Luxating patella

Patella luxation is one of the most common orthopaedic condition in dogs occurring in nearly 10% of all puppies.


Patella luxation commonly affects smaller dog breeds where the kneecap moves inwards but can occur in larger breed dogs, where the kneecap tends to move outwards. It is a condition whereby the kneecap (patella) intermittently or permanently sits outside the groove in which it should sit. Unfortunately, in small breed dogs, this condition is often inherited from its parents. When the patella is out of the groove it may cause an unstable joint and the dog often holds its back leg up. Over time, this constant moving of the kneecap can cause arthritis and pain.

Early diagnosis is best so that the condition can be managed. This may include pain medication, nutraceuticals, weight management, and surgery. Over 50% of dogs that suffer a luxating patella are affected in both legs.

Breeds commonly affected:

  • Pomeranian
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • Chow chow
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Japanese Chin
  • Pug
  • Dachshund


Common signs of luxating patella:

  • Little or intermittent limping
  • Sudden limping while running
  • Lifting the affected leg off the ground intermittently
  • Bowlegged
  • Reluctance to jump


Common causes of luxating patella:

  • Genetics
  • Trauma


Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose a luxating patella on palpation of the knee joint. Your veterinarian will palpate the knee, look for joint instability, pain and arthritis. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition.

Common grading of luxating patella:

  • Grade 1: the kneecap can be moved out of the joint but returns to normal
  • Grade 2: the kneecap moves spontaneously during movement but returns to normal when the knee extends
  • Grade 3: the kneecap is out most the time but can be returned
  • Grade 4: the kneecap is out permanently and cannot be returned

A dog with a Grade 1 luxating patella runs around happily, only intermittently lifts its leg off the ground and shows no pain. These dogs may only require rest and occasional pain relief.

Where the luxating patella is causing lameness and pain, treatment is warranted to help restore the joint so that the dog can move normally. In these cases, surgery is often the treatment of choice to help stabilize the joint and prevent early arthritis. There are many different surgical techniques. Your veterinarian or specialist will be able to discuss the technique appropriate for your pet.

Post-surgery care may consist of:

  • Strict rest with only leash walking until the sutures are removed
  • Strict exercise program for the first 6-8 weeks following suture removal
  • Sometimes your pet will have a bandage that will require changes 1-3 days after surgery
  • Occasionally, x-rays are required 6-8 weeks following surgery
  • The slow transition to normal exercise after 8 weeks

NOTE: Intradermal sutures are dissolving sutures in the skin that do not require removal. In these cases, your pet will require post-surgery checkups but no sutures will be removed.


Tips to help prevent a luxating patella due to trauma:

  • Avoid strenuous exercise including twisting and jumping off furniture
  • Always warm up with walking or massage prior to exercise
  • Consider non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming