A common problem in tiny dogs, patellar luxation is the technical term for floating kneecaps, or “trick knees.” This condition tends to manifest during times of activity when the kneecap, or patella, pops out of its socket. This will cause the dog to take their weight off the luxated leg.
The problem can seem to come out of nowhere and just as quickly right itself when the kneecap re-enters its socket. Here are the key facts.
What Is Patellar Luxation?
The patella, or kneecap, should sit snugly inside a groove between the femur and tibia (upper and lower leg bone, respectively), held in place by a series of ligaments. In large breed dogs, the groove is deep, giving the patella a nice crevice to call home. However, in smaller breed dogs, this groove is far more shallow, leaving more of the kneecap hanging out and putting a greater strain on the ligament holding it in place.
As such, there are two main types of genetic problems that can lead to patellar luxation. The first (and most common) is an abnormally shallow groove between the leg bones, making it easy for the kneecap to pop out. This problem is often paired with another malformation, which is a weakening of the ligaments due to the excess strain placed on them by having to compensate for the shallow groove.
The second type is a result of the tibia ligament being offset slightly, throwing off the joint alignment and causing the kneecap to be easily removed from its socket. This problem is most common in dogs with short legs (like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds).
Which Breeds are Most Affected?
While there are a veritable ton of breeds that can develop patellar luxation, the breeds most likely to develop this condition are:
How Serious is Patellar Luxation?
It depends. Patellar luxation can occur at varying degrees of severity (grades 1-4), and whichever group your dog falls into will determine the best treatment option.
- Grade 1 - The kneecap will pop out only occasionally, and when it does, it will pop itself back in place.
- Grade 2 - Only slightly more serious than grade 1. Here the kneecap may occasionally need a hand resetting itself, but when it is popped back into place, it will stay there until the next incident.
- Grade 3 - The kneecap is popped out most of the time, and while it can be reinserted manually, it tends to pop itself right back out again.
- Grade 4 - The kneecap is almost always outside of the groove, and is nearly impossible to get it reinserted.
What Can I Do About It?
Patellar luxation is a degenerative condition, meaning it will get worse over time, especially if nothing is done to treat it. The earlier you make an effort to reduce the effects of the condition, the less likely it is that your dog will require surgery.
- Daily Exercise: Although it might seem counterintuitive, keeping your dog active is a great way to prevent the condition from getting worse. By building muscle tone and keeping your dog at a healthy body weight, you can reduce the effects of this condition substantially.
- Joint Supplements: There are plenty of vet-verified supplements designed to bolster joint health in dogs, so try adding one of these to their diet.
- Diet: There are plenty of prescription dog foods that contain a specially formulated diet designed to maximize joint rehabilitation.
- Chiropractic/Acupuncture Treatment: Having a specialist work on your pet's problem areas can help prevent the degradation of their condition.
- Medication: For more serious cases, medicine like Adequan Injections can help slow the onset of the condition, improving joint fluid production.
- Surgery: If the condition has gone too far and your pet is in constant pain, the only remaining option is to let a vet get in there and reshape the groove in their knee. This is certainly the most extreme solution, and while it will put your dog out of commission for a while, chances are that when they spring back, you will notice a drastic change in their mobility and overall disposition.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a luxating patella heal itself in a dog?
Patellar luxation is generally not a life-threatening condition, but it can cause discomfort and affect the dog's quality of life. The severity of patellar luxation is typically classified into four grades, with grade 1 being the mildest and grade 4 being the most severe. In mild cases, where the patella is only occasionally luxating, conservative management such as weight management and physical therapy may be recommended. However, in more severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to correct the problem and alleviate pain. Surgical treatment may involve procedures such as deepening the groove in which the patella sits, realigning the quadriceps muscles, or using sutures to stabilize the patella in its proper position. The specific procedure used will depend on the severity of the condition and the individual dog's anatomy and needs.
How long can a dog live with luxating patella?
In many cases, dogs with grade I or II luxating patella can live their entire life without any significant problems, especially if the condition is managed properly with weight management, exercise restriction, and physical therapy. However, grade III or IV luxations are more severe and can cause increased pain, arthritis, and reduced mobility. These cases may require surgical intervention to correct the problem and prevent further complications. Delaying surgery in these cases can lead to further joint damage and increase the likelihood of long-term complications.
Is it OK to walk a dog with luxating patella?
Yes, it is generally okay to walk a dog with a luxating patella as long as the dog is not experiencing pain or discomfort during the activity. Exercise, including walking, can help maintain muscle strength, prevent weight gain, and promote overall health and well-being in dogs with luxating patella. However, it is important to manage the dog's exercise appropriately, as overexertion or excessive activity can aggravate the condition and lead to pain or discomfort. Your veterinarian can help determine the appropriate level and type of exercise for your dog based on their individual needs and condition.
What age does luxating patella start?
Luxating patella can occur at any age in dogs, but it is most commonly diagnosed in young dogs between the ages of six months and two years. Small breeds such as Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers are particularly prone to the condition, but it can occur in dogs of any size or breed. In some cases, luxating patella may be present at birth, while in others, it may develop as the dog grows and their bones and joints mature. The exact cause of luxating patella is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to genetic factors, conformational abnormalities, and muscle weakness.
What breeds get patella luxation?
The symptoms of luxating patella can vary depending on the severity of the condition, but in some cases, they can be relatively subtle. You might notice that your pet is limping or favoring one leg, or that they have a skip in their step when they walk or run. In some cases, dogs with luxating patella may also hold one paw in the air and not let it touch the ground, particularly after exercise or prolonged periods of activity. This can be a sign that the dog is experiencing pain or discomfort in the affected joint. Other signs of luxating patella can include stiffness, difficulty jumping or climbing stairs, or a reluctance to engage in physical activity. In severe cases, you may also notice a popping or clicking sound when the joint is moved.
More on Joint Problems in Dogs
A Joint Health Exercise Routine for Dogs
5 Ways to Prevent Joint Problems in Your Dog
8 Ways to Treat Dog Joint Pain
Joint Health Products for Pets with Arthritis
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.