Your Dog Was Diagnosed With a Luxating Patella – How Scary!

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that I am not a licensed veterinarian. If your dog was diagnosed with a luxating patella (or you think they may have one) please seek out professional help. I am simply writing this as a concerned pet mom for other dog moms.

So your precious pup/pooch/princess/best friend/ dog was diagnosed with a luxating patella…

I am so incredibly sorry to hear that!

Our family vet diagnosed Dobby, my service pup, with a luxating patella a couple of weeks ago. I was so sad and scared for her and what this might mean for her future. After all, she’s only a year old! But after 2 vet visits, an X-ray, medications, and a whole LOT of Google searching, I have good news, for Dobby and you and your pup!

The good news is that it’s definitely something manageable for you and your pup.

So, first things first!

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What is a luxating patella?

Also known as a floating kneecap, luxating patella is when a dogs patella – AKA kneecap – slides out of the ridge it typically lays in.

Larger dogs’ patellas tend to slide towards the outside and smaller breeds tend to slide towards the inside.

What does a luxating patella look like?

If your dog was diagnosed with a luxating patella, he may be limping or refusing to put a paw down. If he does put all his paws down, he may avoid putting weight on one of them.

Your pup may cry and appear to be in pain, though this won’t necessarily be the case.

So now that you have a general idea of what a luxating patella looks like, what is it, actually?

What causes a luxating patella?

A luxating patella is congenital, meaning that a dog is born with the criteria that cause this disorder.

Luxating patella can be due to a shallow kneecap ridge, such that the bone slides out of place because the ridge it sits in isn’t deep enough to hold it snugly.

However, it can also come about when the ligament holding the kneecap in place are too loose. Think of it as a very soft rubberband with too much slack. A too-slack ligament won’t hold the kneecap in place as effectively as a tighter ligament.

Depending on the degree of slackness or shallowness of the ridge, your dog may start experiencing a floating kneecap at different degrees.

Grade level

A luxating patella comes in four degrees of severity, with 1 being the mildest and 4 being the most severe and requiring surgery.

Grade 1

If your dog was diagnosed with a luxating patella at grade 1, your pooch is still at a very good place.

This may look like your dog walking or running on all four paws, then suddenly lifting one up for a couple of steps and just as quickly putting it back down and continuing the walk or run. It may be hard to identify since they may not even skip a beat!

Their kneecap slides out of place at times but it’s able to slide back into place on its own or with help from you or a vet. There is still plenty of cartilage and healthy joint structure in place so this shouldn’t happen very often and it should not be painful either since the cartilage prevents bone-on-bone friction.

Grade 2

If your dog was diagnosed with a luxating patella at grade 2, don’t worry! A grade 2 is still very manageable.

A grade 2 means that the kneecap sliding in and out can happen pretty much on its own but you or a vet can still pop it back in place manually and it’ll stay there.

This may require you or a vet to pop the kneecap back in but once it’s back, they are running around good as new! They may still do the temporary hopping I described for grade 1, so the two grades may seem pretty similar but anatomically, grade 2 has somewhat deteriorated cartilage.

Grade 3

If your dog was diagnosed with a grade 3 floating kneecap, your pup may start experiencing some pain soon (if they haven’t already).

This is because the cartilage is wearing down from the patella rubbing up on areas where it shouldn’t be.

Once the cartilage is worn down, bone starts rubbing on the bone that used to be protected by the cartilage and bone-on-bone results in a painful arthritis.

At a grade 3, the kneecap is spending more time outside of its proper place than it spends in place so the cartilage is, unfortunately, also wearing down at a faster pace.

Grade 4

If your dog was diagnosed with a grade 4 floating kneecap, your pooch is most likely in pain.

There is likely no more cartilage keeping their kneecap from rubbing up against bone and the kneecap is virtually never in place. Even if you or a vet slide it back in, it slips back out and has nothing keeping it in place due to all the deterioration taking place.

At this point, your pup’s vet should have already presented the option of surgery.

How to manage it

When your dog is still early in the process – either grades 1 or 2 – a change in diet and routine may be all they need to get them on the right track.

Dobby’s diagnosis came along right the week I was traveling back to Miami but once I arrived, my first stop was to buy her some vet-prescribed, joint-safe food options.

I opted for:

As for her routine, I no longer allow her to jump up to and down from surfaces. This includes:

  • chairs,
  • couches,
  • or the bed.

Instead, I’ll pick her up and place her where she wants to go.

I try my best to anticipate what she’ll want, so she doesn’t jump while I’m distracted.

Dobby’s vet explained that jumping and climbing stairs place undue stress on the knees. Therefore, persistent jumping may exacerbate her floating kneecap.

If your pup is at a grade 3 or 4, you may already be considering surgery. After all, surgery would do much to ease their pain and walking.

If your pooch does not like being picked up, consider buying them a small set of doggy stairs to help them climb up onto the bed instead of jumping.

Options for luxating patella surgery

If your dog was diagnosed with a luxating patella, you have two options for luxating patella surgery. Now, I am not a vet, but this is what Dobby’s vet explained to me and what I have found and verified online.

Option 1

In option 1, the vet will focus on the ridge where the kneecap should sit. The surgeon goes in and cuts a deeper ridge so your pup’s kneecap can sit deeper in the knee and not slide out as easily.

Option 2

In option 2, instead of deepening the ridge, the vet goes in and instead reduces the slack on the kneecap ligaments. The vet places a pin in the ligament and using the pin to tighten the slack such that the kneecap is held more tightly in place.

My understanding is that this option carries a risk of the pin migrating within your pup’s leg, though of course, this is something to discuss with your pooch’s vet and/or surgeon.

TL;DR

If your dog was diagnosed with a floating kneecap, the whole situation can be incredibly scary. Especially if your pup already seems to be in pain or if your vet is discussing surgery.

But please, don’t worry.

Many dogs can live their whole lives without needing surgery! Plus, a simple change in diet and routine can go a LONG way towards improving their joint health and mobility.

Did your vet diagnose your pup with a luxating patella?

How are you managing their situation?

I’d love it if you let me know below!

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With all my love,

SC xo