Luxating Patellas

My 5 lb dog has luxating patellas and is now having trouble with her front legs, as well. They seem to “lock up” on her and she doesn’t want to move. She is only 4 and I am considering the surgery, but would like to know if there is some supplemental therapy that might help. – DM, Georgia

Dear DM,

Luxating patellas are not an uncommon problem for small and miniature breeds such as miniature and toy Poodles, Maltese, Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Pekingese, Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers and others. It occurs when the patella, also known as the knee cap, dislocates or moves out of its normal position at the front of the stifle joint. This is usually due a defect in hindlimb conformation and is believed to have a congenital or hereditary component.

You mention that your dog “locks up,” which is another way of saying that one or both of her legs becomes fixed in an extended position. Other signs include an intermittent or on-again off again-rear lameness and an unusual skipping or hopping gait in the rear end. Sometimes the condition doesn’t appear until the dog is playing and suddenly pops the patella out of place, causing a cry or yelp and immediate pain and limping. Many times a dog that is in pain and unable to move pops the patella back into place on its own and is instantly able to run again with no discomfort.

Veterinarians diagnose luxating patellas by the owner’s history, by palpating the joint, and by X-rays. Based on how easily they are able to move the patella in and out of the correct location, veterinarians give luxating patellas a Grade I (mild, surgery not recommended) to Grade IV (severe, surgery recommended) scale. Because most cases get worse over time, and because arthritis of the stifle joint develops from the instability caused by this condition, surgery should be performed as soon as the problem is diagnosed, if your dog is a candidate.

Carefully follow your veterinarian’s aftercare instructions as the rehabilitation from the surgery is just as important as the surgery itself in determining your dog’s soundness and quality of life. Bandaging, cage rest, passive range of motion exercises, controlled leash walks, and even swimming may be recommended. Ramps or steps may be helpful both before and after surgery to limit strain on the joint and surrounding tissues. Medications to reduce pain and swelling may also be prescribed.

However, I recommend that you start your dog on a joint supplement that includes ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, HA and MSM; herbs like Boswellia and Bromelain; and omega 3 fatty acids even before the surgery. Hopefully this will help manage discomfort and inflammation and possibly even protect the cartilage from further damage until the joint is stabilized.

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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