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Patellar Luxation in Dogs

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What is Patellar Luxation

Patellar Luxation is one of the most common canine knee problems. It is also “slipped knee cap,” which refers to dislocation or displacement of the patella bone from the knee joint.

Patellar Luxation can cause excruciating pain for the dog. Most cases are hereditary, but trauma to the bones or tissues surrounding and supporting the knee can also cause the condition.

Affected Breeds

All dogs are susceptible to patellar luxation. The condition is most common in toy and miniature dog breeds such as the below:

  • Poodles
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Pomeranian’s
  • Pekingese
  • Chihuahuas
  • Boston Terriers

Females are at a slightly higher risk of becoming affected than males, although the reason for this is unclear. Affected dogs become lame and often have trouble standing up and are reluctant to run or jump.

Symptoms of Patellar Luxation or ‘Floating Kneecap’

Patellar luxation causes intermittent and chronic hind limb weakness, lameness and pain. The clinical signs of this condition can vary from dog to dog. Symptoms include one or more of the following:

  • Intermittent lameness, which may range from partial to complete non-weight-bearing lameness in one or in both hind legs
  • Loss of range of motion in one or both hind legs
  • Abnormal function and carriage of one or both hind legs
  • Temporary paralysis of the knee joint
  • Pain when moving
  • Difficulty rising and reluctance to run or jump
  • Swelling around the joint
  • General weakness

The signs seen by owners will vary depending on the severity of the patellar displacement.

 The Condition

There are four levels of severity of a luxating patella. Grade 1 is the mildest; Grade 4 is the most severe.

  • A Grade 1 – A kneecap that pops out or can be manually popped out of place, but pops right back in on its own.
  • Grade 2 – A kneecap that pops out of place and doesn’t always pop back in automatically, sometimes requiring manual manipulation to put it back in place.
  • A Grade 3 – The kneecap sits outside its groove most of the time, but can be manually positioned back in the groove, where it stays temporarily.
  • Grade 4 – The most severe case, in which the kneecap continually sits outside the groove and won’t stay in place when it’s manually re-positioned.

Younger stronger dogs may not show as many symptoms and appear fine. The dog won’t want to put weight on his leg until the kneecap has placed back in position.

As the cartilage wears down from the frequent travel of the kneecap in and out of place, there will be bone-to-bone contact. The condition can become extremely painful for your dog.

How much does surgery cost?

If your dog needs surgery on both knees this could cost over £1,500. This is alongside post-surgical care and medications. The exact cost will depend on your dog’s size, the area you live, as well as the practice. Follow up x-rays may be required, which could cost between £130 and £325 depending on the number of X-rays.


Patellar luxation can be an inherited condition, so breeders should take this into consideration. Responsible breeders should ensure as a need of sale, affected puppies are neutered or sprayed. Weight management and exercise plans for at-risk dogs should be maintained.


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