Luxating Patella in Dogs (Trick Knee) – Is Surgery Always Necessary?

Luxating Patella / Trick Knee / Floating Kneecap is a common medical condition among toy and miniature breeds, although larger dogs like labs may be suspect. Basically, the dog's kneecap slides out of its groove and dislocates. The dislocation causes the dog to walk straight-legged or hop / skip instead of walking normally. If you happen to see a dog with a trick knee, you will notice the strange gait.

Sometimes the dog can re-locate the kneecap back in its groove on his own. That's called Grade I patellar luxation in dogs. As the dog becomes progressively more lame, the labels progress to grade IV. A canine with grade 4 luxating patella has a permanently dislocated kneecap.

What Happens If Surgery Is Not Performed?

When the owner elects to delay surgery indefinitely, it may because a few grand is just not available for doggie surgery to deepen the groove, relocate where the patellar ligament is attached to the lower leg, and / or tighten up the patellar ligament.

According to the veterinary surgeon who repaired the Grade I luxating patella on the author's year-old pup Simon, the dog may develop arthritis or tear his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) if surgery is delayed. Arthritis can cause lameness, and an ACL tear will require surgery for extensive repairs.

Simon was born with the condition but it did not show up until he was a little older, even though he was examined by the breeder's vet and by a second vet when he arrived in his permanent home.

Other Alternatives To Surgery

There are vets who are conservative about performing surgery. For example, a holistic vet may recommend maintaining the dog's ideal weight, a special carb-free diet, or certain medications to improve mobility. If the dog's condition deteriorates instead of improving, than the holistic vet would opt for surgery.

The dog's age might factor into the recommendation. Recently a reader wrote the author that her dog, a terrier, is too old for luxating patellar surgery. The dog has been on a vet-recommended diet for 2 months and is doing so well that he succeeded in jumping on the bed, more than a 2-foot leap.

Bottom Line – Surgery is not always necessary, but the dog's age and general condition dictates what alternative therapy may be recommended.

If your dog appears to have patellar luxation, check with a vet to see what course of action is best for your pet.