What Are the Best Low-Impact Exercises for a Dog Recovering from ACL Surgery?

April 8, 2024

When your beloved pet undergoes surgery, particularly for a significant issue like an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) or CCL (Cranial Cruciate Ligament) injury in dogs, the post-operative period can be a challenging time. You want to ensure that your furry family member not only recovers but also regains its strength and mobility. The key to successful rehabilitation lies in the right exercise regime. Low-impact exercises play a significant role in this recovery process, gently stimulating the muscles and joints, promoting strength, enhancing flexibility, and aiding in pain management. In this article, we will explore the best low-impact exercises that can help your dog recover post-ACL surgery.

Understanding the Importance of Low-Impact Exercises

Before we dive into the specific exercises, it’s crucial to understand why these activities are so important for dogs recovering from ACL surgery. After the surgery, dogs are typically left with reduced strength and mobility in their affected leg. Their knee joint, which was treated, may also experience stiffness and pain. The key to recovery is gradually reintroducing movement and activity to the knee joint and leg without exerting excessive pressure or weight. That’s where low-impact exercises come into play.

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Low-impact exercises are a kind of therapy that gently reintroduces activity and movement to your dog’s leg and knee joint. It’s an essential component of post-operative pet therapy. These exercises will help manage your dog’s pain, increase joint mobility, enhance muscle strength, and speed up the overall recovery process.

Exercise One: Gentle Walks

Perhaps the most straightforward low-impact exercise for a dog recovering from ACL surgery is the good old-fashioned walk. However, walks post-surgery are quite different from the ones your dog may be used to. They should be shorter, slower, and controlled to prevent your pet from exerting too much pressure on the healing knee joint.

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Start with a short, 5-minute walk on a leash around your yard. Keep your dog’s pace slow to prevent any sudden movements that could cause pain or damage. As the days pass and your dog’s strength and mobility improve, gradually increase the duration of these walks by a few minutes each week. Remember to keep the walk smooth and controlled at all times.

Exercise Two: Controlled Stair Climbing

Stair climbing can be an excellent low-impact exercise for dogs recovering from ACL surgery, but it must be controlled and supervised. Stair climbing can help strengthen your dog’s leg muscles and improve joint mobility in a controlled environment.

To begin with, allow your dog to climb up a few steps, ensuring they’re using their recovering leg. It’s crucial that you’re there to support them if needed and to control their speed. They should not be allowed to run up the stairs or jump down, as this could cause stress on their healing knee joint. Again, start slow and increase the number of steps gradually each week as your pet’s strength improves.

Exercise Three: Sit-to-Stand Exercises

Sit-to-stand exercises are another type of low-impact exercise that can benefit dogs recovering from ACL surgery. It’s a simple yet effective exercise that helps improve your dog’s leg strength and joint mobility.

In a quiet and safe environment, encourage your dog to sit and then stand repeatedly. Make sure they’re using their recovering leg to stand up. Start with a few rounds of this exercise and gradually increase the repetitions each week. Remember to reward your dog for their efforts, as this helps motivate them for their exercise sessions.

Exercise Four: Balance Exercises

Balance exercises are highly beneficial for a dog’s recovery after ACL surgery. They help restore your dog’s balance, improve coordination, and enhance muscle strength.

You can help your dog with balance exercises by using balance boards designed for dogs or by encouraging your pet to stand on their hind legs for a few seconds. As your dog’s balance improves, try incorporating objects like small pillows or toys to create more of a challenge.

Remember, it’s vital to consult with your dog’s veterinary surgeon or a certified canine rehabilitation therapist before starting any exercise regimen post-surgery. They will provide tailored advice depending on your dog’s specific needs, weight, and overall health condition. Don’t be disheartened if progress seems slow; recovery from ACL surgery takes time, and every small step forward is a victory.

Exercise Five: Underwater Treadmill Exercise

Underwater treadmill exercise is a potent type of low-impact exercise for dogs recovering from ACL surgery. It is an excellent form of physical rehabilitation and helps increase the range of motion, encourages weight-bearing, and enhances muscle strength. It is especially beneficial because the buoyancy of water reduces pressure on the joints, allowing for a more comfortable and less painful exercise experience for your dog.

Your dog walks on a treadmill that is submerged in a water tank, thus the term underwater treadmill. A certified canine rehabilitation therapist usually supervises this exercise. They adjust the water level and treadmill speed based on your dog’s health condition and recovery stage.

Initially, your dog may find this strange, but with positive reinforcement and gradual progression, most dogs come to enjoy this form of exercise. However, it’s important to remember that this is a specialized exercise and might not be available everywhere. It would be best to consult with your vet or a local animal rehabilitation center to explore the feasibility and benefits of underwater treadmill exercise for your dog’s post-surgery recovery process.

Exercise Six: Passive Range of Motion (PROM) Exercises

Passive range of motion or PROM exercises are another beneficial form of low-impact exercise that can aid in your dog’s recovery after ACL surgery. This exercise involves gently moving your dog’s affected leg in a natural range of motion to improve joint flexibility and circulation.

To perform PROM exercises, have your dog lie down on their unaffected side. Gently hold the leg at the joint above and below the surgical site. Slowly and carefully move the leg back and forth within a comfortable range. Avoid pushing too hard or too far; the movement should be pain-free.

Carry out these exercises a few times a day, but always in consultation with your vet or a certified canine rehabilitation therapist. They can demonstrate the correct way to perform these exercises and provide advice on the frequency and duration based on your dog’s specific recovery needs.


Helping your dog recover after ACL surgery can be a challenging task. However, with the right low-impact exercises, you can significantly aid your dog’s recovery process. Whether it is slow, controlled leash walking, gentle stair climbing, sit-to-stand exercises, balance exercises, underwater treadmill sessions, or PROM exercises, each of these can greatly contribute to your pet’s post-surgery recovery.

Remember to always consult with your dog’s vet or a certified canine rehabilitation therapist before you start any exercise regimen. They will provide you with the most appropriate advice, tailored to your dog’s health, weight, and recovery stage.

Recovery from cruciate ligament surgery takes time. It’s essential to be patient and consistent with your dog’s exercise routine. Each small step forward in their recovery journey is a significant achievement. Keep providing your furry friend with lots of love and support. With time, you will see them regain their strength and enjoy their favorite activities once again.