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What is Patellar Luxation?

If your dog’s patellar luxation is congenital (present at birth), the affliction may not be noticed until about six weeks of age because it can be mistaken for clumsiness or slow learning. Developmental luxation is usually thought to be from hereditary ligament or skeletal conformation and will be evident as your puppy ages. Any kind of injury to the leg such as a fracture or sprain, can cause immediate patellar luxation that is obvious right away.

The most commonly affected breeds of dog include the Shih Tzu, Toy Poodle, Chihuahua, Maltese, Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, Japanese Chin, Beagle, Pekingese, Basset Hound, Chow Chow, Cocker Spaniel, Australian Shepherd, Chinese Shar Pei, Lhasa Apso, Shiba Inu, and Dachshund. Some large breeds that are affected include St. Bernards, Huskies, Boxers, Malamutes, Akitas, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

A patellar luxation is a common disorder in which the kneecap is displaced or dislocated from the knee joint where it belongs. This may be a condition the dog has when born (congenital) or may develop later in life (developmental). Although trauma to the knee can cause patellar luxation, it is usually hereditary in nature and affects toy breeds most often.

However, other breeds have been reported as having patellar luxation as well. This condition causes mild to severe pain, depending on which grade of luxation your dog has. Unless it is caused by an injury, the grade starts at 1 (mild) and progresses to 4 (severe) without treatment. If it is caused by an injury, it can start at any grade, depending on the severity of the injury. Patellar luxation is almost always in the rear legs and will cause lameness eventually without treatment, causing a skipping type gait.

Symptoms of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

The symptoms of patellar luxation depend on the cause and the grade of the condition. Most commonly, the signs include:

  • Limping
  • Abnormally carrying leg or legs
  • Inability to bend the knee
  • Pain when moving the leg
  • Will not run or jump
  • Refusing to exercise
  • Swelling
  • Weak legs
  • Crying out in pain when used or manipulated

Types

A patellar luxation comes in four different grades depending on severity. These grades include:

  • Grade 1 – Minimal lateral deviation, no cracking sounds, slight rotation of the tibia, and returns to the original position after extension
  • Grade 2 – Up to 30 degrees of torsion in the tibial crest, frequently moves from its intended position, almost permanently luxated, very difficult but possible to move patella back in place
  • Grade 3 – Flattened knee joint, permanently luxated with a tibial crest of 30 to 50 degrees, still usable but held in a partially flexed position
  • Grade 4 – Permanently luxated with up to 90 degrees deviation, knee joint is flat or convex, unable to use the leg normally
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Causes of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

The cause of patellar luxation includes:

  • Congenital

    – Present at birth

  • Developmental

    – Develops over time but is considered to be a hereditary deformity or weakness in the ligaments or bones in the knee

  • Traumatic

    – Results from an injury or accident that damages the knee ligaments or bones

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Diagnosis of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

If this is a congenital condition, your puppy will probably be diagnosed at his first appointment with your veterinary professional. However, in the case of hereditary or traumatic patellar luxation, the condition will make itself known when it is at a high enough grade. A physical examination will be performed right away, which will likely include auscultation, palpation, vital signs, lameness assessment, and behavioral analysis. 

Be sure to tell the veterinarian if your pet has been sick or injured recently and if you have given him any medication, even if it is an herbal supplement. Some medications can affect the symptoms and may not interact well with the drug your veterinarian proposes to use for treatment. The veterinarian will run some blood tests such as a blood count and chemical analysis as well as radiography like x-rays, CT scans, ultrasound, and an MRI.

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Treatment of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

To treat your dog for patellar luxation, the grade and your dog’s health will be taken into consideration. Surgery is the most obvious and commonly chosen treatment, but the veterinarian may try a leg brace or bandage, cage rest, and medication instead.

Surgery

The operational technique depends on the grade of the condition and the results vary depending on the cause of the patellar luxation. The veterinarian may choose to use fascial release incisions on the side of the knee or knees affected, soft tissue realignment, inserting pins into the tibia to create a fixed position, or bone shaping to deepen the groove of the femur.

Medication

Steroids, NSAIDs, and narcotics can be given for pain and inflammation. In addition, there are supplements such as glucosamine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and collagen injections that may be helpful for pain.

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Recovery of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

Your dog’s prognosis is good but depends on the grade of the patellar luxation. In very severe cases, the limb may need to be amputated to stop the pain. Mild to moderate cases are treated with surgery or medication and should return your dog to normal health in no time at all.

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Patellar Luxation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Lennon

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Lab/Cocker Spaniel Mix

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18 Months

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

My dog has been diagnosed with a grade 2 luxating patella. However, my current vet doesn't do orthopedic surgery. A lot of other vets in my town have a very cold personality and I dont know if I can trust them with my animal. There is one that is on vacation for 2 weeks that could perform it and I trust. Only other option is to drive over an hour away for his surgery. Just wondering if it would be best to get it done this week or if waiting 2 more weeks would cause more serious complications.

