Luxating Patella In Dogs – Why It Happens And How To Deal With It


What Is Luxating Patella?

Issues with luxating patella are unfortunately common among smaller dog breeds, such as miniature and toy breeds. Luxating patella is a fancy name for the knee, the patella, moving out of place which causes discomfort and possibly pain for the dog. Certain dog breeds are more prone to having shifting knees and genetics play a large part in the dogs that have luxating patella problems. Another possible cause is poor nutrition which can lead to your dog being overweight which puts additional stress on the joints. According to PetMD, many dogs experiencing patellar luxation may have degenerative arthritis which puts stress on the joints, particularly the knees, and can cause severe patellar luxation.

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My Boston terrier, Nickel, has unfortunately struggled with luxating patella before. Boston terriers and many smaller dog breeds are especially prone to it.

Most Susceptible Dog Breeds

Smaller dog breeds are most at risk for luxating patella, however new research has found several larger breeds that appear to be prone to the same issue.

Smaller dog breeds that are most susceptible:

  • Pomeranian
  • Chihuahua
  • Pekingese
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Yorkshire terrier – Yorkies are thought to be the dog breed with the highest percentage of dogs affected at an estimated 26%.
  • Toy Poodle
  • Basset Hound
  • Boston terrier
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Shih Tzu
  • Carin Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Papillon
  • American pit bull terrier

Large dog breeds that are more susceptible to patellar luxation:

  • The Great Pyrenees
  • Labrador
  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Newfoundland
  • Cane Corso
  • Great Dane

Nickel’s Luxating Patella

My Boston terrier, Nickel, is part of a dog breed that is particularly vulnerable to patellar luxation. As a young dog she started experiencing pain from her knee suddenly “locking.” I remember many times where she would be sprinting after the ball, as she loves to do, and she would suddenly squeal out in pain. This was so difficult to watch and hear. Other times, we would be making breakfast in the morning and she’d come into the kitchen limping or visibly not putting pressure on one of her legs.The pain when her knee suddenly locked would go away on its own, however it just continued to happen. We were alarmed and took her to the vet who discussed options with us as luxating patella does not tend to just go away permanently. Nickel ended up undergoing luxating patella surgery and after she recovered she has never had an issue with that leg since. Unfortunately, a year or so later she started experiencing the same symptoms with a different leg. She went under surgery for that and it’s now been several years with no issues regarding any of her knees. We are very grateful that this worked for her as it’s a shame to see such a happy, active dog in pain while doing her favorite thing in the world – chasing a ball.

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Nickel no longer struggles with luxating patella after going through surgery and will play ball for hours at a time with no pain. As you can see, she is very happy about this!

Possible Signs Of Luxating Patella

A dog with a luxating patella may demonstrate various symptoms depending on the severity of the patella’s movement. Dogs typically do not demonstrate signs of a luxating patella until they are 4 months or older. If you have a dog breed that is more prone to luxating patella issues, keep an eye out for symptoms, especially after they pass 4 months.

  • Limping or dragging a leg as they walk
  • Squeals or pain during exercise whether it’s light walking or running
  • A knee making popping noises
  • Avoiding applying pressure to a particular leg
  • Pre-existing arthritis which may put strain on the knees causing the patella to move
  • Recently developed arthritis
  • Your dog holding up a leg for a few minutes – this may be to relax the leg allowing the knee to slide back into place
  • A very severe case of patellar luxation may result in a dog having a “bow legged” look

Nickel standing evenly on all four legs after being treated for two luxating patellas.

Treatments For Luxating Patella

There are many different treatments available for a dog with luxating patella. We recommend checking with your veterinarian to have your dog’s knees checked out and assessed to see if they are truly struggling with a luxating patella and if so what the severity is for them. If your dog has a milder case of a luxating patella, dog supplements to strengthen the joints may be helpful. Dog knee braces are also available and can help fortify the knee area. Another option that may work for some is learning from your veterinarian how to do a luxating patella massage which involves gently massaging the patella back into place. The massage can also be an effective pain reliever as the patella is back into place and may help with lowering stiffness and pain. If your dog’s veterinarian explains that your dog has a severe case of luxating patella, surgery may be the only option to fix the problem and take the pain away. Please consult your veterinarian for options to see how you can best help your dog.

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Nickel after her luxating patella surgery. She definitely didn’t feel very good here but I think she would agree it’s worth it now.

Preventive Measures

One of the primary ways to prevent problems or help ease a dog with luxating patella is keeping your dog at a healthy weight. Shockingly, the Association For Pet Obesity Prevention found that 56% of dogs in North America are obese. Having extra weight means more stress on a dog’s joints which is a huge problem for dog breeds that are particularly prone to luxating patella problems. Keeping your dog trim is amazing for their overall health, especially their joints! Exercise is an important part of their health, however aggressive exercise during puppyhood can lead to issues and may hurt their growth. Physical trauma, especially as a puppy, can also lead to more issues with the healthy growth and development of their knees.  We recommend consulting with your veterinarian as early as possible for ways to keep your dog healthy, especially if your dog is a vulnerable breed.

All in all, there are many options for treating and caring for a dog with luxating patella. We were fortunate to be able to treat Nickel and see the improvements that we did with her. We hope this article was helpful for you and caring for any dogs you may have with patellar luxation!

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