Luxating Patella in Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

luxating patella in dogs

Luxating patella in dogs is a common condition that causes the kneecap to pop out or dislocate. It is commonly seen in small dogs like Toy Poodles, Cavoodles, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers, as well as mixed-breed Doodle dogs like Spoodles and Moodles.

It is a common health condition reported in small poodle crossbreeds, being informed can help you find a reputable breeder who does their best to prevent breeding dogs with the condition. However, if you find yourself with a dog that has luxating patella, it helps to be informed about your options, before proceeding with something as intrusive and costly as surgery. There are varying grades of severity for luxating patella and not all of them require surgery.

This guide discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for luxating patella in dogs.

signs of luxating patella in dogs

What is Patella Luxation in Dogs?

exercises for luxating patella in dogs

The patella, or kneecap bone, is a small bone situated in the tendon at the end of the thighbone, or femur. It is connected to the tibia, or shin bone. 

With a luxating patella, the kneecap bone pops in and out of its groove every time the dog walks. This causes dislocation of the patella, potentially resulting in pain and difficulty walking and running for the dog.

Causes of Luxating Patella in Dogs

Many factors are responsible for medial patella luxation or lateral subluxation of the patella in dogs. Primary among these are genetics and trauma.

Medial patellar luxation occurs in young dogs, often due to a genetic malformation of the hip, knee, and tibia bones and related joints. The condition may affect one or both knees, and the dislocation is medial. Medial patella luxation is also more common in small dog breeds like Toy Poodles and small Poodle mixes like Cavoodles and Moodles. Small dogs are 12 times as likely as large dogs to be affected by medial patella luxation and symptoms are usually apparent by 3 years of age.

Lateral patellar luxation is more commonly seen in big dog breeds. About 25% of large and giant dog breeds are affected. It is an orthopaedic condition where the knee cap pops out laterally. It is also seen in 7% of the puppies as young as 8 weeks.

Luxating Patella in Dogs – Symptoms and Signs

luxating patella in dogs treatment

The most common signs of luxating patella in dogs are:

Changes in Gait 

The affected dog might start limping or avoid running or getting up. It might stop mid-gait and stretch its leg out to pop the kneecap back in place. Many dogs appear to hop and skip due to the condition. They may prefer walking on three legs to avoid putting pressure on the painful leg.

Intermittent skipping is another common sign in dogs with luxating patella. The affected pooch may walk normally for a few steps before stopping to skip, hop, stretch out the knee, and shake the limb.

Lethargy and Pain

Dogs with luxating patella avoid walking due to stiffness and pain. They may hide, tuck their tail between their legs, or have a hunched posture. These signs indicate intense pain. They also tend to be lethargic and show a reluctance to move.


As the condition progresses, the dog may become lame and show a reluctance to walk or climb stairs. Many dogs with severe patellar luxation are known to develop arthritis as the condition progresses. Please note that these signs and symptoms may vary based on the severity of the condition.

Diagnosing Luxating Patella in Dogs 

what causes luxating patella in dogs

It is important to seek veterinary help as soon as you notice these signs and luxating patella dog symptoms. This is essential to providing timely treatment and ensuring that your pet is pain-free and has a good quality of life.

Vets assign luxating patella grades, or numbers between I and IV, to distinguish the severity of the canine luxating patella. They might ask for X-rays, CT scans, and even MRIs to assess the severity of the condition.

Grades of Patella Luxation in Dogs

  • Grade I – the dog’s patella can be manually luxated but returns to normal position when pressure is released.
  • Grade II – the dog’s patella luxates with manual manipulation and remains popped out until the dog stretches the leg or manual replacement is carried out.
  • Grade III – patella luxated continually, and can be manually replaced but will luxate immediately when manual pressure is removed.
  • Grade IV – patella luxated continually and cannot be manually replaced by vet.

