Your dog is playing fine one minute and the next she has her hind leg up in the air. There is no crying or whining, just a determination to not put the leg down for a while. You massage the leg and knee but can’t elicit any pain in the area. The hip looks good, there is no blood and your dog doesn’t seem to give you any signs that she broke anything. She has been doing this more and more lately but the culprit cannot be found.
Welcome to the world of Luxating Patellas!
Our own chocolate Labrador Retriever, Cheyenne, was just diagnosed last week after a series of incidents where she refused to put her hind left leg down. The veterinarian would try to massage and elicit pain when we would get her to his office but she would just stare at him. No pain so why would she raise her leg, run with it stiff or skip from time to time? Although nothing would show on past x-rays, he finally caught a glimpse of the culprit, as her knee happened to pop out of place while taking the x-ray; it is a luxating patella.
A diagnosis of luxating patella is usually found in small or toy dogs but this disease is also common in Labradors because of their bow-shaped legs. This condition happens when the patella (kneecap) dislocates or moves out of its natural location and is usually obvious between the ages of 4 to 6 months. However, because it is so difficult to diagnose in large breed dogs, the dog may be of adult age before a veterinarian may confirm the diagnosis.
About the Patella
Patella is a bone normally referred to as the kneecap. This bone slides up and down when the knee joint is moved guiding the action of the quadriceps muscle in the lower leg. The patella also protects the knee joint.
About Luxating Patella
The two bony ridges that shape a groove in the end of the femur allows the patella to slide up and down. Some dogs do have too-shallow channel, causing the patella to jump out toward the interior (medial) or exterior (lateral) of the leg. This displacement is called luxating patella. When the kneecap dislocates, it usually cannot go back to its normal position until the muscle of the quadriceps relaxes and increases in length. Affected dogs after the first incident will force to hold her leg up for a few minutes to allow the muscles to contract. While the muscles contract, the patella is luxated from its natural position.
Luxating patella can either be a result of a traumatic injury or hereditary deformities. Sometimes, only one knee is affected but this ailment can affect both knees. Signs of luxating patella differ depending on the severity of the disease. Though this disease is usually obvious to dogs between 4 to 6 months, this may also develop to newborn puppies and adult dogs. Affected dogs usually exhibit lameness, pain, stiffness of the hind limb and a skipping gait. Some dogs display only one indication of this disease while others show many signs.
Symptoms of Luxating Patella in Dogs
- Intermittent skipping gait
- Possible Pain
- Stiffness of the hind limb
- Some dogs show only a single sign, whereas others show many signs of the condition
Diagnostic Grades of Luxating Patella
- Grade I– The patella can be manually luxated but easily returns to its regular location when released. Dogs may or may not carry the affected leg.
- Grade II– The patella can be manually luxated and remains out of place until manually replaced. Dog carries the affected leg.
- Grade III- Patella remains luxated frequently but can be manually replaced back into position. Dog carries most of the body weight with the front legs and carries the affected legs.
- Grade IV– Permanent luxation of the patella and cannot be manually repositioned. There can be difficulty in extending the leg fully because the quadriceps muscle group starts to shorten. Dog carries most of the body weight with the front legs and carries the affected legs.
Luxating Patella Primary Treatment
- The first action should be to crate or keep the pup in a small area for a week or two and manage all activity – no jumping or running.
- Most veterinarians will recommend a Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (like Metacam or another NSAID). However, these will only cover the symptoms and may decrease some of the swelling, but they do absolutely nothing to strengthen or fix the condition.
- Some veterinarians will prescribe a Steroidal anti-inflammatory. These have proven to be extremely damaging to the immune system and can have dreadful long and short-term side effects.
- Surgery is rarely the answer and if needed, should only be performed by an orthopedic surgeon if the dog is in chronic pain.
Luxating Patella Holistic Treatment
- Feed fresh foods or holistic dog dry dog foods.
- Keep your dog lean. (Overweight dogs have to carry more weight on their weak leg joint).
- Moderate exercise and walking up slight inclines will strengthen the muscle groups around the patella.
- Vitamin C is one of the building blocks of strong ligaments and connective tissue.
- Glucosamine supplements or Cosequin DS are dietary products packed with minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and lubricating agents. They help develop cartilage and cushioning fluid in injured joints, and help heal damaged connective tissue.
- Acupuncture and Homeopathy have also been very successful in correcting luxating patellas and strengthening the joints and tendons while easing the pain.
With our veterinarian’s consent, we have opted for the holistic treatment for the luxating patella. This is because Cheyenne is not in any pain and is able to readjust her leg, by herself, to pop the kneecap back in place. However, should she begin to experience pain or her quality of life is effected, surgery may be needed. This is a personal choice that each dog owner must make as they know their dog best.