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Understanding, Diagnosing, and Managing Patellar Luxation in Dogs


Patellar luxation is a common orthopedic issue, particularly in small dogs, which can lead to discomfort, inflammation, and potential ligament damage. Recognizing the signs and seeking prompt treatment can greatly improve your dog’s overall quality of life.

What Is Patellar Luxation?

Patellar luxation occurs when a dog’s kneecap (patella) shifts out of its designated groove in the femur bone. This condition is common in dogs and can affect puppies as young as eight weeks old. The patella may move in and out of the groove or remain displaced, and it can occur in one or both legs.

Symptoms of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

  • Leg Bent at an Unusual Angle: The affected leg may appear bent or positioned oddly.
  • Freely Moving Patella: The patella can be easily shifted back and forth when touched.
  • Excessive Licking of the Knee: A dog may instinctively try to soothe discomfort by licking the affected area.
  • Limping: Dogs may exhibit a noticeable limp, especially after the condition has progressed.
  • Holding Up Leg: Dogs may intermittently hold up the affected hind leg while walking.

While some young puppies may show signs, patellar luxation may not become apparent until later in a dog’s life.

Causes of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

Patellar luxation can arise from congenital anatomical defects or traumatic incidents, such as accidents or falls. These factors can lead to shallower grooves where the patella should sit.

Diagnosis of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

Veterinarians perform a physical examination and utilize x-rays to confirm patellar luxation. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) offers a grading system to determine the severity of the condition, aiding in treatment planning.

  • Grade 1: Patella can be moved out of the groove but typically returns on its own.
  • Grade 2: Patella moves out of the groove frequently, sometimes causing the dog to hold up the leg.
  • Grade 3: Patella is often out of place, with moderate twisting of the lower leg bone.
  • Grade 4: Patella remains permanently dislocated, accompanied by severe twisting of the lower leg bone.

Treatment of Patellar Luxation

Treatment options vary based on the severity:

  • Surgery: Recommended for higher-grade luxations, surgery aims to stabilize the patella in its correct position. Different surgical techniques may be employed based on the specific case.
  • Conservative Approach: For low-grade luxations, a wait-and-see approach may be advised, but surgery may become necessary if the condition worsens.

Post-Surgery Care

After surgery, dogs require careful post-operative care, which may include restricted activity, pain management, and rehabilitation exercises.


Surgical intervention is usually highly successful, enabling dogs to lead active lives. Lower-grade luxations may progress over time, potentially necessitating surgery in the future.

Prevention of Patellar Luxation

To reduce the risk of patellar luxation, consult breeders recognized by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), who maintain a database of dogs certified free from the condition. Additionally, preventing major traumas can help minimize the likelihood of developing patellar luxation.

By understanding and addressing patellar luxation, you can ensure your dog lives a comfortable and active life. Early detection and appropriate treatment are key to managing this condition effectively.

Written by wk68p

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