My Dog Skips When She Runs! Patellar Luxation – Causes and Treatment

by Cate Burnette, RVT

Your dog’s knee joint is the largest joint in her body and carries most of her body weight. The kneecap, or “patella,” rests in a groove at the bottom of the femur (the large, upper leg bone), and tendons and ligaments hold the patella, the femur, and the tibia (the lower shinbone) in place. Like the human knee, canine knee joints are meant to bend in only one direction, and when any parts of the knee become dysfunctional, your dog may begin limping and showing signs of discomfort or pain.

Patellar luxation — a dislocation of the kneecap from the groove where it normally resides — is the most common form of knee joint injury in dogs. Typically found in small dogs, toy and miniature breeds, a luxated patella may or may not entail an injury to the attendant tendons or ligaments. The simpler form of dislocation may involve stretched, or pulled, cartilage, while the more serious injuries are often the result of torn or severed tendons or ligaments.

What are the signs and symptoms of a luxated patella?

Particularly in the smaller breeds, you’ll notice your pooch hesitate while running, then continue forward with a skipping movement showing in the affected leg. She may be reluctant to go up and down stairs, or may hold the injured leg off the ground for several steps at a time (this may look like she is ready to shake your hand). You may also be able to actually see the displacement of the kneecap to the inside or outside of the joint.

Commonly, these symptoms come and go as the patella automatically jumps in and out of its placement, however, as your dog ages, the luxations will probably become more and more frequent and longer lasting. Depending on the severity of the injury, dogs can experience anything from a minor discomfort to a very painful episode.

What can I do to help my dog with this problem?

If you notice your little pooch experiencing any signs of lameness, an examination by your veterinarian needs to be your first step. Joint exams typically include a series of x-rays and flexation tests on the affected knee. Your vet may also palpate the joint and patella to physically feel if the kneecap is displaced. In cases of severe trauma, your veterinarian may recommend an MRI of the knee joint to help with diagnosis and treatment.

A patellar luxation in a young dog is typically caused by physical or breed predisposition, or a congenital deformity. While all dogs can suffer from this issue, toy and miniature dogs such as Dachsunds, Maltese, Toy and Miniature Poodles, Bichon Frieses, and Yorkies are the breeds most commonly affected.

Veterinarians commonly recommend that dogs with this joint problem get plenty of exercise and keep their weight down with a high-fiber, low-carb diet to ease the strain on the knee. Your vet may also suggest that a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement be added to your dog’s food to enhance joint function.

If you choose to add a more natural, organic supplement, you may want to choose one that uses Collagen Type II and Hyaluronic Acid, as well as chondroitin, to build new cartilage and reduce further damage to the joints. Additionally, solutions containing boswellia, devils claw and licorice all reduce the inflammation and pain that goes along with a displaced patella.

“My 1 year old Maltese was diagnosed with a luxating patella. He prescribed a collagen supplement which we used faithfully everyday,” said Jason Ladd, owner of RiQui. “I was skeptical at first, but literally after one month on the supplement RiQui demonstrated no further symptoms of the luxating patella. Now she is 9 years old and still is symptom free!”

Unfortunately, many dogs do not show signs of pain until the disease becomes fairly well advanced. Patellar luxation in a younger dog usually results in some form of degenerative bone disease as the dog ages. If this is the case with your little pooch, your veterinarian may recommend surgical stabilization of the knee, with supportive pain and anti-inflammatory medication, and limited movement for a number of weeks.

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