Patellar Luxation in Dogs

Picture of a dog on a blue sofa

Also called a luxating patella, this condition is more likely to affect toy and small breeds. Patellar luxation can sometimes affect larger breeds, although it shows up less frequently in them. It is one of the most common causes of leg lameness in our canine friends, and it even affects some cats.

In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about this health issue – from the symptoms, the different types there are, how it is diagnosed, and what options there are in terms of treatment.

What Is Patellar Luxation?

As scientific as the name of this condition might sound, it actually involves the kneecap slipping from its normal location. Even some people can suffer from this every now and then, but dogs that have this health problem commonly experience it, so they start using that leg less and less.

Most small dogs’ kneecaps move toward the inside, not the outside, and the lateral movement of the kneecap is more common in large breeds.

But why does a luxating patella happen, anyway? There are two possible causes. On the one hand, the dog might have sustained an accident where that part of their body was hit and changed the way the joint, the tendons, and all the other ligaments work together.

On the other hand, some dogs are born with it, so it can also be a congenital disease, but we will go into more details on breed predisposition in a section below.

What pet owners should know is that there are four grades of patellar luxation, and depending on them, the clinical signs and the treatment options might be different.

Grade I doesn’t typically cause any frequent symptoms. The dog’s knee cap might slip from its normal position only on occasion and only after performing certain movements.

Grade II is when the knee cap can switch its position when pressure is applied to the area. Therefore, a veterinarian will be able to easily diagnose the condition at the animal hospital as upon touching and pushing down onto the patella itself or the ligaments surrounding it, it will slip from its position.

Grade III involves the knee cap being out of its normal location for most of the time. This means that getting it back into place requires intervention either from the pet parent or the vet.

Finally, grade IV is when the knee cap has permanently moved from its location and can’t be manually placed in its position. This is the most severe form of patellar luxation, and it also causes the worst symptoms, in that dogs can experience changes in their gait, lameness, as well as loss of mobility.

Breed Predisposition

This condition tends to affect some dog breeds more than it does others. As we have previously noted, it shows up in large pets, but it’s far more common in toy and small breeds.

Some examples of dogs that can be born with it, which points to a genetic predisposition, are the following:

  • Maltese
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Pomeranian
  • Chihuahua
  • Bichon Frise
  • French Poodle

Breeders are encouraged to test the dogs they use for reproduction regularly so as to make sure that they do not risk transmitting it to their offspring.

Also, when you adopt a puppy from any of these breeds, you should ask your breeder for a health certificate issued by a veterinarian attesting that the dog’s parents were not diagnosed with a luxating patella in the past 12-24 months.

Symptoms of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

Not all pets experience a luxating patella in the same way, so the clinical signs can vary from one animal to the next. However, some of the most common ones are listed below:

  • Not wanting to bend the knee
  • Limping in one leg
  • Unwillingness to exercise or even go out for walks
  • Not wanting to jump on and off the couch
  • Local inflammation
  • Abnormal gait
  • Leg stiffness
  • Stopping in the middle of running and holding the affected leg up

How Is Patellar Luxation Diagnosed?

A clinical examination will at least make the vet suspect that the dog has a luxating patella. However, for a clear and correct diagnosis, diagnostic imaging should be used in all cases. X-rays are very useful in this sense, especially if the veterinary and radiology technicians use the right positioning techniques.

Some dogs might have to be sedated while the radiological examination is being performed since the positioning can sometimes cause them to be in pain.

Treatment Options

Surgical correction is the most common type of therapy used for this health issue. Needless to say, grades I to III are easier to operate than grade IV.

The exact type and surgical technique used for the operation are going to depend on the severity of the luxation. Sometimes, soft-tissue procedures might be used along with orthopedic surgery.

Early treatment is generally effective, so this is why we recommend bringing your dog to the animal hospital whenever you see one or several of the symptoms that we have mentioned above.

Since the operation can be quite expensive, you should get pet insurance – especially if you own a dog breed that’s genetically predisposed to developing or being born with a luxating patella.

Final thoughts

Grade I patellar luxation might sometimes not call for surgery, but there are some improvements that can be made on the dog’s lifestyle.

Overweight or obese animals should lose weight as soon as possible as it puts pressure on the patella and the ligaments involved and in time, it could begin to get worse.

Although it might not seem a life-threatening condition, some dogs can experience such severe symptoms and complications that they might have to have their leg amputated. Yearly check-ups can usually reveal patellar luxation, especially with a correct anamnesis.

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