Luxating Patella Dog Treatment – How Do You Treat a Dog With Luxating Patella?

luxating patella dog massage

Treatment for canine luxating patella will vary based on the severity or extent of the condition. Most mild cases of luxating patella (Grade 1 and 2) in dogs do not need any surgical treatment. They can be managed with the following:

  • Physical therapy to manage the dog’s weight
  • Injections of Cartrophen or Zydax (once a week for four weeks and then assessment to ensure pain relief) to reduce wear and tear of the cartilage
  • Joint supplements containing green-lipped mussels, chondroitin, glucosamine, omega essential fatty acids, and MSM. Some holistic vets also recommend natural supplements containing turmeric, cosequin, coconut oil, etc.
  • Pain medications (typically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines)
  • Crate rest (for some dogs) to promote healing
  • The use of luxating patella braces to prevent pain and improve mobility.
  • Aqua therapy or hydrotherapy to improve joint mobility

Luxating Patella Dog Surgery

luxating patella in dogs surgery cost

In severe cases (grade 3 and 4), vets recommend luxating patella dog surgery. However, you must carefully decide if this option is right for your pet. If needed, consult with a veterinary orthopaedic expert to ensure a positive outcome.

Some dogs with severe patella luxation may benefit from luxating patella dog surgery, as it can improve their quality of life significantly. However, it is important to perform the surgery before the dog develops arthritis. Should the pet develop arthritis after luxating patella dog surgery, it may still need pain medicines to manage the condition.

In large dog breeds, luxating patella dog surgery is often futile as these dogs often have other joint-related issues like hip dysplasia, misaligned femurs, etc.

Pros of Luxating Patella Surgery

  • Pain relief and improved quality of life
  • Improved mobility
  • Prevention of other joint-related complications
  • It could be a long-term solution.

Cons of Luxating Patella Surgery

  • High cost, which also includes follow-up visits, diagnosis, medicines, etc.
  • Long downtime – restricted movement, physical rehabilitation, monitoring, etc.
  • No guarantee – some dogs could still develop arthritis or not regain full functionality
  • Stress, discomfort, and anxiety for dogs.

Luxating Patella Surgery in Dog Cost

In most parts of Australia, vets charge between $1600 and $2500 for correcting a single medial luxating patella in small dogs. However, this cost can vary from city to city as well as from veterinary practice to practice. Visiting an orthopaedic specialist vet is recommended to ensure the best possible outcome and a reasonable cost for the surgery.

Tips for Preventing Luxating Patella in Dogs

how to prevent luxating patella in dogs

The best way to prevent luxating patella in dogs is to buy or adopt your dog from a reputable breeder. Good breeders refrain from breeding dogs with patellar luxation and hip score their dogs before breeding. They also provide health and genetic test records, so you can know for sure the breeding dogs are healthy. 

As a dog owner, you should be vigilant about your dog’s joints. If you have a breed that is prone to luxating patella (Poodles, Chihuahuas, Yorkies, or Poodle mixes like Moodles or Cavoodles), then please have your dog examined regularly by your vet. That, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, can aid in weight management and may prevent the condition from worsening. Similarly, young dogs should not be jumping off couches, beds and running up and down stairs – all of which place unnecessary strain and pressure on developing joints.

FAQs – luxating patella in dogs

Is walking good for a dog with luxating patella?

Yes, most dogs with mild to moderate grades of patellar luxation could benefit from short, slow walks. However, it is best to check with your vet if walking is okay for your pet.

At what age do dogs get luxating patella?

Studies show that luxating patella mainly affects young dogs. It may be seen in puppies as young as 8 weeks, but the signs typically become prominent when the dog is around 3 years old.

Is luxating patella genetic in dogs? Can you breed a dog with luxating patella?

Yes, the condition can be genetic and affects toy breeds the most. It is best not to breed dogs with this condition to prevent puppies from developing it.

Key Takeaways – Luxating Patella in Dogs

should you walk a dog with luxating patella

As can be seen, luxating patella can significantly impact a dog’s quality of life. It is important to buy your puppy from a reputable breeder to prevent this genetic condition.

It is also important to recognise the signs of the disease and seek prompt medical treatment. In some cases, surgery can benefit the affected dog if the luxation is a grade 3 or 4. In other cases, one could manage the condition with physical therapy, pain medications, and joint supplements. Knee braces, hydrotherapy, and some other holistic remedies could also provide pain relief. Finding an experienced orthopaedic surgeon is beneficial in terms of increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome and a reasonable price.

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I’m Tres!

A dog lover and nerd at heart. Helpful checklists, puppy training tips, breed, behaviour and care information for puppy buyers and dog owners. Sharing the art and science of ethical breeder practises & honest 'oodle' breed information. You'll find exclusive discounts on the best dog products!

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