also known as the common calcanean tendon. Achilles tendon ruptures can be caused by a sudden traumatic event such as a fall, or anything that causes a sudden and extreme flexion of the hock. Rupture may occur over time due to extreme over-stretching and overuse which can cause the tendon to deteriorate and eventually tear. Lacerations are the most likely cause of a complete tear.

How are Achilles Tendon Injuries diagnosed in Dogs?

Diagnosing an Achilles tendon injury can be done by one of multiple ways. Your veterinarian will begin by performing a full physical exam on your dog. When she gets to the area in question, she will manipulate it in multiple ways and put your dog through a series of exercises to determine the extent of the injury. She will try to discover how high and low it extends, what is all affected in the area, and how severe she believes the injury to be.

To confirm her suspicions, your veterinarian will likely suggest radiographs of the region. This will be able to show if there are any breaks in the bone associated with the injury or if it is all tissue and ligaments. She will then proceed with an ultrasound as another form of diagnostic imaging. The imaging is more sensitive and therefore can actually register tendons and ligaments. Your veterinarian will be able to determine what tendons are involved and if it is just a strain or tear.

For the overall general well being of your pet, she may also recommend routine blood work; especially if the Achilles tendon injury is a result of trauma. Your veterinarian will want to ensure there is no internal bleeding and that all of your dog’s internal organs are still functioning properly.

How does a veterinarian fix a ruptured or torn Achilles Tendon on a Dog?

Surgical repair is the most successful form of treatment. Debridement of the tendon, along with the repair, followed by proper recovery, are extremely important for your dog. Depending on the type of injury to the Achilles tendon, the surgical approach will vary. Once surgery is complete, it is imperative the tarsal is immobilized and supported properly. If not cared for properly, the tendon repair will not hold. Your dog will have some sort of external stabilization, such as a splint, which will keep the tarsus in place and slightly extended but in the weight-bearing position.

In order to monitor the repair of the tendon, your veterinarian may recommend ultrasounds periodically. The full healing process may take years as it is a slow process. Your dog will need extensive physical therapy if you want him to be able to continue to use his foot and leg properly. There are ranges of motion he will need to be put through on a daily basis for him to be able to keep his flexibility in the region as it heals. Not moving it will freeze the area and can lead to permanent disability. Additional physical therapy may be suggested in the form of swimming or a water treadmill to begin with. This will encourage your dog to continue to use the affected region but without the added pressure of all his body weight as the water will be holding him up.

Laser light therapy may also be beneficial to his recovery. Also known as photobiomodulation, the laser light increases blood flow to the area which promotes healing, provides an analgesic effect and can penetrate down to all the tendons affected.

Recovery of Achilles Tendon Injuries in Dogs

Most dogs with an Achilles tendon injury are able to recover enough to have a normal daily pet life. However, if your dog is an athlete, prognosis of returning to normal competition level is poor. Even if the tendon does heal, pain and dysfunction may persist on a daily basis.

What to expect after your dog has ruptured or torn it’s Achilles Tendon.

Prognosis with surgery is generally very good. The sooner your dog’s Achilles tendon tear/injury/rupture is repaired, the better the long-term results will be for your dog. If the tear goes without repair for too long, the formation of scar tissue will make the surgery more difficult and possibly less successful. Additionally, if the animal walks plantigrade (like a human with toes and ankle on the ground) for an extended period of time further damage can result which will make surgery more difficult. It is also important to note that there is significant aftercare in this surgery due to the placement of a cast, possible external fixators or screws, and strict exercise restrictions and rest. The final outcome of the surgery also depends on the aftercare of the patient.