If you notice your cat or dog limping, they may have experienced an ACL tear (known more commonly in pets as a cranial cruciate ligament tear). This can cause an extreme amount of pain, making it crucial to seek care immediately in order to limit unnecessary suffering and stabilize your pet’s knee joint.
How much does pet ACL surgery cost?
Depending on which type of ACL surgery you choose for your pet, this type of treatment can cost between $1,200 and $4,600 for dogs, in addition to the potential cost of physical therapy ($500 to $1,500 total) and necessary postoperative supplies. For cats, this surgery can cost about $2,000 to $4,000.
Wow, that’s pricey--is ACL surgery covered by pet insurance?
You’ll be glad to hear that most pet insurance companies will cover ACL surgery (with caveats). Typically, they will not cover pre-existing conditions or treatment of any injuries/illnesses occurring prior to enrollment. The nature of coverage of ACL surgery varies by insurance company, and each company’s rules regarding this coverage can be fairly complex. For instance:
- Nationwide Pet Insurance covers cruciate ligament injuries, but only after the first 12 months of coverage.
- Healthy Paws states that if your pet has no history of limping or cruciate ligament problems, they will cover problems with either leg. However, they also note that it’s the only “bilateral exclusion” in their policy, meaning that “if your pet was showing any cruciate ligament problems [on either side] . . . before enrollment or during any applicable waiting period . . . the other side is also excluded from coverage". To learn more, read our full-review of Healthy Paws.
- Embrace Pet Insurance has a 6-month waiting period for cruciate ligament injuries, which can be reduced to 14 days with a letter from a veterinarian. To learn more, read our full-review of Embrace.
- PetFirst covers any cruciate issues for the life of your pet, following a 12-month waiting period. Unlike Healthy Paws, their coverage includes bilateral cruciate injuries. To learn more, read our full-review of PetFirst.
- Figo covers ACL conditions but has a 6 month waiting period on this coverage. However, the waiting period can be waived if your veterinarian certifies that your dog or cat's knees are in a healthy condition. To learn more, read our full-review of Figo.
- Hartville covers ligament and knee conditions, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), after a 14-day waiting period which begins on the first effective date of coverage. To learn more, read our full-review of Hartville.
Additionally, note that while additional pet insurance wellness plans are a great idea to cover needed procedures like annual exams, spaying/neutering, routine testing, vaccinations, etc., they don’t typically include orthopedic conditions.
Considering the complexity of these policies, it’s a good idea to do your research before choosing a particular pet insurance company, taking into account the particular challenges your pet is more likely to face (based on breed, health, and activity level) as well as your own financial concerns.
What is an ACL or cranial cruciate ligament tear?
The cruciate ligaments are essential to normal functioning of the knee joint. They cross the space between the femur and tibia, keeping those bones from moving too far backward or forward. In both cats and dogs, when the ACL is torn, there is typically noticeable limping; in fact, your pet may be in so much pain that they refuse to even put their leg on the ground, let alone use it. Unfortunately, as in human athletes like football players, ACL injuries are some of the most common orthopedic injuries in dogs. They’re so common, in fact, that pet owners spend about $1.3 billion per year on ACL surgeries for dogs alone. Luckily, this kind of injury is much less common in cats, and when it does occur it’s usually later in their lives.
Often, these injuries occur due to a twisting motion in the leg, but they can be completely unpredictable. However, the majority of pets that experience ACL tears are predisposed to them for one reason or another (genetics, age, another comorbid disease/illness, and so forth). In dogs, larger breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers are particularly prone to ACL tears.
How is an ACL tear treated?
Surgery is probably the most effective treatment option for ACL injuries. Without surgical treatment, 40-50% of dogs suffering from ACL tears will actually experience the same kind of rupture on their other leg. Additionally, surgical treatment reduces the likely severity of any arthritic changes occurring in the joint following ACL tears. Leaving cruciate injuries untreated will more often lead to arthritis. The larger the pet, the more necessary the surgery. And if the ACL is completely torn, even smaller pets will likely need surgery.
Keep in mind that all surgery involves risk. Potential risks of ACL surgery include complications from anesthesia, infection, implant failure (premature breakdown of the stabilizing suture), and pain. Be sure to discuss these possibilities with your veterinarian.