I wanted to elaborate more on this so I hopped on my laptop so I can quote more efficiently. :)
She's 9 years old, a VERY active and fit husky/german shepherd cross. She's never been overweight and goes crazy when she has to sit still for longer than ten seconds.
The vet mentioned in the appointment that sometimes the ligaments can get brittle with age. He said to put her on painkillers (Rimadyl) for a couple weeks and to come back and they'll take x-rays, apparently sometimes the dog can heal enough to adapt or something like that.
How early was she spayed? Early spay/neuter (before the growth plates close) is a huge risk factor in injuries like these. My Luna was spayed at 10 weeks.
She could've also just landed wrong or slipped on ice... it happens with active dogs.
X-rays can show changes in the joint but they can NOT show the ligament. Only an MRI can do that, and they're still expiramental in dogs because they are very cost prohibitave. The main way vets diagnose ligament tears is with a "drawer sign" tests. Basically they manipulate the knee to see if it moves from side to side (like a drawer). If you bring your dog back in after a month worth of healing and your vet attempts a drawer sign test, the scar tissue will tear and you'll be back to square one. Also: please do not allow your vet to do a sedated drawer sign test.
From what I remember, when dogs were brought into the clinic for surgery they'd end up tearing the other one during recovery, and end up wobbly, arthritic, painful messes for the rest of their (usually short) lives.
No. No. NO. This may be true with hack job surgeries, but if you choose a board certified veterinary surgeon, you couldn't be in better hands. The orthodogs list will likely have a recommendation in your area. That's how we found our surgeon, Dr. Levine in Inver Grove Heights, MN.
While it is true that dogs are very likely to tear the other knee, it is not due to the surgery, but due to other factors:
1) They may be predisposed to this kind of injury (for example due to a pediatric spay/neuter)
2) They are overcompensating with their good leg.
In the latter case, since Conservative Mangement (CM) actually takes LONGER than most surgery recoveries, the chance of tearing the other leg is absolutely still there (and some would argue is a greater possibility).
There are a lot of very nicely worded sites on the internet that tell you that you are evil and wrong if you choose surgery. That it's torture for your dog and will end up crippling them. I'll tell you my personal experience.
Luna tore her knee. We did CM to the letter. That meant MONTHS of on leash potty breaks. Lifting her up and down the stairs. Keeping her absolutely, completely, 100% quiet. Believe me, in a very active German Shepherd with two other dogs in the house, this was NOT easy. She was absolutely and completely miserable. She started growling and snarking at the other dogs. This was NOT her personality.
We slowly built her back up. First short walks, then increasing in duration and frequency, finally up to trotting around.
Finally, at six months into her recovery, we let her off leash.
Six months later we let her inside from a romp in the yard and she was limping on three legs.
Did she reinjure herself? Somehow tear the scar tissue that is supposedly STRONGER than the original ligament (if you believe what the CM camp tells you)? Or was she injured all along, just doing a very good job masking the injury (as dogs will do). I can't be sure, but I believe it's the latter. So, my dog was IN PAIN for a full year.
We went to surgery. She had some very good painkillers. We were immediately taking her for (very short walks). We worked with a very good rehab therapist to make sure we weren't placing undue strain on her good leg. Within months, she was running around the yard as if nothing had ever happened.
She does obedience. She does tracking. She does agility. She does skijoring.
Does this sound like a broken down, painful mess of a dog?
Everything I read talks about the importance of KEEPING THE DOG QUIET during recovery, and honestly I just don't think it's possible. Pepper will explode out of her skin.
Yep, this is important, even MORE so if you opt for CM. There are simply no room for errors. One error, and you are almost back to square one, because you've re-torn the scar tissue you were slowly building.
This was a HUGE factor in why we opted for surgery when it happened a second time. Luna was absolutely positively MISERABLE when we were CM. The thought of another year of that was devastating. I knew she couldn't take it.
She's the best dog I've ever had and I absolutely HATE to think of losing her so soon. 9 really doesn't seem that old... but I guess she's not a puppy anymore either. I do not want to put her through surgery and a lot of pain to have her end up like those other dogs, weak, debilitated, and in constant pain.
Even if you can't do the surgery (it is VERY expensive... Luna's was $3100), it isn't a death sentence. Give CM a try... join the Conservative Management list and they'll give you lots of ideas on different was to keep her mind stimulated during recovery.
Check out CareCredit if you want to look into surgery and can't afford it. That's how we were able to pay for Luna's surgery (and I have crappy credit, so I was surprised I was approved).
My brother and SIL opted not to have surgery for their lab, and they didn't do FULL CM (they did only a month's worth, rather than the necessary 6 months to a year). She does limp a lot, particularly after a lot of activity and if it's cold. She does seem happy and healthy otherwise... she just runs on three legs instead of four.
Everything I google talks about going to heroic measures to save their dog and everyone assumes that you'll do the surgery. And maybe if she was 3, ok - but when she's 9, has already been limping on the other leg during cold snaps, and is impossible to keep quiet...?
I do understand your hesitation due to her age. If she's limping on the other leg it's certainly possible the other one is already torn. I would recommend joining the orthodogs list... LOTS of good info on there. There are plenty of people who have faced the same decision you have: an elderly dog with a torn CCL.
A consult with an orthopedic surgeon would definitely be a good idea, just to figure out what all your options are. You aren't bound to surgery, and if you find a good one they'll be honest with you about their recommendation based on her age and activity level.
Good luck, and feel free to ask any questions you might have. I have extensively researched both surgery and CM, and have gone through both. Your girl looks like such a sweetheart and I wish you both the best of luck!