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Luxating Patella in Dogs

A dog’s kneecap should sit comfortably in a dog’s femur. A luxating patella occurs when the kneecap temporarily dislocates and shifts out of its normal position, sometimes referred to as a “floating kneecap”. A patellar luxation is one of the most common causes of hind leg lameness in dogs and extremely common in small dogs. Most dogs are diagnosed with a luxating patella at a young age, usually around 4 months old. 

Symptoms of a luxating patella: 

When a dog’s kneecap shifts they may cry out, walk on three legs, or make a hopping step until the kneecap slides back into the groove. Other signs of a luxating patella include:

  • Limp in back leg when no injury is apparent
  • Reluctance to run or jump
  • Swelling around the knee
  • Difficulty standing 
  • Shaking or extending the hind leg to reposition the kneecap
  • Temporary paralysis in knee
  • Bow legged stance
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Piper in her dog rear lift harness
Warrior Rear Harness
drag bag for paralyzed dog
Walkin’ Drag Bag

Is a luxating patella painful? 

Yes, when a dog’s kneecap shifts out of place it can be quite painful, but the pain passes very quickly. Dogs experiencing a patellar luxation will stop, lift their leg up off the ground, and cry out. Once the kneecap shifts back into the patellar groove, the pain will stop and the dog will walk normally again. 

Even though the pain may be gone, the condition remains and it will happen again. After months or years your dog’s knee will wear down the inner groove of the femur, which means the luxation will get worse. If left untreated, overtime arthritis will develop in the knee causing permanent joint pain, stiffness and possible mobility loss. 

Patellar Luxation Treatment

Your dog’s treatment plan will be determined based of the grade of their patellar luxation. A grade 1 through grade 2 patellar luxation is typically treating through conservative management. Whereas a more advanced grade (grade 3 or 4) will likely require surgical repair.

Conservative Management

Red golden retriever wears knee brace for patellar luxation

A conservative treatment plan for a luxating patellar will blend physical therapy, medication, and weight management. Extra body weight places additional pressure and strain on the knee joint. Any dog diagnosed with a luxating patella needs to modify their diet and exercise regularly. Work with a canine therapist to create a plan to keep your dog moving. Through hydrotherapy and treadmill exercise your dog will work to build up muscle strength around their knee to keep the patella properly aligned.

Additionally, a custom tarsal brace is beneficial to support the knee joint and keep the patellar properly positioned.

Luxating Patella Surgery in Dogs

Surgical repair is the preferred treatment method for dogs with grade 3 or grade 4 patellar luxation. During surgery, the orthopedic surgeon deepens the patellar groove to keep the patellar positioned correctly. In a more advanced case, the surgeon may alter the ligament position to hold the kneecap in place and stabilize the knee even further. Post-operative recovery is typically a fast process and most dogs have an excellent prognosis. Dogs without arthritis in their knee joint should regain full use of their hind leg. In cases where the dog does have arthritis in their knee, they may experience some leg pain and the arthritis may worsen.

Dog Wheelchairs for Patellar Luxation

Happy dog in wheelchair during rehab therapy

A dog wheelchair can help dogs whose mobility is negatively impacted by severe patellar luxation. For dogs where surgery isn’t an option or a long recovery process is expected, a wheelchair’s support is a great way to keep your dog mobile.

The hind end is supported by leg rings directly under the pelvis, and the wheels sit in line with the dog’s hips to keep them upright and in a natural standing position. The cart supports the dog’s back legs and reduces the pressure placed on thebad knee so that the pup can continue to walk and exercise without straining the knee. A canine mobility cart is often recommended as a part of a dog’s rehab program to encourage exercise and keep the dog active as they heal.

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