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Luxating Patella in Dogs (Knee Dislocation)

What Is a Luxating Patella in Dogs?

A luxating patella in dogs, also known as a dislocated kneecap, is a prevalent condition where the kneecap (patella) moves sideways from its normal position at the front of the knee joint. In approximately 75% of cases, the luxation tends to happen inward, towards the other hind limb, a condition referred to as medial patellar luxation (MPL). This form is more prevalent in smaller dog breeds. Conversely, in some instances, the patella shifts outward, away from the other leg, known as lateral patellar luxation (LPL). LPL is more frequently observed in larger dog breeds, although MPL remains the more common overall.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a luxating patella in dogs that distinguish it from other conditions include the sudden lifting of one hind limb, which is not commonly observed with other orthopedic issues. Some dogs may vocalize in pain when this occurs, while others may not display any signs of discomfort.

During this abrupt limp, a dog typically elevates their hind limb for a brief duration before resuming normal walking. The affected leg may be held close to the body or extended backward, a behavior often referred to as a “skip” by both veterinarians and pet owners.

Additional symptoms associated with patellar luxation, though not exclusive to it, encompass a limp that fluctuates, a bowlegged stance in the hind limbs, a hunched lower back, and audible cracking or popping noises when the knee is bent. To establish a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian will assess these symptoms in conjunction with their physical examination findings.

Causes

The primary cause of a luxating patella in dogs is typically hereditary, stemming from the abnormal knee anatomy found in affected dogs. However, in certain instances, trauma can also lead to the luxation. While body weight itself does not directly trigger a luxating patella in dogs, it can exacerbate the severity of the condition and elevate the risk of complications if surgical intervention is pursued.

Dog Breeds That Are More Likely to Have a Luxating Patella

Numerous small and large dog breeds are predisposed to developing a luxating patella, including:

Small Breed Dogs:

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Water Spaniel
  • Boston Terrier
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Chihuahua
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Eurasier
  • Japanese Chin
  • Lancashire Heeler
  • Löwchen
  • Maltese
  • Manchester Terrier
  • Mi-Ki
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund
  • Papillon
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu
  • Smooth Haired Fox Terrier
  • Tibetan Spaniel
  • Toy Poodle
  • Xoloitzcuintli
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Large Breed Dogs:

  • Akita
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Flat-Coated Retriever
  • Great Dane
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Newfoundland
  • St. Bernard

Diagnosis

Typically, a physical examination suffices for diagnosing a luxating patella in dogs. In fact, it’s common for the condition to be discovered incidentally during a routine wellness check-up or while examining the dog for another issue. While imaging such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs can reveal a luxating patella in dogs, these diagnostic methods are generally not required for making the diagnosis.

Treatment

Similar to various orthopedic ailments in dogs, treatment avenues for a luxating patella can be categorized into medical and surgical interventions.

Medical Treatment  

In the medical treatment of a luxating patella in dogs, the approach often entails administering anti-inflammatory medications, facilitating weight loss, and implementing temporary restrictions on exercise.

The degree of exercise restriction depends on the severity of the dog’s condition. For dogs with patellar luxation, this may involve simple measures such as preventing them from running up stairs or jumping on furniture, and limiting them to leash walks solely for bathroom breaks.

If confinement to a crate is necessary, the duration varies based on the severity of the condition. Typically, crate rest lasts for a minimum of 6 weeks, and in some cases, it may extend beyond 12 weeks.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatment for a luxating patella in dogs is considerably more complex. Pet owners may opt for surgery in severe cases or when medical interventions have proven ineffective. However, like any surgical procedure, it carries inherent risks and the possibility of complications.

One of the most common postoperative challenges in medial patellar luxation (MPL) surgery is the recurrence of the luxating patella. Recurrence rates can be as high as 36% in severe cases, but are typically lower, around 10%, for milder forms. Other potential complications include implant failure, under- or overcorrection, avulsions (separations or detachments), fractures, infections, seromas (fluid-filled pockets), and the development of progressive arthritis. Large-breed and obese dogs face a higher risk of experiencing these issues. Interestingly, older dogs tend to have fewer complications following surgery.

Living and Management

The recovery and management of a luxating patella in dogs through medical intervention can span several weeks before improvement is noticeable. Depending on the frequency of flare-ups, this approach may necessitate periodic repetition throughout the dog’s life. While exercise commonly triggers flare-ups, they can also occur unexpectedly.

On the other hand, surgical correction entails a considerably longer recovery period, typically lasting at least 8 weeks, and often extending beyond that timeframe. Regular follow-up appointments with the veterinary surgeon are essential components of the dog’s recovery process post-surgery.

Knee Dislocation FAQs

Is a luxating patella painful for dogs?

Mild or coincidentally discovered instances of patellar luxation in dogs are likely not painful and thus do not typically necessitate surgical correction. However, moderate to severe cases, along with chronic instances, can cause discomfort. The initial step in assessing whether your dog’s luxating patella is uncomfortable and requires treatment is to have your veterinarian grade the luxation.

Can a dog live with luxating patella?

Absolutely. Dogs can live with a luxating patella without it impacting their life expectancy. Mild cases typically don’t diminish the dog’s quality of life whatsoever.

However, in moderate to severe instances, dogs may experience chronic limping due to discomfort and pain. Without treatment, the condition can lead to arthritis and other orthopedic issues that significantly affect the dog’s quality of life, despite not impacting life expectancy.

Discussing the advantages and disadvantages of medical management versus surgery with your veterinarian is crucial for devising a plan that optimizes your dog’s comfort and overall well-being.

How much does it cost to fix a luxating patella in dogs?

The cost of addressing a luxating patella in dogs can vary significantly depending on your geographical location. Rural areas often offer lower costs, while urban regions tend to be more expensive.

For cases that necessitate medical management involving anti-inflammatory medication and crate rest, the expenses are generally reasonable and within reach.

Surgical correction is a more intricate and therefore more costly option. Your veterinarian can provide you with an estimate based on your dog’s specific condition.

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

Recognizing whether your dog has a luxating patella typically involves observing specific behavioral cues. In a classic scenario, a small dog may suddenly raise one of its hind limbs while walking or running.

Your dog might proceed for a short distance on three legs before placing the fourth limb back on the ground, seemingly unaffected by the issue. In more severe or chronic cases, your dog might exhibit a persistent limp or a hunched back. Additionally, their knee may emit cracking or popping sounds when bent.

However, these indicators are not exclusively indicative of patellar luxation and may also manifest in other orthopedic conditions. It’s essential to consult your veterinarian for a confirmed diagnosis.

Will a brace help a dog with luxating patella?

No, braces are generally not effective for dogs with a luxating patella.

Although various brace products are marketed as non-surgical solutions for luxating patella, veterinarians typically do not recommend them for several reasons.

Firstly, orthopedic braces for dogs can be expensive, often costing several hundred dollars. Some veterinarians suggest that this money might be better allocated toward surgical correction.

Secondly, these products usually recommend that your dog be “fitted” by a veterinarian. However, most general practitioners are not trained to perform this fitting accurately.

Thirdly, your dog may become agitated by the brace, leading them to shred or damage it. This behavior could result in foreign body obstructions, which pose a more severe threat than a luxating patella.

How much does luxating patella surgery cost for a dog?

While some general practitioners may conduct surgical corrections for orthopedic conditions such as luxating patella in dogs, these procedures are more frequently undertaken by veterinary orthopedic surgeons.

The expenses associated with these specialists can be notably higher compared to those of your regular veterinarian, primarily due to the utilization of advanced treatment and diagnostic equipment.

For more precise information regarding treatment costs and available options in your locality, it’s advisable to consult with your local veterinarian.

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