TPLO surgery for dogs – your ultimate guidebook

What is TPLO surgery?

TPLO surgery, short for Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy, has become a common and effective treatment option for dogs suffering from a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in their knees. The CCL plays a vital role in stabilizing the knee joint and preventing excessive movement.

Because of its success rate, TPLO has become the standard process for repairing cranial cruciate ligament ruptures in dogs.

When you see your dog “toe-touching” or lightly placing one of its rear paws on the ground rather than its full weight, this is an early signal of a problem, and it’s time for a vet visit.

Once the pooch is diagnosed, pet owners must understand the procedure, necessary preparations, cost, immediate post-surgery care, and long-term recovery required for their furry friend. We’re going into detail on all of that.

Key Takeaways

  • TPLO surgery effectively treats torn CCL in dogs to regain stability and alleviate pain.
  • Proper preparations and post-surgery care are essential for a successful recovery and outcome.
  • Pet owners should know the potential risks, complications, and alternative treatments available.

Understanding TPLO surgery

What is TPLO Surgery?

TPLO Surgery is often recommended for dogs with torn cranial cruciate ligaments (CCL). This ligament injury is prevalent among canines and can cause significant pain and mobility issues. There are other methods of addressing a torn CCL.

Still, TPLO is a popular choice because of its high success rate and long-term stability.

The Procedure Involved

The main goal of TPLO surgery is to alter the angle and relationship between the femur and tibia. Doing so can reduce the shifting of the tibia forward during a dog’s stride, which helps lower the strain on the injured ligament and promotes healing.

Step 1: Preparing for Surgery Before beginning the surgery, your dog will undergo anesthesia to ensure their comfort and safety throughout the procedure. Additionally, relevant diagnostic tests may be performed to establish a proper surgical plan tailored to your dog’s needs.

Step 2: Making the Osteotomy During the TPLO surgery, a precise cut is made in the tibia, creating a section that can be rotated and repositioned. This process allows us to adjust the angle of the tibial plateau to provide the desired stability in the knee joint.

Step 3: Securing the New Position Once the tibial plateau has been repositioned, we secure it in place using a specialized implant consisting of a TPLO plate and screws. This implant ensures that the new angle is held firmly, allowing the bone and surrounding tissue to heal in the correct alignment.

It is important to remember that while TPLO surgery is a crucial step toward your dog’s recovery, the post-operative care and attention you provide will play an equally significant role in their overall rehabilitation.

Below is the best video I’ve seen that explains TPLO end-to-end succinctly yet with solid, detailed information. Well worth watching.

TPLO is time-tested and well-vetted.

Recent studies show an overall success rate of greater than 90% and overwhelmingly satisfied customers (dogs and their humans), with almost all returning to full limb function within one year postoperatively.

Additionally, dogs with TPLO surgeries are far less likely to suffer ongoing pain or mobility issues than dogs treated via alternate methods. See more about this here.

Why Dogs Need TPLO Surgery

Causal Factors

One of the main reasons dogs need TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery is because of a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament (CCL).

The CCL is similar to the ACL in a human knee.

Still, it rarely ruptures in dogs due to sudden trauma in an otherwise healthy ligament. Instead, CCL tears in dogs typically occur because of a gradual weakening of the knee from age.

A dog cannot walk on their injured leg when a tear happens. If the injury isn’t corrected, the bones will become damaged, and arthritis will set in. This causes chronic pain and dramatically impacts a dog’s mobility.

TPLO surgery aims to reconfigure how a dog’s knee works, stabilizing the bones so that the leg can bend painlessly and adequately, even without a CCL.

It changes the angle and relationship of the femur and the tibia, reducing the amount that the tibia shifts forward during a stride.

Relevant Breeds

While any dog breed can experience a CCL rupture, some breeds are more prone to this type of injury. Breeds that are at a higher risk include:

  • Rottweilers
  • Newfoundlands
  • Mastiffs
  • Staffordshire terriers
  • Akitas
  • Saint Bernards
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Chesapeake Bay retrievers

These breeds may have a genetic predisposition or physical traits that make them more susceptible to CCL injuries. Therefore, if you own or are considering getting one of these breeds, it is essential to regularly monitor their knee health and seek veterinary advice if you notice any signs of weakness or discomfort.

By understanding the causal factors and breeds most at risk, we can better address the need for TPLO surgery in our furry friends and ensure their long-term comfort and mobility.

Indications and Diagnostics


When identifying the need for TPLO surgery in dogs, there are a few key symptoms to watch out for. One of the most noticeable signs is pain in the affected leg, which may cause the dog to avoid using it. This can lead to lameness, where the dog walks with a noticeable limp or difficulty bearing weight on the affected limb. There might also be visible swelling in the knee joint area, and your dog may sometimes hold their leg in an odd position.

Diagnostic Tests

We rely on a combination of tools and tests to accurately diagnose the issue. First and foremost, a thorough physical examination would be conducted to evaluate the dog’s overall health, weight distribution, limb alignment, and joint stability.

Next, we use radiographs (X-rays) as a valuable diagnostic tool to visualize the joint and surrounding bones. X-rays allow us to assess for any abnormalities in the knee joint, which is crucial in determining the need for TPLO surgery. These imaging studies can highlight abnormalities such as bone spurs, joint inflammation, and other signs of injury.

In some cases, additional advanced diagnostic tests or imaging modalities might be recommended by your veterinarian to further assess and evaluate the joint before deciding on TPLO surgery.

In summary, TPLO surgery could become necessary for dogs experiencing pain, lameness, and other symptoms related to the knee joint. By conducting a thorough physical examination and analyzing X-rays, we can arrive at an accurate diagnosis and determine the best course of action for treatment.

Pre-Surgery Preparations

Before your dog undergoes TPLO surgery, it’s essential to prepare to help them have a smoother surgery and post-surgery recovery. We’ll walk you through what must be done during this critical pre-surgery period.

First, always follow any specific guidelines provided by your veterinarian. They may have unique recommendations based on your dog’s needs, age, and weight-bearing capabilities. Also, always ensure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations before surgery.

Your veterinarian will likely conduct diagnostic tests and preparations in the week leading up to the surgery. These may include blood work, X-rays, or other imaging to better assess your dog’s condition. Proper diagnostics will help the veterinary team plan the TPLO surgery.

The night before the surgery, restrain your dog from food and water, as recommended by your veterinarian. This helps reduce the risk of complications during anesthesia administration. Also, groom your dog well, particularly around the surgical site, for better hygiene during surgery.

Preparing a clean, comfortable space in your home for your dog’s post-surgery recovery is essential. You may need to restrict your dog’s movement for a while, so establishing a confined area with bedding and easy access to food and water is beneficial. Also, consider purchasing some necessary recovery gear, such as a doggy ramp or steps to prevent your dog from straining the surgically repaired leg.

Lastly, mentally prepare yourself for the challenges of caring for your dog during recovery. Be patient and supportive, as your dog will need your love and encouragement more than ever during this difficult time. Remember, positive support can go a long way in speeding up your dog’s healing process.

Post-Surgery Procedure


After TPLO surgery, monitoring your dog’s condition and ensuring their comfort is crucial. We must focus on pain management, using the appropriate medication the veterinarian prescribes to relieve discomfort. Applying proper antisepsis to the surgical site is vital to prevent infection.

During the initial post-surgery period, it’s expected that your dog may experience some swelling. You can use cold compresses to reduce inflammation and an anti-inflammatory if prescribed. Remember to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and dosages carefully.


Once your dog’s condition stabilizes, we can turn our attention to the rehabilitation process. Maintaining a balance between limiting movement to promote healing and gradually introducing physical activity to prevent stiffness is essential.

Short, frequent leash walks can be introduced to encourage joint movement and minimize the risk of complications. As time progresses, we will gradually increase the duration of these walks. The goal is to slowly build up your dog’s strength and ensure they can support their weight on the affected leg.

