Luxating Patella in Dogs – What the Vet Wants You to Know!

Dr Stavroula Tsovolou

Published by Dr Stavroula Tsovolou

Updated on

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The Definition of Luxating Patella in Dogs 

To begin unraveling this orthopedic condition, we must define what is luxating patella in dogs.

The patella is what is known as the knee cap in dogs. When this knee cap moves out of its normal position, this is known as luxation; hence the term luxation of the patella.

This article will delve into what causes luxating patella in dogs, what you can prevent, and what treatment options are available if your dog is affected.

Doberman in the grass

Is Luxating Patella Genetic in Dogs?

Patellar luxation is a condition that commonly affects young small and toy-breed dogs but also affects large-breed dogs and cats. 

Although trauma to the knee can cause patellar luxation, it is usually due to genetic causes.

Congenital or developmental patellar luxation is either lateral or medial. In large-breed dogs, it is more common to encounter lateral luxation, whereas in small breeds, a medial luxating patella is more common.

Hereditary limb deformities are the leading cause of congenital patellar luxation. For example, these deformities can be an increase or decrease in the angle of the femoral neck and deformities of the tibia and femur bone.

Regarding developmental patellar luxation/ the animals are born with normal knees but begin to develop abnormalities of the bones and muscles of the hind limbs early in life.

The forces of the quadriceps mechanism are the coxofemoral joint, femur, tibia, and stifle joint. Any abnormalities affecting the conformation of these bones lead to patellar luxation.

What are the Signs of This Condition in Canines?

Clinical signs or signs of this condition do not appear at a specific age and are variable.

Most commonly, signs are apparent when the dogs are puppies or young adults. However, this does mean that a mature dog cannot be affected. Bow-legged animals seem to be predisposed.

The most characteristic clinical sign is lameness. The dogs show the distinctive character of a skipping motion when walking. This lameness usually resolves after a few steps.

If both knees are affected, they will also have a stiff gait as the knees are not extending correctly.

What Causes it?

So what causes luxating patella in dogs? 

While trauma can lead to a luxating patella in dogs, it is usually due to conformational deformities of the rear limbs that will affect muscle pull and alignment, leading to luxation of the patella.

The Different Patellar Luxation Grades Explained

According to the severity of the condition, patellar luxation falls into grades from 1 to 4 according to severity. One being the least severe and four the most severe:

  • Grade 1: In grade 1, manual luxation of the patella can is achievable during leg extension. Clinical signs are usually absent, and spontaneous luxation does not occur. There is also no bone deformation present.
  • Grade 2: In grade 2, the patella shows spontaneous luxation, and intermittent lameness is also present. Some deformities may be present such as an internal rotation of the tibia.
  • Grade 3: In grade 3, we can observe permanent luxation of the patella. Here there is a deformation of the bones and the corrosion of the cartilage, which will cause pain to the animal. 
  • Grade 4: In grade 4, severe bone deformities combined with permanent patellar luxation. Most commonly seen in young animals and leads to a permanent deformity that impairs movement if not treated. 

The Cost of Canine Luxating Patella Surgery

So the next very important question to ask your veterinarian once diagnosed with this orthopedic condition is what treatment you should follow and, in the case of surgery, how much it will cost.

Dogs with grade 1 may not require any specific treatment. For grade 2 dogs, treatment can include the administration of anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy, and weight management.

The surgery cost will depend on many factors, including who will perform the surgery, the size of your dog, and the luxation degree, among a few. It will also be determined by what surgical technique will correct the luxating patella.

A general estimate ranges from around 1,000 US dollars to 5,000 US dollars without considering all factors.

In addition to the cost of surgery, there will be additional costs to help your favorite doggo recover safely. Physiotherapy, such as hydrotherapy and medication, may be needed to support his recovery.

Pet insurance is very helpful in these cases to help with the financial cost needed to meet.

However, going through this surgery is an investment in your pet’s health as they will be relieved from painful arthritis and will not be at risk of any injuries in the future.

Speaking to your veterinarian will give you a clear view regarding the surgery and the costs.


Should I Walk My Dog Suffering From Patellar Luxation?

One of the most common questions is should you walk a dog with luxating patella?

The answer to this question may surprise you since most people believe that patellar luxation will immobilize their pet once given this diagnosis. Of course, this is not true.

It would be best to restrict strenuous exercise, but you must continue your daily walks. Walking your furry friend will help prevent the development of arthritis and will help with weight management. 

To prevent excess straining on your doggos knees, it is best to break up the walk into several short ones rather than a long walk.

Another useful tool to talk to your veterinarian about is the use of a luxating patella dog brace.

These braces come in two types. Rigid and flexible. These braces will hold your dog’s kneecaps in place and will not allow movement.

