Patellar luxation is a frequently occurring canine knee condition. Around 7% of puppies are born with genetic knee and lower leg abnormalities that cause patellar luxation. Occasionally, trauma can alter a dog’s knee mechanics. While most affected dogs cope well and live normal lives, those with moderate or severe patellar luxation may require treatment. If you suspect your dog has patellar luxation, visit our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team for an evaluation, and we can provide orthopedic and rehabilitation services to treat your canine companion’s condition. 

What is patellar luxation in dogs?

The patella (i.e., kneecap) is a small bone embedded in a dog’s major knee tendon. The bone typically sits in a groove at the end of the femur, but a luxated (i.e., dislocated) patella sits outside this groove. Patellar luxation is graded from 1 to 4. In grade 1, the patella occasionally slips from its track, while in grade 4, the patella is always out. 

Most dogs with this condition are small and toy breeds with medial patellar luxation (MPL) in which the kneecap moves inward toward the body’s center. A few large breeds, including Shar-peis, Akitas, and flat-coated retrievers, have lateral patellar luxation (LPL) in which the kneecap moves to the leg’s outer side. One or both legs can be affected. 

What are patellar luxation signs in pets?

The classic patellar luxation sign is a skip in a dog’s gait. While they are running or walking, they suddenly hold up a rear limb for a few steps, then put it down. The kneecap slip may cause pain, or the dog may barely notice. Other signs can mimic many different orthopedic problems and may include:

  • Intermittent lameness
  • Joint stiffness or swelling if arthritis is present
  • Bow-legged or knock-kneed appearance

Most dogs with patellar luxation live an everyday life without restrictions. However, the abnormal joint mechanics may cause a dog to develop arthritis later in life.

How is canine patellar luxation diagnosed?

Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team often diagnoses patellar luxation during a puppy’s or developing young adult dog’s routine wellness visit. Our team will diagnose the condition and grade the problem if we can manually displace the patella from the groove during a physical examination or if we feel the patella displace while bending (i.e., flexing) your pet’s knee. Our team may also recommend X-rays if we suspect your dog has arthritis or other joint changes.

How is canine patellar luxation treated?

Many pets with mild patellar luxation do not need any treatment because they do not experience significant pain or disability. Small pets with moderate to severe cases and large dogs with persistent lameness or other associated orthopedic problems, such as hip dysplasia or cruciate ligament tears, often require treatment. 

A pet with an orthopedic condition may require medical or surgical treatment. Our veterinary team will make treatment recommendations based on the pros and cons of each. Surgery is successful in most cases but often requires leg bone reshaping or repositioning, so recovery can take several months. Keep in mind that for some pets, surgery may prevent arthritis development but accelerate disease onset for others. 

How does canine patellar luxation impact quality of life?

This condition does not significantly impact most dogs, but some may deal with recurring lameness and arthritis. Medical or surgical treatments are effective in most cases so that patellar luxation does not affect most pets’ quality of life or reduce their life span. The American College of Veterinary Surgeons states that 90% of people are satisfied with their pet’s surgical outcome to repair luxating patellas. If you hope to help your pet avoid surgery, our veterinary team will explain these alternative:

  • Joint health supplements
  • Prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medications
  • Physical rehabilitation modalities
  • Alternative therapies (e.g., acupuncture, chiropractic)
  • Laser therapy

Canine patellar luxation prevention

Because patellar luxation occurs secondary to leg shape abnormalities, the condition is likely inherited to some degree. Interview breeders to ensure the condition does not run in their lines and that they aren’t breeding dogs who develop patellar luxation. Providing puppies with appropriate nutrition for their breed and size may reduce general developmental joint and orthopedic problem risks.

Schedule your pet’s orthopedic consultation with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team. We can explain more about your canine companion’s medical and surgical treatment options.