Skip to main content
Blog Hero Image

Luxating Patella in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment Options & Prognosis

Like any family member, our four-legged companions can encounter health challenges along their journey through life. One such challenge is luxating patella, a common orthopedic condition that can affect dogs of various breeds, ages, and sizes.

Luxating patella is a condition that involves the dislocation of the kneecap from its normal position in the knee joint. Understanding the most common causes, symptoms, prognosis, and treatment options can help pet parents make informed decisions for their furry family members.

In this blog post, we’ll uncover the early signs of patellar luxation, explore various management and prevention strategies, and offer insights on how you can support your furry friend on their path to recovery. Here’s what to expect if your dog develops a luxating patella.

What is Luxating Patella in Dogs?

Luxating patella, also known as patellar luxation, is one of the most common orthopedic conditions that can affect our canine companions. Luxating patella involves the dislocation of the patella, which is more commonly known as the kneecap.

The patella is a small, circular bone nestled securely within a groove at the end of the femur (thigh bone). It is an integral part of the knee joint. In a dog with luxating patella, the kneecap slips or pops out of its normal position, causing discomfort and mobility issues.

The condition can be temporary, it can occur frequently, or in severe cases, it may not correct without surgery. While the condition is concerning, there are a variety of management and treatment options available to help dogs with luxating patella maintain quality of life.

Need a vet? Book a visit.

What Causes Canine Luxating Patella?

The causes of canine luxating patella can vary widely from one dog to another, and there are several factors that may contribute to the severity of the condition.  However, dogs with this condition often have a more shallow femoral groove or misalignment of the femur, tibia, or hip.

Research shows that genetics play a key role in the development of luxating patella, and certain breeds are more likely to be affected than others. Weak or underdeveloped leg muscles can also play a role in patellar luxation. When the muscles around the knee joint aren’t strong enough to hold the patella in place, it becomes more prone to dislocation.

Luxating patella can occur at any age, but it’s more common in younger dogs. Dogs who are overweight are at a higher risk because the excess weight puts strain on the joints. Poor nutrition during a puppy’s early growth stages may also contribute to this issue.

In rare cases, an injury or trauma to the knee cap area can lead to luxating patella. This could be the result of a jump, fall, or accident that causes the patella to become dislocated.

Breeds Commonly Affected by Luxating Patella

Although any breed can be affected by patellar luxation, it tends to more more common in breeds with certain physical characteristics. Small toy breeds tend to be genetically predisposed to the condition due to their petite frame and unique anatomy. This group includes Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Pekingese, Maltese, and Toy Poodles.

Other breeds that seem to be at higher risk of luxating patella include Miniature and Standard Poodles, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, and Lhasa Apsos. Although less common, the condition can also occur in large and giant breeds, as well.

Luxating Patella Symptoms

Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of luxating patella in your dog is crucial for early intervention. Here are some of the most common luxating patella symptoms to watch for:

  • Limping or Lameness: One of the first signs pet parents notice is limping or favoring of one of the hind legs. This is often more pronounced after physical activity or exercise. You may also notice a change in gait, with their hind leg appearing to turn inward or outward.

  • Intermittent Skipping: You may observe your dog suddenly lifting one of their hind legs off the ground while walking or running, almost as if they’re skipping. This is a classic sign of patellar luxation.

  • Bunny Hopping: In severe cases, dogs with patellar luxation may hop like a rabbit when running, using both hind legs simultaneously to minimize the discomfort caused by the dislocated kneecap.

  • Pain and Discomfort: Your dog may exhibit signs of pain and discomfort, such as yelping or whining when running or jumping or when the affected leg is touched.

  • Stiffness or Difficulty Rising: A luxating patella dog may experience stiffness after periods of rest, requiring a few minutes to loosen back up. They may also experience difficulty when getting up from a sitting or lying position, especially if the patella has temporarily moved out of place.

  • Swelling: In some cases, you might notice swelling around the affected knee joint due to inflammation caused by the repeated dislocations.

As you can imagine, dogs with luxating patella often become less active or reluctant to engage in activities they once enjoyed, especially as their condition worsens. These signs can be very subtle in the early stages, so it’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms.

Diagnosis and Grades of Luxating Patella

To diagnose patellar luxation, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination. X-rays or advanced imaging may also be recommended to get a better understanding of the severity of the condition and further evaluate the affected limb for contributing abnormalities.

Luxating patella in dogs has varying degrees of severity. When diagnosing and assessing the condition, veterinarians use a grading system to categorize the severity, ranging from Grade I to Grade IV, with each grade representing a different level of seriousness.

  • Grade I: Grade I is the mildest form of luxating patella. In these cases, the kneecap occasionally slips out of place but usually returns to its normal position on its own. Signs and symptoms are usually fairly subtle and may go unnoticed for some time.

  • Grade II: Dogs with Grade II luxating patella experience more frequent episodes of kneecap displacement. While the kneecap does typically return to its normal position spontaneously, it may cause intermittent lameness and discomfort. Owners or more likely to notice this grade due to the increased frequency and severity of the symptoms.

