Luxating Patella in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Dog Health

Have you noticed your dog walking strangely as if it feels uncomfortable? Maybe your pet is hopping around awkwardly and stretching its legs frequently? These are possible signs of canine luxating patella.

The condition sounds like a mouthful. So what exactly is it? In this blog, you’ll learn about the causes, signs, and treatment.

What is Luxating Patella in Dogs?

Canine luxating patella happens when your dog’s patella (or kneecap) shifts out its proper placement. The kneecap rests on your dog’s femur bone, but canine luxating patella causes the kneecap to slip out of alignment. As a result, your dog could experience lameness

Lameness could cause your dog to skip or hop on one leg to try to reposition and align its popped kneecap. You may notice your dog yelp out in pain when its kneecap dislocates, and hear a faint “clicking” sound as the kneecap moves in and out of the groove. 

What Causes Luxating Patella in Dogs?

Luxating patella in dogs is a congenital or developmental disorder, which means that it’s inborn. However, traumatic injuries such as tearing and overstretching your dog’s joints may also make your dog more prone to developing the condition. 

On a similar note, your dog’s kneecaps could pop out of place because of its body structure. For instance, if the soft tissues that support his kneecaps are too tight or loose, it could cause the kneecap to slip out of place more easily.

Another factor that could contribute to the condition is the groove in your dog’s femur or thigh bone. If it isn’t curved deeply enough, it’ll be harder for the kneecap to fit and stay in place properly. 

Some dog breeds tend to be more prone to developing the condition, such as: 

  • Boston terrier
  • Chihuahua
  • Miniature poodle
  • Pomeranian
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • French bulldog
  • Shih-Tzu
  • Pug

How to Tell If Your Dog Has Luxating Patella

It’s easy to detect luxating patella early on in your dog’s life, but some symptoms tend to develop later on. Here are some signs you can watch out:

  • Changes in walking: You may notice your pet may seem to walk uncomfortably or with an unusual posture.
  • Hopping & skipping: You may find your pooch moving around strangely by pausing in between to hop and skip. Your dog may move around like this to slip it’s kneecap back into place. 
  • Leg stiffness: Kneecaps help ensure that your dog walks properly. If your canine’s kneecaps shift out of place, its movement will seem somewhat stiff in its affected legs.

How Do You Diagnose Luxating Patella?

If you suspect your dog has luxating patella, take them to the vet ASAP. After all, early detection will help your dog recover more quickly. It can also help prevent other problems such as lameness and arthritis.

Your vet will conduct a physical exam which will involve observing the way your canine walks. The vet will also check for your pet’s kneecap stability and look for signs of pain.

Diagnostic imaging is another test your vet may conduct to help confirm and assess the condition. The process makes it easier for your vet to see whether your dog’s kneecaps are misaligned.

Once your vet has obtained enough info, they’ll assess the severity of the condition, which could be one of four types:

  • Grade 1 – Your canine’s kneecap is generally in the proper position.But if it happens to pop out, it’ll be easy to realign the patella to its proper place.
  • Grade 2 – Kneecaps tend to remain in the proper position but pop out more easily. Manual replacement can help realign the popped kneecap.
  • Grade 3 – The patella is generally out of position but can be manually placed back. It could still slip right out of place later on, however.
  • Grade 4 – Your dog’s kneecap is always out of position. Manually putting the patella back into proper placement is almost impossible at this stage.

How Do You Treat Luxating Patella?

Your dog may be diagnosed with luxating patella, but there are many things you can do to keep your pet happy and healthy. We’ve listed some of the treatment options below. 

Physical Therapy

Dogs with a Grade 1 or 2 luxating patella can be treated with proper physical therapy and exercise. Physical therapy can help your dog train and strengthen its leg muscles to prevent the kneecaps from slipping out of place.

Weight Management

You may also help your dog maintain a healthy weight. This helps reduce the stress that the extra pounds put on the knees. 

Pain Relief

Your vet can also prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication to ease your dog’s pain symptoms and discomfort. 


Dogs with a Grade 3 or 4 luxating patella usually need to undergo surgery to help prevent lameness and severe pain. Since the cost for surgeries and other medical treatments can get steep, it helps to get a dog insurance plan.

During the procedure, your vet will realign the kneecap and make sure it stays intact. Your vet could deepen the groove of the femur, move the joint, or add support to your dog’s knee.

After the surgery, your dog will need to rest and observe the proper post-care practices. As the owner, you’ll need to be responsible for restricting vigorous movement, maintaining the proper diet, and getting enough light exercise. That way, your canine will recover faster and get back on track to a better quality of life.

To learn more about how you can help take care of your dog and treat other conditions or injuries, explore the TLPOInfo blog.

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