Understanding Luxating Patellas in Dogs and Cats

Luxating patellas in dogs and cats are a common orthopedic condition that can cause lameness and discomfort. When the patella, or kneecap, slips in and out of its normal position, it can lead to changes in your pet’s gait and signs of pain. Although some cases may be asymptomatic, it is important to take the condition seriously and consult with your veterinarian. In this article, we will explore what a luxating patella is, the breeds that are susceptible to it, the different grades of luxation, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.

What is a Luxating Patella in Dogs and Cats?

A luxating patella occurs when a dog or cat’s kneecap moves out of place or momentarily dislocates. Normally, the patella sits under a ligament called the patellar ligament, but in the case of a luxating patella, the point of attachment for the ligament is not on the center of the shin bone. This causes the patella to be pulled to the inside of the knee when the thigh muscles move and contract.

Breeds Susceptible to Patella Luxation

Certain breeds are more prone to develop luxating patellas. Small or “toy” dogs, such as Bichon Frise, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Jack Russell Terrier, Maltese, Papillon, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Toy Poodle, and Yorkshire Terrier are often susceptible to this condition. However, large breed dogs like Akitas, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Huskies, Irish Wolfhounds, Labradors, Malamutes, and St. Bernards can also experience patellar luxation, usually due to injury, over-exertion, or other structural problems like hip dysplasia.

See also  Why Does My Cat Lick My Hands And Fingers? Discover 8 Possible Reasons

Grades of Luxating Patellas

Luxating patellas are classified into four grades, with 1 being the mildest and 4 the most severe.

  • Grade 1: The patella can be manipulated out of its groove but returns to place on its own.
  • Grade 2: The patella moves in and out of the joint more readily and occasionally pops out on its own, but also returns to its normal position easily.
  • Grade 3: The patella is more often out of its groove than in the groove, but it can be manipulated back to its normal position.
  • Grade 4: The patella permanently sits out of its groove and cannot be manipulated back to its normal position.

Symptoms of Luxating Patellas

The symptoms of luxating patellas can vary depending on the grade of the luxation. Common signs include:

  • Carrying the limb up for a few steps (skipping)
  • Shaking or extending the limb
  • Lameness
  • Bow-legged appearance (curving outwards at the knees)
  • “Knocked-in” knee appearance (curving inwards at the knees)

In mild cases, there may not be any noticeable changes in your pet’s gait, and the condition may be discovered incidentally during physical exams. However, more serious cases may result in obvious symptoms, such as skipping and limping.

Causes of Luxating Patellas

Luxating patellas can be caused by injuries, but they are often hereditary. Common causes include skeletal abnormalities, muscle atrophy or tightness, improper patellar ligament length, and injury. It is important to note that luxating patellas are among the most common orthopedic problems in dogs, and in most cases, the exact cause is unclear and likely the result of multiple factors.

Diagnosis of Luxating Patellas

Your veterinarian can diagnose a luxating patella during a physical examination. They will palpate the knee to determine if any instability is present. Depending on the severity and symptoms, follow-up diagnostics may be recommended, such as palpating the knee while the pet is sedated, radiographs of the pelvis, knee, and tibias, and advanced imaging like CT scans for severe cases that require surgical planning.

See also  Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS): A Startling Syndrome in Cats

Long-Term Problems and Treatment Options

The long-term problems associated with a luxating patella depend on the grade of luxation and whether both knees are affected. While some pets may not be greatly bothered by the condition, it can lead to other injuries like torn cruciate ligaments or arthritis due to altered leg movement and abnormal weight distribution.

Treatment options for luxating patellas vary depending on the grade. Low-grade luxations may not require surgical correction and can be managed non-surgically, while more severe cases may require surgical intervention. Surgery aims to repair the luxation through various strategies, such as correcting the ligament attachment, deepening the groove of the femur, tightening the joint capsule, and placing implants to prevent the patella from slipping.

Recovery, Management, and Prevention

Pets that undergo surgery for luxating patellas can recover relatively quickly under the care of an experienced veterinary surgeon. However, recovery time may be longer if additional surgery is required. It is important to follow your veterinarian’s post-operative instructions, provide pain management medications, and avoid exercise during the recovery period.

While luxating patellas cannot be completely prevented, keeping your pet fit and healthy can improve their chances of a swift recovery and reduce the risk of complications. Obese pets, in particular, are at a higher risk of developing other skeletal conditions.


Luxating patellas in dogs and cats are a treatable orthopedic condition that requires veterinary attention. By understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options, you can make informed decisions regarding your pet’s well-being and recovery. Remember, if you suspect your pet may be experiencing any symptoms or have concerns about their joints, it is essential to consult with your veterinarian for proper evaluation and guidance.

To learn more about pet health and wellness, visit Katten TrimSalon today.