Should You Walk A Dog With A Luxating Patella?

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It can be concerning when you are walking your best furry friend, and suddenly, they hop on three legs.

It’s even more worrying when this becomes a common occurrence. This pattern of skipping on three legs and returning to a normal gait is typical of a dog with a luxating patella. Once the diagnosis has been made, the pet owner will have many questions about whether the dog can go for regular walks and exercise. 

Should you walk a dog with a luxating patella? The answer will depend on the grade of the condition.

Luxating patella is graded to indicate the severity of the condition. Dogs with Grade 1 and 2 luxating patella should go for walks and do low impact exercises to keep the muscles and ligaments strong. Dogs with Grade 3 and 4 luxating patella generally need surgery before walking is comfortable.  

When your dog has a luxating patella, it is wise to find out as much information as possible to help your dog. Of critical importance is the exercise that a dog with a luxating patella can comfortably manage without damaging the joint further.

Can I Walk A Dog With A Luxating Patella?  

Should you walk a dog with a luxating patella?

When the veterinarian examines your dog, the physical examination will indicate that the problem is a luxating patella. X-rays and scans are crucial investigating tools as they allow the veterinarian to determine the grade of the patella luxation. 

There are four grades of patella luxation in dogs, with grade 1 being the most minor and grade 4 being the most severe. The implications for the benefits of walking and exercise vary according to the grade of patella luxation. 

Before deciding if you should walk your dog with patella luxation, you must know the grade or extent of the condition. 

Should A Dog With Grade 1 Patella Luxation Go Walking?

A grade one patella luxation is a patella that can be luxated with manual pressure but otherwise remains in the groove. This type of luxating patella is usually only noticed by a veterinarian on a yearly physical examination of the dog. 

Grade one is a very mild condition. The dog should be encouraged to walk to maintain healthy muscles and ligaments. It is important that dogs with a patella luxation have a healthy body weight. Excess weight puts strain on the knee, causing the joint to deteriorate much faster. 

You should avoid exercises that involve high impact on the joints. Dog agility or jumping-type competitions are not encouraged for dogs with patella luxation.

Should A Dog With Grade 2 Patella Luxation Go Walking?

Grade two patella luxations occur when the patella spontaneously luxates and then returns to position. This is the luxation first noticed by most pet owners and is sometimes seen in puppies or the first few years of life. 

The dog suddenly skips on three legs. The affected limb is tucked up under the body or stretched out. The movement causes the patella to re-seat itself, and the dog carries on running normally.

A grade two patella luxation has more implications for potential degeneration of the joint. However, it can still be aided by having good muscle and ligament strength around the joint. Dogs with grade two patella luxation can go for walks. The owner should be aware of the dog’s comfort levels and note if the dog appears uncomfortable. 

It is best to keep the walks to level ground or gentle slopes. Negotiating steep slopes with a kneecap prone to popping out is not advisable. A reasonable walk is within the comfort levels of a dog with grade two patella luxation; a steep mountain hike is not. Both inclines and declines can precipitate patella luxation. 

It is difficult to prescribe an exact distance or time for the length of the walk when your dog has a luxating patella. It is most beneficial to be guided by your veterinarian, physical therapist, and dog’s ability to cope with the walk.  

Should A Dog With Grade 3 Or 4 Patella Luxation Go Walking?

Grade three patella luxation indicates a patella that is permanently luxated but can be manually relocated to the correct position. 

A grade four patella luxation occurs when the patella is permanently luxated and cannot be manually re-seated in the groove.

Taking dogs for a walk and other vigorous exercise is not recommended for dogs with grade three or four patella luxation. These dogs will be in considerable pain as the patella scrapes over the ridges and surfaces of the joint. Arthritis may already be a factor, compounding the pain the dog experiences. 

It is strongly recommended that dogs with grade three and four patella luxation receive surgical repair. 

Patella grading according to Fitzpatrick Referrals.

Measures To Reduce Pain In Dogs With A Luxating Patella

Several critical factors can affect a dog with patella luxation. 

  1. Ensuring that the dog stays within a good weight range is vital. Excess weight places enormous strain on the affected joint and puts other joints at risk when the dog compensates. A heavy dog will have more rapid joint degeneration. It is imperative that weight is managed both from a dietary and exercise approach. 
  • Exercise modification allows the dog to exercise while placing minimal stress on the joint. Low impact exercises such as swimming and underwater treadmills are helpful. Walking should be on mostly level surfaces. Jumping off and on furniture should be avoided. Consider a ramp or stairs where necessary.
  • Physical therapy offered by qualified veterinary physical therapists and hydrotherapists is extremely beneficial to dogs with grade one and two patella luxation. It is crucial for the successful rehabilitation of dogs that have had surgery to repair patella luxation.  
  • Pain management utilizing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and other pain medicine.

Can A Dog With A Patella Repair Exercise? 

After the surgery, there will be an initial period of cage rest. The dog may not exercise at all, must go for toilet breaks on a lead, and have no opportunity to jump or move much. 

Once the veterinarian has assessed the dog and is happy with the progress, the dog may return to gradual exercise. It is best to do this under the guidance of a veterinary physical therapist. The dog should cope with normal activity after the rehabilitation period. 

Our Verdict on Walking Dogs With A Luxating Patella

Dogs with grade one and two patella luxation benefit from moderate walking on level ground or gentle slopes. The pet owner must monitor the dog’s ability to cope with the exercise level and be prepared to call a halt if necessary.

Dogs with grade three and four patella luxation should not be walked. They should have surgery and rehabilitation. 

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