Patellar Luxation in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Patellar luxation, also known as a dislocated kneecap, is a common orthopedic issue in dogs. This condition can cause discomfort, lameness, and may even lead to long-term joint issues if left untreated. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and available treatment options for patellar luxation in dogs to help you provide the best care for your furry friend.

What is Patellar Luxation?

Patellar luxation occurs when a dog’s kneecap (patella) slips out of its normal position within the groove of the femur, either toward the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) of the leg. This displacement can cause pain and discomfort, and may lead to further joint damage if not addressed.

There are four grades of patellar luxation in dogs, with Grade 1 being the mildest and Grade 4 being the most severe:

  1. Grade 1: The kneecap can be manually luxated but returns to its normal position when released.
  2. Grade 2: The kneecap can be manually luxated or may spontaneously luxate but can be returned to its normal position.
  3. Grade 3: The kneecap is consistently luxated and can only be returned to its normal position manually, but it will luxate again once the leg is moved.
  4. Grade 4: The kneecap is permanently luxated and cannot be manually returned to its normal position.

Causes of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

There are several factors that can contribute to patellar luxation in dogs, including:

  • Genetics: Certain breeds are predisposed to patellar luxation, such as small breeds like Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Toy Poodles, and large breeds like the Great Dane and Saint Bernard. In these breeds, patellar luxation may be hereditary.
  • Developmental issues: Some dogs may develop patellar luxation due to abnormalities in the bones and ligaments surrounding the knee joint. This can cause the kneecap to become misaligned or unstable, increasing the likelihood of luxation.
  • Trauma: Injuries to the knee joint, such as from an accident or a fall, can cause damage to the structures that hold the kneecap in place, leading to patellar luxation.

Symptoms of Patellar Luxation in Dogs

The signs of patellar luxation in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual dog. Some common symptoms include:

  • Limping or lameness, especially after exercise
  • Intermittent skipping or hopping on the affected leg
  • Difficulty rising or reluctance to jump or climb stairs
  • Pain or discomfort in the affected knee
  • Swelling or inflammation around the knee joint
  • Abnormal gait or stance, such as a “bow-legged” appearance

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.


To diagnose patellar luxation, your veterinarian will perform a comprehensive physical examination, focusing on your dog’s hind legs and knee joints. They will assessthe stability and alignment of the kneecap by manipulating the joint and checking for any signs of luxation.

In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, to assess the extent of the problem and rule out other potential causes of lameness or discomfort. These imaging studies can also help determine the presence of any bone abnormalities or joint damage associated with patellar luxation.

Treatment Options for Patellar Luxation in Dogs

The treatment for patellar luxation in dogs will depend on the severity of the condition, the dog’s age, and their overall health. Treatment options may include:

  • Conservative Management: For mild cases of patellar luxation (Grade 1 or 2), conservative management may be recommended. This can include weight management, physical therapy, and pain management with anti-inflammatory medications. Regular monitoring by your veterinarian is crucial to ensure the condition does not worsen.
  • Surgery: In more severe cases (Grade 3 or 4), or when conservative management is not effective, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem. There are several surgical techniques that can be used to stabilize the kneecap and prevent future luxations, such as trochleoplasty (deepening the groove in which the kneecap sits) or tibial tuberosity transposition (realigning the attachment of the patellar tendon). The specific procedure will depend on the individual dog and the nature of their patellar luxation.

Prognosis and Prevention

The prognosis for dogs with patellar luxation largely depends on the severity of the condition and the success of the treatment plan. In mild cases managed conservatively, dogs can often lead relatively normal lives with minimal discomfort. However, they may be more prone to developing arthritis in the affected joint as they age.

Dogs that undergo surgery for patellar luxation typically have a good prognosis, especially if the surgery is performed early in the course of the disease. Postoperative care, including physical therapy and weight management, is crucial for a successful outcome.

Preventing patellar luxation can be challenging, particularly in breeds predisposed to the condition. Responsible breeding practices, including screening for patellar luxation in breeding dogs, can help reduce the incidence of the condition in future generations. Maintaining a healthy weight and providing regular exercise can also help support joint health and reduce the risk of patellar luxation in dogs.


Patellar luxation is a common orthopedic issue in dogs that can cause discomfort and impact their quality of life. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatment options can help you provide the best care for your dog and ensure their long-term health and well-being. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from patellar luxation, consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and tailored treatment plan.

Relevant Sources:

  1. VCA Hospitals
  2. Kingsdale Animal Hospital
  3. MSD Veterinary Manual
  4. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Caring for a dog with patellar luxation requires a solid understanding of the condition, as well as a strong partnership with your veterinarian. By staying informed about your dog’s health and providing appropriate care and support, you can help your furry friend enjoy a happy, comfortable life.



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