How to Identify Slipping Kneecaps in Small Dogs

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Small dog standing beneath a larger dog's legs.
Small dog standing beneath a larger dog's legs. (Image: Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

A chronic knee condition can cause long-term pain and discomfort for your small dog. A slipping kneecap, more formally known as a luxating patella, is fairly common in small breed dogs. There are several signs to look for if you suspect your dog is suffering from a slipping kneecap.

Understanding Luxating Patella

Luxating patella is a condition that occurs when your dog's knees are deformed in some way. The kneecaps, more formally known as patella, should move smoothly in a groove on the femur as your dog walks and runs. If the bones are not shaped properly, even if the problem is minor, the patella can come out of the groove it is supposed to stay in and cause leg problems. The kneecap may slip in and out of place on a regular basis, causing your dog to experience intermittent symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

Your dog may show an assortment of symptoms if he is suffering from a luxating patella. The condition varies in its severity and your dog may not show symptoms all the time. Common signs your dog has a slipping knee include intermittent bouts of lameness, skipping on one leg while running, failing to use one leg while running, pain or crying out while running, walking with an unusual gait, running in an unusual manner or with an unusual gait or running with one rear leg extended towards the rear. You also may hear a popping noise when the dog is moving or the joint is handled.

Breeding and Genetics

Most cases of luxating patella are thought to have a hereditary or genetic component. Small breed dogs such as dashchunds, toy poodles, Pomeranians, dachshunds, Yorkshire terriers and Boston terriers are considered more prone to experiencing this condition. It is considered a bad idea to breed a dog who you know has a luxating patella because that animal has a good chance of passing the condition on to any offspring.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect your dog has a slipping knee, take him to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian will examine the leg, manipulate the knee joint to check for problems and may take X-rays to determine the severity of the problem. Once the condition has been diagnosed, your veterinarian may prescribe pain medication to help ease any discomfort your dog feels as a result of his slipping knee. Depending on the severity, your veterinarian may recommend the luxating patella be corrected surgically.

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