Since Luke has been diagnosed with luxating patella, I wanted to share more about it. I got information from our vet and vet tech, as well as doing research on the internet (reputable websites only). What I had difficulty finding were personal stories of people that had been through this with their dogs. That’s part of why I want to share our story about it, along with what I’ve learned about the condition.
Disclaimer(s): I am not a veterinarian and I am only sharing what I’ve learned through research and our own experience. If you believe your pet has this condition, you should visit your own vet for professional advice.
This post has been reworked from it’s original publication; slight re-wording and re-formatting, along with the addition of *affiliate links. If you order products through these links we may receive a small commission.
The science: Also known as patellar luxation and floating kneecap.
What is it? A dog’s patella, or kneecap, protects their knee joint. Two bony ridges form a groove in their femur alongside the kneecap, and it normally glides up and down that groove when the joint is bent. Some dogs have grooves that are too shallow, which causes the patella to jump out (luxate) of the grooves sideways. Then the leg locks up, causing the dog to be unable to straighten and walk on their leg.
What causes this? This condition can be caused by trauma, but in most cases it is genetic and congenital (they are born with it). It can be diagnosed at 4 months of age or younger, or at any age, with around a year most common. Luke is 13 months old and we didn’t see any sign of this until he yelped and held up his leg on Thanksgiving night.
Who gets it? It is more common in smaller breeds such as miniature and toy poodles, Pomeranians (supposedly Luke has this breed in his DNA…hmm), and several terriers: Jack Russell, Yorkshire, and Boston. But it is also found in large breeds such as Labrador retriever, golden retriever, huskies, and Great Pyrenees. Cats can have it as well.
How bad is it? There are four different degrees or grades of luxation. In Grade 1, the kneecap can be manually moved out but easily slips back into place. In Grade 2, the kneecap pops out on its own, but can be manually popped back in. In Grade 3, it is out most of the time but can still be put back in. In Grade 4 it is stuck outside, causing the dog to be most likely unable to use their leg at all. Luke has Grade 1 in his left kneecap and Grade 2 in his right.
How is it diagnosed? Luke yelped when running in the snow, then came back to me with his leg in the air. It eventually righted itself and he was fine. It happened intermittently over a few days and so we took him to our vet. This is probably the most common way to know there is a problem, but people may also notice a skip in their dog’s gait or that they sit with their knee stuck out.
Luke had to be sedated so that our vet could manually manipulate the leg to see what is going on. Sedation may not always be required, but possibly more in large breed dogs who don’t easily relax their muscles for that manipulation. X-rays can be performed, but our vet did not think that was necessary unless we were looking at surgery.
Are they in pain? Grades 1 and 2 are not extremely painful. Luke only seems to feel pain when the knee pops out, and not every time. In the 3 weeks we’ve been dealing with this now, he has only yelped a very few times. In Grades 3 and 4, the cartilage is probably worn leading to bone to bone contact which can be far more painful.
I don’t want this to get too lengthy, so I am going to break it into two parts. In Part 2 I will write about the different treatments and the prognosis for this condition.
I do want to give a quick update on Luke though. We are still doing our best to keep him resting now. I talked to our vet’s office this morning and they want him resting for two more weeks. His muscles and tissues are pulled due to the luxation and resting will help those heal. His knee is popping out far less often (we even went 2 complete days without it happening at all), and seems to pop back in more quickly. He has started taking joint supplements and we are trying to get him to lose just a couple of pounds to reduce stress on his joints. I’ve started taking him for short walks daily to try to start to build up his muscle strength.
We have all of our stairs inside the house gated off* to keep him from running up and down them so frequently (he doesn’t know how to go slow, or use all of the steps), and I’m training him to use these Pet Gear stairs* up to the couch to reduce his jumping on and off of it. More on all of that next time!
You can read Part 2 in this series by clicking here.
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