The difference between a flexible and a rigid brace is that the rigid ones do not allow any kneecap movement, while the flexible ones allow some. Your veterinarian will advise what type and size are best suitable for your pup.

Are Certain Breeds Predisposed to This Condition?

Yes, certain breeds are predisposed to this orthopedic condition. 

Smaller breeds that breed showing a predisposition are

  • Chihuahuas
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Boston Terriers
  • Pomearninans
  • Pekingese
  • Miniature and Toy Poodles

Regarding the larger breeds, predisposition exists in

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Akitas
  • Boxers
  • Huskies
  • Malamutes
  • St Bernards

How to Help a Dog With a Luxating Patella at Home

Weight Maintenance

If your dog is overweight, it is imperative to help it lose excess weight. This weight loss will help relieve pressure on the knee. The extra weight can worsen this condition leading to further severe complications.

If your dog is not overweight, then maintain his weight at a healthy level.


As mentioned above, daily walks should not be completely stopped but restricted. The activity should not be strenuous in any way or form.

Avoid having your dog jump or run. And it would be best if you ceased any vigorous playing.

Your veterinarian may suggest physiotherapy or hydrotherapy sessions. These are excellent ways to help maintain muscle mass and safely improve movement.

A canine rehabilitation specialist can help advise you and show you balancing exercises to do at home with your pup. You will also learn how to safely manipulate your dog’s legs to avoid causing any other damage that may be permanent.

Supplements and Pain Relief

You can ask your veterinarian for advice in choosing the right anti-inflammatory if you think your dog is in pain. The veterinarian will evaluate your dog and prescribe what pharmaceutical aid they need for a pain-free life.

Supplements for joint support and health are a fantastic way to maintain joints supple and slow the progression of this condition. You will want to look for ingredients such as chondroitin, glucosamine, and fatty acids.

Are There Any Alternatives to Surgery?

Before looking into alternative therapies, we must first answer the question as to whether surgery is suitable or not for your canine.

Whether you can use an alternative approach or whether surgery is needed depends on the grade of luxation. In the case of severe patellar luxation graded three and four, there is no other alternative to surgery. A specialist veterinarian must evaluate your dog’s knees and advise you as to what surgical technique and approach is best.

In the case of mild patellar luxation graded one and two, then yes, there are alternatives to surgery. 

Pain relief is vital to help with any pain your dog is under for them to lead a stress-free life.

Physiotherapy and exercise are also used to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee cap, thus stabilizing it and controlling its motion. 

Hydrotherapy is an excellent choice as it puts less strain and pressure on joints.

Chiropractic treatment can also do wonders for dogs suffering from a luxating patella. Chiropractors carefully and skillfully address both patellar luxation and any other structural abnormalities. 

Through chiropractic, the joints become more stable, and the development of arthritis and or inflammation greatly decreases.

Can This Condition be Prevented?

So, do you know how to prevent luxating patella in dogs? 

In the case of dog breeds predisposed to this condition, the best way to avoid it is to try and get the healthiest dog possible. Research your breeder and ask in regard to any congenital conditions known.

Dogs with congenital patellar luxation should not be bred, thus stopping this condition from affecting future generations.

Keep an eye on your dog’s weight. Try to maintain your dog’s weight within a healthy body score. Feed them rich and nutritious diets with fatty acids to support and aid healthy joints.

Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy muscle mass that supports their joints and body.


A luxating patella is a common orthopedic problem. Medial luxation is the most common type and affects small-breed dogs.

Diagnosis of this condition is based on the dogs’ history, clinical signs, and diagnostic imaging such as X-ray.

Both alternative and surgical options are available depending on the grade of patellar luxation. The surgical options include soft tissue and bone techniques.

The complication rate is low (such as patellar reluxation, implant complications, and wound separation) and has an overall excellent prognosis. Most dogs return to normal limb function.

Akita Inu dog

Final Musings

This orthopedic condition may be common and affect many dogs, but not all is doom and gloom. Many dogs diagnosed with this condition don’t even need surgery to resume their normal day-to-day activities.

In some cases, all that is required is a little physiotherapy or the expert touch of a chiropractor.

Even if your dog does have to undergo surgery, it is more than likely that we will be up and about sooner than later and return to their playful selves.

Remember, the higher the grade luxation, the more complex and expensive the treatment. This is why discussing with your veterinarian all options and what is financially feasible for you is very important.

Fret not; there is more than one treatment option available; if one is unsuitable, your veterinarian may possibly find another suitable option.

Don’t let the idea of possible surgery put you off from visiting your veterinarian if you think your dog may have a luxating patella. The sooner you have a diagnosis, the better for you and your pup. Prevention and early intervention are key.

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