  • Grade III: Grade III patellar luxation represents a moderate level of severity. In these cases, the kneecap is often out of its normal position and requires manual manipulation to return to its groove in the femur. Dogs with Grade III luxation often experience chronic discomfort and lameness and typically become less active as their symptoms worsen.

  • Grade IV: Grade IV is the most severe form of patellar luxation. The kneecap is frequently or permanently dislocated, and it cannot be manually repositioned into its proper place. Dogs with Grade IV luxation experience significant chronic pain, limited mobility, and drastically reduced quality of life.

It’s important to note that luxating patella can affect one or both hind legs, and each leg can have a different grade of luxation. The grade diagnosed by your veterinarian will determine the appropriate treatment and management plan for your dog. 

Luxating Patella Treatment Options

When it comes to addressing luxating patella in dogs, early diagnosis and appropriate intervention are essential for ensuring your furry friend’s comfort and well-being. Detecting the condition in its early stages could allow for less invasive treatment and prevent the development of more severe symptoms. 

Let’s explore the various management and treatment options available.

Lifestyle Modifications

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for dogs with luxating patella. Extra weight can exacerbate the condition, so your vet may recommend a specific diet to keep your dog at an ideal weight.

Engaging in low-impact exercises such as swimming or controlled leash walks can help to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint without putting excessive stress on it. Things like orthopedic bedding and ramps to help them navigate stairs or furniture can help to keep your dog more comfortable, too.

Rehabilitation Exercises

Physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises can be immensely beneficial in managing patellar luxation. Range of motion exercises may be used to improve joint flexibility and mobility, which can reduce pain and discomfort. 

Targeted exercises can also be used to strengthen the muscles around the knee, helping to stabilize the patella. Physical therapy can also incorporate pain management techniques, such as heat therapy, massage, chiropractic, or acupuncture.

Non-Surgical Interventions

For dogs with milder grades of patellar luxation, non-surgical approaches may be an option. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to manage discomfort and reduce inflammation. Some dogs develop arthritis as a secondary condition, which can also benefit from medication and the above lifestyle modifications.

Joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin can support joint health and may help to alleviate some symptoms. In some cases, bracing or taping of the affected leg may be used to provide stability and reduce the risk of dislocation.

Surgical Procedures for Severe Cases

In severe cases of luxating patella, surgery may be necessary to correct the condition and provide long-term relief.  These procedures involve repositioning and reattaching the patellar ligament to the shin bone and reshaping the groove of the femur to prevent further dislocation. 

In some cases, the capsule around the kneecap joint is tightened, or an implant may be placed on the inside of the knee to prevent future dislocations. The recovery period is usually fairly short, and pain medication can help to keep your pup comfortable while healing.

Recovery and Prognosis for Dogs with Luxating Patella

While the outlook for dogs with luxating patella can vary based on factors such as the grade of luxation and the chosen treatment path, this section will provide you with some insights into what you can expect for your furry companion.

Can Dogs Live with Luxating Patella?

The short answer is yes, dogs can live with luxating patella. However, the quality of life depends on several factors. In particular, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial. Dogs diagnosed and treated in the early stages often lead comfortable and active lives.

Following your veterinarian’s recommended treatment plan will also significantly affect your dog’s prognosis. And of course, each dog is unique. The severity of the condition, breed, age, and overall health all influence the outcome. Some dogs respond exceptionally well to initial treatment, while others require ongoing management of their symptoms.

Can Luxating Patella Heal On Its Own?

In cases of mild patellar luxation, the patella may return to its normal position without intervention. However, this is not guaranteed, and even if it does, the condition may return, become more frequent, or worsen over time. Waiting for spontaneous healing is not advisable because it can lead to unnecessary discomfort and more severe complications.

Moving Forward After Patellar Luxation Surgery

For dogs that undergo surgical correction for luxating patella, the prognosis is generally very positive. After surgery, there will be a recovery period with restricted activity and close monitoring, which is essential for a successful outcome.

Physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises may also be recommended to aid in your dog’s recovery by improving muscle strength and joint stability. Many dogs experience significant improvement in their mobility and quality of life after surgery, and regular follow-up appointments will help to ensure your dog’s continued progress.

Prevention and Risk Management

While you may not be able to completely prevent luxating patella, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. Maintaining a healthy weight is the first step. Ensure that your dog receives a balanced diet in the appropriate portion sizes, and work with your vet if they need to lose weight.

Engage your dog in regular, low-impact exercise to keep their joints and muscles strong. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on the knees, such as high jumps or rough play on hard surfaces.

Talk to your vet about dog joint supplements that contain ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements can support joint health and lower the risk of developing joint-related conditions.

And finally, be on the lookout for early signs of patellar luxation and stay on top of routine check-ups with your veterinarian. Early detection and intervention can make a significant difference in your dog’s prognosis and quality of life.

In Conclusion

Dealing with a pet’s health condition can be challenging, but with the right information and proactive approach, you can provide the best possible care for your four-legged companion. Luxating patella is very common, and there are numerous treatment options.

By knowing the signs and symptoms, consulting with your veterinarian, and understanding the various treatment options, you can make a significant difference in your dog’s quality of life. Throughout the journey, never hesitate to reach out to Bond Vet for guidance and support! 

Better care,
Right when you need it

Book a visit