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Luxating patella
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 M21.1

Luxating patella (or trick knee, subluxation of patella, or floating patella), is a condition in which the patella, or kneecap, dislocates or moves out of its normal location.

Patellar luxation is a common condition in dogs, particularly small and miniature breeds. The condition usually becomes evident between the ages of 4 to 6 months. It can occur in cats as well, especially the Domestic Shorthair.[1]

It also occurs in humans, where it can be associated with damage to the anterior cruciate ligament. [2]



Most cases of patellar luxation are medial and this is frequently a congenital problem in toy and miniature breed dogs. Breeds showing a predisposition for medial patellar luxation include miniature and toy poodles, Maltese, Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, Pekingese, Chihuahuas and Boston Terriers. Large breed dogs are also affected and the Labrador retriever seems particularly predisposed. Patellar luxation is less common in cats than in dogs. Predisposed breeds include the Devon Rex and the Abyssinian. Although the specific cause of patellar luxation is unknown in these cases, it is generally agreed that a defect in hind limb conformation is the underlying cause. [3]


Rarely, it can be caused by some form of blunt trauma, but most frequently, it is a developmental congenital defect. In congenital cases, it is frequently bilateral. The condition can also be inherited through genetics.


Diagnosis is made through palpation of the knee. X-rays are used to further investigate cases. The luxating patella may cause no or very mild symptoms. There may be intermittent limping in the rear leg, and in higher-grade luxations, the lameness can be severe. Osteoarthritis typically develops secondarily.

There are four diagnostic grades of patellar luxation[4], each more severe than the previous:

  • Grade I - the patella can be manually luxated but is reduced (returns to the normal position) when released;
  • Grade II - the patella can be manually luxated or it can spontaneously luxate with flexion of the stifle joint. The patella remains luxated until it is manually reduced or when the animal extends the joint and derotates the tibia in the opposite direction of luxation;
  • Grade III - the patella remains luxated most of the time but can be manually reduced with the stifle joint in extension. Flexion and extension of the stifle results in reluxation of the patella;
  • Grade IV - the patella is permanently luxated and cannot be manually repositioned. There may be up to 90¼ of rotation of the proximal tibial plateau. The femoral trochlear groove is shallow or absent, and there is displacement of the quadriceps muscle group in the direction of luxation.


Grades II, III and IV require surgery to correct, if the animal has difficulty walking. The surgery required is governed by the type of abnormality present, but often involves a sulcoplasty, a deepening of the trochlear sulcus that the patella sits in, a re-alignment of the attachment of the patella tendon on the tibia, and tightening/releasing of the capsule either side of the patella, according to which side the patella is slipping. Some Grade IV conditions may require more involved surgery to realign the femur and/or tibia.

Additional help can be given with the use of pet ramps, stairs, or steps. These can help the animal travel from one place to another, especially up and down, without adding any pain or damage to the patella.

External links


  1. ^ Ettinger, Stephen J.;Feldman, Edward C. (1995). Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine (4th ed. ed.). W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN 0-7216-6795-3.  
  2. ^ "The Knee and Shoulder Centers - [PRINTABLE Anterior Cruciate Ligament Surgery"]. Retrieved 2007-11-27.  
  3. ^ Patellar Luxation, canine and feline (cat and dog) veterinary factsheets
  4. ^ OFA. "Patellar Luxation" (text/html). Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Retrieved 2007-09-04.  


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