Luxating Patella in Dogs: Diagnosis and Treatment

by | May 12, 2021

Luxating Patella

Luxating Patella in Dogs: Diagnosis and Treatment

Learn more about our course on patellar luxation surgery procedure for Cats & Dogs

Small dogs are highly prone to a luxating patella, such as Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians and Chihuahuas. However, it can affect all dog breeds.

Patella luxation is where the kneecap has moved out of place. It’s usually necessary for the dog to undergo surgery because it can cause your dog immense pain, but occasionally therapy and medication can treat it.

This article will answer all the common questions we receive about luxating patella in dogs.

Note – For those who don’t come from a scientific background, a few terms to help you understand:

Patella – the kneecap located at the front of the knee joint.

Luxate – a medical term meaning to put out of joint or dislocate.

Is luxating patella painful for dogs?

It varies from case to case. In most cases the patella will luxate in and out of its normal position without discomfort to the dog.

The lameness that people see when their dog is running around is considered more of a biomechanical lameness rather than a painful lameness. This is where the limb does not function correctly, resulting in the dog skipping.

In some situations, it can be painful as the patellar slides over the trochlear ridge or where there is development of osteoarthritis.

How do you treat luxating patella in dogs?

It depends how bad it is but usually the treatment is surgery. The aim of the surgery is to correct the alignment between the quadriceps mechanism (the quadricep muscles, the patella and the patellar tendon) with the insertion of the patellar tendon and the trochlear groove.

The specific surgery that is performed in most cases involves a combination of procedures: tibial crest transposition +/- trochleoplasty (this is to deepen the trochlear groove). Soft tissue repair is also done to address the balance of forces on the medial and lateral aspect of the stifle joint.

Surgery success is around 90% with animals having a good to excellent outcome that is complication free.

Can a dog live with luxating patella?

The quality of life and the degree of the dysfunction depends on the severity of the luxation. However, this is a simplistic view.

So, the short answer is yes, but there are reasons to pursue surgical correction of patellar luxation:

  • To reduce the clinical signs/lameness
  • To reduce the risk of cranial cruciate ligament disease
  • To reduce the risk of cartilage damage and osteoarthritis development

How do you know if your dog has a luxating patella?

It depends on the severity of the condition, but these are some noticeable signs:

  • Your dog is slow to get up or flops down to rest
  • Your dog may try to kick the patellar back into place so you may notice abnormal movement
  • Your dog is walking usually or seems unbalanced
  • Your dog’s behaviour has changed, such as lack of enthusiasm for walks or appears lethargic
  • Lameness

Vets diagnose a luxating patella via palpation of the stifle (knee) and palpation of the patellar moving or luxating. Radiographs can be useful to further assess changes in the stifle.

How much does the operation cost?

The cost depends on the vet clinic or hospital that you go to, as well as the experience of the surgeon. In Australia, the cost is usually between $2500-$5000.

Can a luxating patella get worse?

Once animals reach skeletal maturity, the grade of the patella luxation won’t get worse. It’s possible for animals to develop cartilage damage and osteoarthritis. It’s also thought that when the patellar is luxated, that the risk of cranial cruciate ligament disease increases.

In young animals that are growing, the grade of patellar luxation can get worse as the bones grow. This often occurs between 5-12 months of age.

How do you fix luxating patella without surgery?

There is no effective ‘fix’ for patella luxation without surgery. Treatment becomes symptomatic and aimed at managing pain and inflammation.

If left untreated, the condition can result in worsening of osteoarthritis and cartilage damage. Also a higher risk of cranial cruciate ligament disease.

Should I buy a puppy with a luxating patella?

There are many things to consider when getting a puppy with a luxating patellar including:

  • The age and grade of luxation
  • The breed, size and temperament of the dog
  • The amount of exercise the dog will be getting (eg. pet or working dog)
  • If the condition is unilateral or bilateral
  • The willingness to perform surgery on the dog

Does glucosamine help a luxating patella?

There is limited evidence to suggest that glucosamine is an effective medication in dogs for management of osteoarthritis.

How long does it take for dogs to recover from surgery?

Recovery from surgery is typically around eight weeks. In most cases, post-operative radiographs are taken eight weeks after surgery to check that the healing is complete.

What are the success rate for the surgery?

The rate of success for the surgery for dogs is 90%. Most animals will have an uncomplicated recovery and be fully functional.

About 10% of cases will have recurrence of the luxation. If this occurs, the it is often a lower grade and may not need any further intervention.

How do you care for dogs after surgery?

All surgeons will have their own specific discharge instructions. Generally, an eight-week period of restrictive movement is required post-surgery. That means no off-leash activity at all for eight weeks.

While at home and inside, dogs should be confined to a small area or crate to restrict their movement. After eight weeks, activity can slowly increase.

During that eight-week period after surgery there should be no running, no playing with other animals or small children and no getting on and off furniture.

Does pet insurance cover surgery?

It depends on the insurance policy.

Can a luxating patella correct itself.

Typically, no.

Written by James Simcock, BVSc (hons), Dip ACVS, Dip ECVS, — Medically
Reviewed by Charles Kuntz, DVM, MS, Dip ACVS