Achilles tendon injuries are extremely common in people but are also common in our athletic dogs. The Achilles tendon is also known as the calcaneal tendon. It is formed by the termination of several muscles and attaches to the heel, or calcaneus. The Achilles tendon is critical for normal walking.
The cause of Achilles tendon rupture is usually a traumatic event, such as a fall from a height or laceration of the tendon. Chronic degeneration of the tendon can occur in excessively sporting breeds of dogs.
Rupture of the tendon causes the ankle to drop toward or almost touch the ground. The ankle, or “hock,” may be swollen and painful. When trauma is the cause, usually only one leg is affected. In chronic forms of tendon degeneration, both rear legs may be affected.
Diagnosis is made on your veterinarian’s ability to palpitate, or feel, the tendon abnormality. X-rays are usually taken to make sure there are no fractures to the calcaneus bone.
If the injury is recent, reattachment of the tendon to the calcaneus bone or suturing of the torn ends of the Achilles tendon is the preferred method of treatment. Following repair of the tendon, the ankle must be immobilized by a cast for four to eight weeks. If the injury is chronic and less likely to be successfully repaired, then ankle fusion is commonly recommended.
If the tendon is surgically repaired, the cast needs to be changed every three weeks. This can be expensive, as anesthesia is often necessary.
If the injury is recent and properly repaired, prognosis is good for return to normal weight-bearing and use of the affected limb. Often, there may be a caution returning to full athletic function. As the tendon injury becomes more chronic, more severe osteoarthritis and tendon pain and inflammation may occur.
Achilles tendon tears and injuries in dogs may cause long-term lameness, despite aggressive surgical intervention. Talk to your veterinarian about this serious condition.
Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.