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What is a Luxating Patella?

January 24th, 2008 · No Comments

If you own a small breed dog or a toy breed dog, you may want to pay extra close attention here. This problem is most prominently seen in smaller dogs but can affect larger dogs as well. Have you ever noticed your dog running around the park and then suddenly give out a quick yelp in pain? Afterwards, your dog suddenly lifts one of their hind legs in the air and then keeping it there for a few minutes while trotting around on 3 legs. Then, after about 5 minutes, your dog puts their hind leg back on the ground and walks around like nothing happened at all. And throughout this whole ordeal you are panicking from the fact that you think your dog has just broken their leg. Actions by your dog such as these are a tell tale sign of a “Luxating Patella�.

Referencing the anatomical drawing of the knee below, the patella, femur and the tibia are the main bones that make up the knee. The patella, also known as the knee cap, slides up and down a couple of grooves at the end of the femur. As the leg muscles contract and relax and move back and forth, the patella will slide within these groves to guide the quadriceps in the correct motion. The grooves in the femur just mentioned are very important because they guide and constrict the motion of the patella to these exact grooves. You can think of this system like one of your drawers in a desk. Most drawers either move outward or inward. They can’t move up and down because the rails on the side won’t allow them to. The grooves in the femur do the exact same thing by guiding the patella in this similar manner.

anatomy of a dogs knee

So how does a patella become luxated? Well, in some cases, these grooves in the femur are not deep enough to allow the patella to glide smoothly in one back and forth motion. The grooves are actually too shallow which will cause the patella to “fall out� of the guided grooves. So rather than simply moving back and forth, the patella may now actually have a chance of going side to side….which is a bad thing. Once patella falls out of place, the leg will lock up and force your dog to hunch up one of their hind legs. In some cases, both hind legs may be affected. Once the patella has luxated from its normal position, it will not return to its normal position until the quadricep muscle becomes relaxed. This explains why your dog will hold their hind leg up and then suddenly return it to normal after a few minutes. Keep in mind that the only pain your dog feels is the split second that the patella pops out of place. Once the patella is out of position, they don’t experience any pain. Thus, we can explain the quick yelp of pain that we hear from your dog when the patella initially becomes luxated.

So why are smaller breed dogs more prone to a luxating patella? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. One thing I do know is that this is definitely a genetic disorder. If a line of dogs is known for having a luxating patella, they should be restricted from breeding. Sometimes, a luxating patella may come about from trauma to the leg. If I were to guess why smaller breed dogs are more prominently seen with this disorder, I would guess that their bones are simply weaker and don’t develop as well as larger dogs. If that certain groove in the femur is not deep enough, we’ve got ourselves a problem.

So what happens if you don’t treat a luxating patella? Well, I don’t think it’s a life threatening disorder, but the condition will continue to get worse if not treated in a timely manner. Your dog may also start to develop arthritis in their legs making it even more difficult to walk or run around. Basically, your dog may live a pretty miserable life if a luxating patella goes untreated.

Okay, so how the heck do we fix such an annoying and nasty problem? Well, as of now, there are no medical cures for such a problem. This leaves us and our dogs with surgery as the only known remedy for this disorder. During the surgical procedure, the surgeon will go in and deepen the grooves in the femur. This will help keep the patella in place and refrain it from “slipping� out of place. In most cases, this surgery is quite successful and you should see your dog have a full recovery within a month or so.

So if you think your dog has a luxating patella, it’s not the end of the world. Luckily, there are surgical procedures that can help eliminate this problem. Just don’t let this problem go under the rug or else your little baby may experience more pain than they should!

As a disclaimer, I am not a Veterinarian of any sort. This article is only for reference and should not be used instead of a vet. Always contact your vet for any problems with your dog.

Tags: Health Tips

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