Slip Knee Basics: What You Need to Know About Your Dog’s Luxating Patella

luxating patella

Are you worried about the way your dog walks? Does this interfere with normal activities? Your dog may have a luxating patella.

Are you wondering, “What is a luxating patella?” If this condition is new to you, you may not know if it’s serious. Continue reading to learn about the condition and treatment options.

What Is a Luxating Patella?

The patella, also called the kneecap, is a small bone that rides in the groove of the thigh bone (femur). Tendons attach the thigh and lower leg muscles and bones. The patella and its tendon line up with the thigh muscle.

With a luxating patella (LP), the patella moves outside of the groove in the femur with flexion of the knee. This is one of the most common bone problems in dogs. About 7% of puppies have a diagnosis of LP.

This most often occurs in small dogs such as:

  • Boston or Yorkshire terriers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pomeranians
  • Miniature poodles

Yet, the incidence is increasing among larger breeds. Examples include:

  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Flat-Coated Retrievers
  • Akitas
  • Great Pyrenees

Many dogs with this problem have it in both knees. This can cause discomfort and loss of function.

Causes of Canine Patellar Luxation (PL)

Some cases of PL can result from a traumatic knee injury. Yet, for most dogs, the exact cause is unclear. It may occur as a birth defect or the problem can develop as the dog grows.

PL can contribute to other skeletal problems. These include the following:

  • Abnormalities in the hip joint
  • Incorrect formation of the femur
  • Incorrect formation of the tibia (the larger lower leg bone)
  • Changes in the top of the tibia where the patella tendon attaches
  • Tightness and shrinking of the thigh muscle
  • Stretching of the patellar ligament

Since there’s a significant genetic component associated with this disorder, these dogs should not be bred.

Symptoms to Watch For

The severity of the PL impacts the signs and symptoms seen in the dog. Owners should have their dog checked if they notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Ongoing abnormal movement of the back leg(s)
  • Occasional skipping or lameness in the back leg(s)
  • Sudden onset of lameness

The dogs often only feel pain when the kneecap slides out of place.

Luxating Patella Grades

To define the severity of signs and symptoms, veterinarians use a PL grading scale. This helps in making decisions about treatment for the dog.

Grade I

Grade I describes a patella that can be moved out of place when the leg is straight. The knee can flex and extend normally. At this grade, it’s rare for the patella to move out of place on its own.

This is often found during a routine checkup. The dog may never show any symptoms.

Grade II

This describes a patella that can be manually moved out of place but also luxates with flexion of the stifle (knee). With the repeated, active extension of the stifle, the patella will often return to place. Sometimes the veterinarian may need to move it back into place.

Grade III

At this grade, the patella remains out of place but can be moved into place with ease. Yet, the patella slides back out of place with the removal of the manual pressure.

The dog may stop abruptly during a walk and look at the affected limb. The owner may notice the dog kicking this leg to the side or back which often realigns the patella.

At Grades II and III, the dog often skips or hesitates to jump or walk down slopes. Owners may feel or hear a “click” or “pop” as the dog moves or walks.

Grade IV

Dogs with grade IV luxation experience ongoing lameness and don’t put weight on the affected leg. It’s common to see them stretch out the leg and not use it when walking. At this point, the patella can’t be moved back into place.

How Is a Luxating Patella Diagnosed?

Veterinarians most often diagnose the problem based on their physical examination. X-rays can help show the amount of limb deformity and if osteoarthritis is present. This is important information for creating a plan of care.

What Is the Treatment for a Luxating Patella?

Luxating patella dog treatment depends on the grade of luxation. Other factors considered include:

  • Whether the dog has other health problems
  • The dog’s age
  • Financial or personal limitation of the owner

Surgical intervention is often offered for grade III or IV luxation. Depending on these factors, some surgeons will treat grade II as well.

Puppies and young adult dogs benefit the most from surgical interventions. This decreases early wear on the cartilage in the stifle joint. It can also decrease the worsening of skeletal deformities.

The surgery realigns the quadriceps’ (thigh’s) extensor apparatus. This stabilizes the patella to keep it in proper alignment which subsequently reestablishes normal joint function.

Dogs with grade IV luxation may need several surgeries to correct the problem. The dog will also need to return frequently for checkups and X-rays to make sure the bones heal correctly. Activity levels restrictions and physical rehabilitation exercises are essential to proper healing.

There are also conservative treatment options for PL. These include pain management using analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The veterinarian may also prescribe special foods or supplements.

You can apply a cold pack to help with pain and swelling. This is often referred to as cryotherapy.

Physical rehabilitation exercises can help decrease pain and increase function. The focus is on strengthening the back-leg muscles.

Other treatments include transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture, therapeutic ultrasound, or laser therapy.

Does Your Dog’s Joint Problems Stem From A Luxating Patella?

Have you noticed that your dog favors a leg, skips, or picks it up and doesn’t use it to walk? Does he or she avoid jumping or going down slopes? Do you hear or feel clicking or popping?

These could be signs of a luxating patella. When in doubt, definitely consult your vet on it. As with most things health, staying proactive is key! Hopefully this article has provided you with a solid overview of this condition and treatment options.

At Bark Nutrition, we provide canine supplements to improve joint health. To learn more, check out the product page for our “Complete Joint Care For Dogs”.

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