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To evaluate stifle joints of dogs for synovitis, before development of joint instability and cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CrCLR).Cross-sectional study.Dogs (n=16) with CrCLR and stable contralateral stifles; 10 control dogs with intact CrCL.Arthritis and tibial translation were graded radiographically. Synovitis severity and cruciate pathology were assessed arthroscopically. Presence of inflammatory cells in synovial membrane biopsies was scored histologically. CrCLR stifle pairs and control stifles were compared.Radiographic evidence of arthritis, cranial tibial translation, and arthroscopic synovitis were increased in unstable stifles, when compared with stable contralateral stifles in CrCLR dogs (P<.05). Arthroscopic synovitis in both joints of CrCLR dogs was increased compared with controls, was correlated with radiographic arthritis (SR=0.71, P<.05), and was present in all stable contralateral stifles. Arthroscopically, 75% of stable stifle joints had CrCL fiber disruption, which correlated with severity of synovitis (SR=0.56, P<.05). Histologic evidence of synovitis was identified in all CrCLR dogs, but was only significantly correlated with arthroscopic observations in stable stifles (r2=0.57, P<.005).Synovitis is an early feature of the CrCLR arthropathy in dogs before development of joint instability clinically. Severity of synovitis is correlated with radiographic arthritis in joints with minimal to no clinically detectable CrCL damage.