Sept. 18, 2018

Lennon's Owner

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Russ

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Mix breed

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6 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Less Energef
Takes Time To Get In Or Out The Car

It has been 5 days since i found my dog is less energetic although he walks on his four legs,he cant go down the stairs without trying to lift his back legs, but he walks normally but slower than the usual I took him to the vet today and he showed me how easily he moves his leg that has patellar Luxation, he told me to let him take medications for a weak and then decide whether it should be treated medically or by a surgery My question is which grade he has if he walks normally but has a problem in going down the stairs and takes time to sit down as welll going in or outside the car

July 22, 2018

Russ' Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

We grade patellar luxations based on how mobile the kneecap is and where it sits normally, and I can't give you that answer without seeing Russ. If your veterinarian felt that giving him medication for a week and re-evaluating was a valid treatment plan, that makes sense, and we do that for lower grade luxations fairly commonly.

July 22, 2018

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Rio

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Lhasa Apso

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4 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Droop Tail

I am looking for any professional advice as I am at wits end. My 4yo Lhasa Apso's tail dropped between her legs about 4 weeks ago. We thought it was digestive so we changed her diet to no avail. Our Vet cleared her digestive track but diagnosed her with a stage 2 petellar luxation (X-rays) and suggested rest and medicine. It has been two weeks since then with no change. She is still active, eating the same and always looking for her daily walks. Her weight is very healthy. She can not squat to poop so she spins instead. I have to wonder if it is something other/additional to the luxation. To summarize she is a happy healthy pup who eats fine and is very active but can not squat to poop with her tail down 24/7. Thank you in advance for your advice.

June 26, 2018

Rio's Owner


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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

The patellar luxation may cause some difficulty when trying to defecate due to issues with bending the knees, however I cannot determine any specific cause for the issue that Rio is having without examining her first. I really do not know what to suggest for a case like this and would recommend visiting another Veterinarian for a second opinion to see if they can shed some light on another possible cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 26, 2018

My dog is having the same symptoms, she does also have the luxation but I don’t think that’s it neither does the vet, they think pinched nerve in her back, did your dog recover, my dog is a Pom and her tail is down to, she can’t squat to poop or pee either, I’m desperate to help her, thanks Lisa

Sept. 5, 2018

Lisa R.

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TBD

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Shiba Inu

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8 Weeks

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

None

I am about to adopt a shiba inu when it is 10 weeks old. At it's 8 week vet appointment she had a grade 1/4 patellar luxation. The puppy currently is asymptomatic and no evidence of lameness in the affected leg. Since was diagnosed at this early age, what is the prognosis? As a hereditary condition is it highly probably that the condition will become symptomatic at some point and require surgery? I've looked at some peer reviewed articles and texts and haven't found a clear answer. I understand there are a lot of factors that play a role in worsening of the condition, but I'm just wondering from a practitioner point of view how often it is that as a puppy with this condition will need surgery later on vs. the condition doesn't become that severe. Thanks in advance!

June 8, 2018

TBD's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

It really depends, what is more important is what happening whilst a dog is growing and the activity during the life; there are also various different factors including ligament laxity, malformation of the femur and tibia, other limb deformities which may impact severity as well as other factors apart from a shallow groove. However, I cannot generalise since there are too many factors to consider. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 9, 2018

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Timmy

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Poodle

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

My very active two year old poodle has always skipped when walking but 5 weeks ago I found him sitting in the garden refusing to move. He was shaking and trembling and for about a week hid under the bed and refused to come out. He almost refuses to walk and when pushed gives a yelp and lifts his back left leg after a few metres. He puts it down again and then it happens again. Or he walks holding the back left up. He won´t walk on hard surfaces at all. I have taken him to 3 vets and none of them have any idea what the problem is. He doesn´t react to manipulating the leg, the x rays don´t show anything and the blood tests are clear. I found some information on line about luxating patella. Is it possible that this would not show up on an x ray. Or one vet suggested it could be neurological. Or? We are getting a little desperate and our poor dog is depressed. Thank you.

May 30, 2018

Timmy's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Patellar luxation is a possibility but it would be something which would be checked for by physically manipulating the patellar out of its groove which is easy to do in moderate to severe cases; x-rays may not show much if the patellar is in place at the time of x-ray. Neurological issues and spinal/hip issues are another possibility, but without examining Timmy myself I cannot really say what the specific cause is. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 31, 2018

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Kira

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Pomeranian

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5 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping Of Right Rear Leg, Panting

After I bathed my dog 2 days ago she started limping about 10 minutes after I had finished. She had no obvious trauma or accident to cause her limping. I took her to the vet yesterday and they said she has a luxating patella grade 2 on the right side and a grade 1 on the left side but the vet only gave diagnosis from feeling both her legs but no blood test or diagnostic tests were done. He prescribed medication 1x/per day/7days. My Pom last night kept getting up to pant heavily on and off throughout the night. She is still limping and having trouble defecating (which I have noticed is more orange and softer in texture). I’m not sure what to do now, whether to wait it out (if so, for how long?) or to go and get her checked again?

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Mizo

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Bichon poodle

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Patellar Luxation

Hello I need help with my dog, he had a sudden problem with his bag leg it is stressed and cut put it on the floor, he has pain when we try to touch it, he is hardly moving, X ray didn't show anything

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Kenji

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Shiba Inu

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6 Months

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

I have a 6 month old male Shiba. He had no luxating patella issue when he was examined before we brought him home at 8 weeks. Last week, he heard a loud noise, jumped, and started screaming and yelling. Since then, he occasionally limps but doesn’t seem to be in pain. I took him to the vet yesterday and he said he had grade II traumatic patellar luxation and would require surgery. Should I get another opinion? Is there any chance it will get better without surgery?

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