Incorporating physical rehabilitation during this phase is vital for a smooth recovery. This may involve passive range of motion (PROM) exercises, gentle massage, or even hydrotherapy, depending on the recommendations from your veterinarian.

Following the guidelines provided by the veterinary team and sticking to the prescribed rehabilitation plan will ensure the best outcome for your dog as it recovers from TPLO surgery.

Potential Risks and Complications

Short Term

Immediately following TPLO surgery, we must know of potential short-term complications. One common issue that can arise is swelling and bruising at the surgical site. Ensuring our dog is monitored closely and making necessary adjustments to their post-operative care can help minimize these issues.

Infections are another potential short-term complication that can occur after surgery. By keeping the surgical site clean and administering any prescribed antibiotics, we can help reduce the risk of infection.

Implant failure is a less common short-term complication, but it’s essential to be aware of it. Approximately two to four percent of TPLO surgeries require revision surgery to address complications, including implant failure. Regular monitoring during the recovery period will help us identify any issues early on.

Long Term

In the long term, our dogs may face a few complications after the TPLO surgery. One such complication is the development of arthritis in the joint. However, this can often be managed with weight management, exercise, and medications if necessary.

Another potential long-term complication is implant failure or loosening. While this is not as common as short-term complications, it’s crucial for us to continue monitoring our dog’s progress and consult with the veterinarian if we suspect any issues.

In conclusion, while there are potential risks and complications associated with TPLO surgery, being aware of them and taking the necessary precautions can help ensure a successful recovery. Remember to maintain a friendly, open line of communication with the veterinarian and proactively address any concerns that may arise during recovery.

Alternatives to TPLO

We understand that TPLO surgery can be overwhelming for your beloved dog. Luckily, several alternatives to TPLO surgery can be just as effective in treating cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries. Let’s explore these alternative treatments.

  • Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): This surgery involves changing the angle of the tibia to shift the weight-bearing load, thus stabilizing the joint without altering the tibial plateau, as in TPLO surgery. TTA can also result in faster recovery times and less risk of complications. However, it might not suit all dogs, so discussing this option with your veterinarian is important. Learn more about TTA here.
  • Lateral Suture (Extracapsular Repair): This process involves placing a strong suture on the outside of the joint to secure it in place, and, over time, scar tissue forms to add stability to the knee. This method is typically less expensive and invasive than TPLO or TTA surgeries, making it a popular option for smaller dogs and less active pets. However, it may not offer the same level of support and durability, especially for larger or more active dogs. Read more about the Lateral Suture technique here.
  • Conservative Management: A non-surgical alternative to TPLO. This treatment plan focuses on rest, restricted activity, physical therapy, and pain management to help the dog’s CCL injury heal. While this method can be less invasive and more budget-friendly, it may not provide the same level of stabilization and long-term positive outcomes for all dogs, particularly those more active or with more severe injuries. Find out more about Conservative Management here.

We hope this information helps you decide the best treatment option for your furry friend. Always consult your veterinarian before making any decisions regarding your dog’s health.

Effective Measures for Prevention

  • Weight
    • Keep your dog at a healthy weight.
    • Obese dogs put extra strain on their joints, making them more prone to injury or damage.
    • Regulate your dog’s diet and provide regular exercise to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing more severe issues like cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears, which often necessitate TPLO surgery.
    • A consistent exercise routine is also beneficial in maintaining their overall physical condition.
  • Play
    • Another essential aspect of prevention is minimizing the likelihood of trauma to your dog’s joints.
    • This could mean avoiding situations where they might experience sudden impacts or twisting motions, such as rough play or jumping from high surfaces.
    • Exercise caution to significantly lessen the chance of injury if you have a breed predisposed to joint problems.
  • Physical conditioning
    • Maintaining good physical condition is vital for joint health.
    • Regular exercise helps manage weight, strengthens the muscles surrounding the joints, and enhances their stability.
    • Finding an appropriate exercise routine suitable for your dog’s age, breed, and individual needs is essential. This may include swimming, walking, or playing fetch at a gentle pace.
  • Be proactive
    • Stay proactive in addressing issues related to poor physical condition to contribute to overall joint health. Regular vet check-ups can help identify any underlying health concerns.
    • At the same time, proper nutrition, supplements, and tailored exercise programs can support your dog’s overall well-being.
    • By addressing potential problems early, we can mitigate the need for more invasive interventions like TPLO surgery in the future.

