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Luxating Patellas and Your Chihuahua

Luxating Patellas and Your Chihuahua

It Sounds Terrible, What Is It?

A Luxating patella is a condition where the kneecap moves out of its normal alignment or position.  In the old days, people called it a “trick knee”.  If it’s a trick, it’s not a very funny one.  Luxating patellas often require surgery and can be quite uncomfortable for the dog.

Small dogs, like Chihuahuas are especially prone to this condition.  It can be caused by an injury but for most Chis it is a condition they are born with.  Symptoms can appear when your pup is very young and it is often diagnosed between 4 and 6 months old.


Symptoms of the Condition

The first thing you may notice with your short or long haired Chi is a limp on one or both hind legs that comes and goes.  Small dogs like Chihuahuas often experience bilateral luxation, which means both legs are affected instead of just one.

Have you ever experienced the feeling of having to “crack” your knuckle, elbow or knee?  You know the uncomfortable feeling it brings.  Your Chi experiences much the same sensation and is reluctant to put down their weight on the affected leg and that is what causes them to limp.  The more severe the condition, the more painful the knee becomes.

If you are feeling your Chihuahua’s leg after you notice a limp, you may feel the knee cap “pop” or “clunk” back into position as you move the leg.  This is another telltale sign of luxating patellas.



Veterinarians use physical palpation and x-rays to diagnose this condition.  They also base some of their initial analysis on the age and breed of the dog.  If you take your 5month old Chihuahua to the vet for limping on the hind leg, the veterinarian already has their suspicions that luxating patellas are the issue.

X-rays may be taken to confirm the diagnosis and in severe cases a radiologist may be called in for consultation purposes.  If surgery is recommended to correct the problem your regular veterinarian may be able to perform the surgery or an orthopaedic specialist may be required.


Long Term Prognosis

Veterinarians diagnose the condition by assigning one or four grades.  Grade I luxation is mild and does not usually require surgery but you may need to rest your dog after long walks if they begin to limp

Grades II, II and IV luxation often require surgery to correct and may have a big impact on your little girl or boy’s walking ability.  Surgery involves deepening the grove that the kneecap sits in and then tightening and re-aligning the tendons.  Recovering is slow but steady and you can expect your Chi to be fully recovered in a few months.

If your Chihuahua has bilateral luxation you are most likely to repeat the process 6 months to a year later with the other knee.  You can help your pet during recovery or while awaiting surgery by providing ramps or stairs where possible so they don’t have to jump.


Long term prognosis after surgery is excellent.  After a complete recovery your Chihuahua will be able to do all the activity they did before and usually more.  They will have no more pain or discomfort and will no longer limp.

The only negative aspect of the surgery is cost.  Make sure to get an estimate for the surgery and be aware that if an orthopaedic specialist is involved the cost increases.  When you consider the amount of money people spend on Chihuahua gifts and clothing, putting some money aside for necessary surgery is the biggest gift you can give your Chi.


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