Calcaneal tendon ruptures in dogs are similar to rupturing of the Achilles tendon in humans. The calcaneal tendon is actually a group of tendons, with the majority of injuries affecting the gastrocnemius tendon. Typically, calcaneal tendon ruptures occur as a result of a traumatic injury, such as trauma or severe stretching during active play or exercise. Degenerative calcaneal tendon ruptures are atraumatic and may occur as the result of normal aging.
In athletic or working dogs, degenerative tears occur due to overstretching and overuse. Symptoms of a calcaneal rupture depend on the severity and location of the tear. They include the appearance of walking on tiptoes with the hind legs, walking flat-footed with the ankles on the ground, non-weight-bearing lameness and swelling.
Degenerative calcaneal tendon ruptures can occur in any dog, though they are more common in athletic or working breeds. Symptoms typically occur in dogs over 5 years of age. Certain large-breed dogs, such as Labradors, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds, show a disposition to degenerative tendon injuries. It is unclear whether this predisposition is due to activity levels in the breed or a genetic factor. A connection between obesity, diabetes or Cushing’s disease and degenerative tendon injuries has been noted.
Surgical intervention is necessary for calcaneal tendon ruptures. In cases of degenerative ruptures, buildup of fibrous scar tissue often occurs. During surgery, a veterinarian surgeon must remove the scar tissue from the injured tendon before repairing the rupture with sutures, mesh or other graft material. After repair, the surgeon may place screws in to the tibia bone to attach a circular fixator to immobilize the joint while the tendon heals.
After surgical repair of the tendon, it is essential for the joint to stay immobilized in order to heal. If the surgeon did not place a circular fixator in place, other options include casts or splints. You will need to restrict activity for at least six to 12 weeks after surgery. After this time, gradual activity begins, as well as possible physical therapy. After surgical intervention, 70 to 94 percent of dogs return to normal function, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
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