Keeping your dog healthy and preventing the need for TPLO surgery can be achieved through proper weight management, minimizing joint trauma, maintaining good physical condition, and promptly addressing any health concerns. These preventive measures can ensure a happy and healthy life for our canine companions.

Additional resources regarding TPLO surgery for dogs:

Each section below provides additional information on various aspects of TPLO surgery.

TPLO symptoms - when is TPLO needed

When is TPLO surgery needed?

Several telling symptoms of a ruptured CCL will indicate the need for a more thorough evaluation.

What is the cost of TPLO surgery?

It depends on the treatment center, but the cost of TPLO surgery generally ranges between $3000 and $5000 for the surgery itself, but there will be costs incurred leading up to the surgery as well.

TPLO surgery cost

TPLO surgery recovery process

TPLO surgery recovery

The recovery process after TPLO surgery will determine the eventual success of the entire process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the success rate of TPLO surgery?

The success rate of TPLO surgery for dogs is generally high. According to GoodRx, this procedure has a high success rate in restoring function to the knee. While every dog is different, most can expect to regain everyday use of their leg after this surgery.

TPLO surgery statistics

How long is the recovery period after TPLO surgery?

Recovery time after TPLO surgery can vary depending on the dog’s specific needs. However, the first week after surgery is crucial for the healing process. We have written a detailed article on TPLO recovery. Still, following your veterinarian’s advice closely for your dog’s specific recovery requirements is essential.

What does TPLO surgery cost for dogs?

TPLO surgery costs for dogs can vary depending on several factors, such as the injury’s severity and the veterinary practice’s location. This procedure can range from $3,500 to $5,000. Read our article on TPLO surgery cost for more information.

Always consult your veterinarian for a more accurate estimate of your dog’s situation.

How painful is the procedure for my pet?

While we cannot know precisely how your dog will feel during and after the procedure, TPLO surgery aims to ultimately alleviate the pain caused by ruptured cruciate ligaments. Proper pain management is crucial, and your veterinarian will ensure that your dog receives the necessary medications and care during the recovery process.

TPLO surgery vs. lateral suture: which is better?

Both TPLO surgery and lateral suture techniques can effectively treat ruptured cruciate ligaments in dogs. The choice between the two procedures depends on your dog’s specific needs and factors such as size, breed, and age. Your veterinarian will discuss the options with you and make a recommendation based on your dog’s individual situation.

Are there any long-term effects of this operation?

As with any surgical procedure, there can be potential complications and long-term effects. However, TPLO surgery aims to repair the damaged ligament and restore stability to the knee joint, reducing pain and improving function. For most dogs, the benefits of TPLO surgery far outweigh the risks.

TPLO for Dogs – wrapping it up

In our research about Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery for dogs, we discovered that it is a significant advancement in the repair of cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) ruptures. This surgery aims to change the angle and relationship between the femur and tibia, thus reducing the amount the tibia shifts forward during a stride, providing stability to the knee joint and preventing excessive movement.

We found that the success rate of TPLO is high, and it has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for our canine companions. However, it is essential to remember that the road to recovery is a gradual process that requires patience, commitment, and attentive care from us as pet owners.

To help our dogs recover successfully, we must be mindful of their various milestones and challenges during each rehabilitation stage. As their caregivers, we must follow the instructions given by the veterinarian, be patient during the healing process, and provide emotional support for our furry friends.