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  • Jennifer Misfeldt, MABTR

What I need to know about dogs with luxating patellas

Updated: Mar 19



When a dog is diagnosed to have a luxating patella, we automatically assume surgery is needed.

Note that less than 50% of luxating patellas need to be repaired. It is important to know if the surgery is warranted, your dog will tell you by showing you his/her discomfort. What is a luxating patella? Patellar luxation occurs when the dog's kneecap (patella) is dislocated from its normal anatomic position in the groove of the thigh bone (femur). A dislocated kneecap is one of the most prevalent knee joint abnormalities in dogs. This condition is congenital and certainly hereditary. Your vet is able to diagnosis a luxatting patella and what grade it is.


Another scenario to consider before jumping to surgery: Out of the blue your dog starts to limp or walk on three. You go to the vet and learn the dog has luxating patellas. We are told surgery needs to be preformed. Remember the dog was born this way so why now. Take a step back and ask for the dog to be placed on carprofen/Rimadyl for two weeks with no exercise. Once medication is finished

-if favoritism continue then surgery to repair should be discussed

-if the dog is back to normal then he/she more likely sprained or strained the leg. Grades (grades do not define if surgery is warranted but instead the type): -the patella can be manually luxated but returns to the normal position immediately -the patella luxates spontaneously and remains dislocated until the dog extends the joint and moves the leg in the opposite direction -the patella is permanently located outside of the groove and does not move; this can cause an odd walk and possible deformity of the leg over time. Surgery is recommended if arthritis is occurring. Symptoms that warrant surgery (remember that dogs have a high pain tolerance. At the end of the day it is how your dog manages his leg that will tell you how to proceed.) · Limping, skipping · Carrying/holding the leg up. · Inability to bend the knee · Swelling/arthritis · Loss of muscle mass (this is evidence that the leg is favored though you may not witness it)

The surgical procedure usually involves carving out a deeper groove in the end of the femur so the patella will remain in the groove with movement. A ligament may also need to be cut in some cases. *See graphic at the end of this page.


Recovery will take months. Your dog may not use his leg for up to three months after surgery.

The first week is critical and you need to assist your dog as much as possible in getting around. Crating is a must at night and during the day when you are not home if he is the type who jumps on and off furniture.

For week two through four allow your dog to do what he is comfortable doing on his terms however you are not to encourage activity and NO WALKS.

On week five and forward you start physical therapy at home by encouraging use of the leg such as going on walks, having him stand on his back two legs and tossing the ball for him to run.

Management (with or without surgery) · Joint support supplements (fish oil, Glucosamine) · Weight reduction · Maintaining muscle mass with good exercise Many small dogs live their entire life with a luxating patella and it never results in arthritis or pain, nor does it interfere with the dog's life.



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