Reviewed by Dr. Danielle Morosco
Luxating patella dog massage involves a specific series of strokes around (but not on) your dog’s affected kneecap.
A luxating patella in your dog means he/she is suffering from a dislocated kneecap. In some cases, the kneecap may pop back into place.
More severe cases may require surgery to keep the knee sliding smoothly. Luxating patella is the medical term used to define a slipped kneecap.
This post will share some ways to safely massage your dog in a way that promotes healing, encourages blood circulation to the affected knee, and helps your dog relax.
This post is not intended to diagnose or treat your dog.
The best recommendations you can get for luxating patella dog massage is from a veterinarian or other animal health care professional.
This article will help you do three things:
- Understand the dynamics of a luxating patella.
- Recognize the 4 grades of a luxating patella.
- Understand how to carefully administer luxating patella dog massage.
Knee Braces – What to look for and how to fit
Performing the techniques of luxating patella dog massage is just one way of helping your dog recover. It’s a good skill to have, but it’s definitely not the only thing your dog needs.
Once the kneecap is back in place, you need to prevent it from slipping out of its groove again. The best thing you can do for your dog is provide sturdy support around the kneecap. You’ll want a product that’s strong enough to be durable, but flexible enough to provide some range of motion.
There are countless braces in the market, each with unique features.
The veterinarian may have suggestions for a good knee brace, but keep in mind that anything sold directly from the veterinarian’s office can be priced higher than you want to pay.
Step 1 – Double check to make sure you’re ordering the right size dog knee brace
The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure to order the right size brace for your dog. See the video for professional guidelines on how to measure properly.
Once you have the dog leg brace, you might need to open the reflective straps out so that they can wrap around your dog’s legs.
NOTE: You may need another person to hold your dog steady while you get the brace on.
Step 3 – Align the knee brace
Next, align the brace opening over the kneecap. This allows for some gentle movement in the joint and keeps the dog’s knee at a natural angle.
The brace straps should fit snugly (but not too snug) around your dog’s leg. Start from the top and fasten each strap as you work your way down.
Important: Ask a licensed veterinarian for advice on how long to keep the brace on your dog, and make sure to schedule an appointment for follow-up.
If the leg brace seems to cause your dog pain, you may need to loosen the straps. Your dog won’t love having it on, so give him/her a little time to adjust.
First Aid Kits Come in Handy for any Dog Injuries
First aid kits for dogs are a necessity for dog owners.
When a kneecap slips out of its groove, there’s usually a reason. Your dog may have been playing hard or running. When it happens, you’ll notice your dog jump and skip. It looks a lot like a bunny hop.
There’s a possibility that it’s happened before without you even noticing! Sometimes, the condition rights itself. Other times, it leaves the dog incapacitated and in pain.
A complete emergency bag for dogs is an absolute necessity unless you live within shouting distance of a veterinarian. These bags carry everything you’ll need for a sudden injury or emergency.
Veterinary Diagnosis is a Must
A luxating patella is more than just a slipped kneecap. This is a condition that some breeds are prone to due to genetic defects. Puppies should be exercised in moderation. Excessive exercise while the puppy is still forming his or her skeletal body could inflict damage.
That’s not a common reason for a slipped kneecap in dogs, but it can happen.
You might be able to recognize a slipped kneecap in your dog, but you cannot tell what grade it is.
Like any medical condition, there are usually different grades of a disease or condition. With a dog, slipped knees or trick knees are classified in grades of 1 to 4 as follows:
This is an easy grade to manage. The knee might slip out of place, but it easily goes back in. It can be massaged and generally doesn’t become a huge problem. The dog isn’t in pain.
Things get a little trickier here. The knee can be put back into place but it’s likely to come right back out once the dog resumes activity. He might not be in pain, but there’s a possibility of developing arthritis. And THAT will cause pain.
You can probably guess that we’re getting into some tricky territory at this point. Here, the dog is in pain, and there’s a greater likelihood that surgery will be required because the knee remains out of joint most of the time.
At this level, the kneecap remains out of the groove and simply can’t be manually re-adjusted, even with the leg fully extended.
Dogs Prone to Luxating Patella Include:
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- American cocker spaniel
- Basset hound
- Cavalier King Charles spaniel
- English springer spaniel
- Lhasa Apso
- Toy Poodle
- Shar Pei
Veterinary Recommendations for Luxating Patella Dog Massage
Luxating patella dog massage is never advised at grades 2 to 4, which is why you need to have your veterinarian’s approval.
He/she is the only person who can tell you what stage the dog is in.
Again, the steps to massage I’ve noted above are not to be performed on a dislocated kneecap and never without your veterinarian’s okay.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Luxating Patellae
Your dog might not require surgery, but a knee brace and/or physiotherapy is possible.
Another treatment mode could include hydrotherapy.
If your dog must have surgery, the veterinarian will suggest the best post-recovery plan for your dog. During the healing process, the leg and knee should not be massaged at all.
The veterinarian MIGHT give you the okay after the knee has had time to heal in position but ask first.
Types of Surgical Intervention:
Veterinarians generally don’t want to jump straight to surgery. It’s expensive (somewhere in the $2000 range), and there is always a risk when putting a dog under anesthesia.
If surgery is recommended, it usually follows three steps:
- the groove is deepened (remember the analogy of the racetrack?)
- malformation of the shin bone is corrected
- over-stretched ligaments around the kneecap are shortened.
In a long-term situation where the cartilage has completely worn away (the way it does with arthritic patients), the kneecap can be put back in place, but the cartilage cannot be replaced. In this situation, the dog has a better quality of life, but it isn’t perfect.
Luxating Patella (Slipped Knees) Can Happen at Any Age
If you have a small dog breed, don’t think you’re out of the woods because he/she is still a puppy. In fact, if genetics plays a role (and it usually does), you might see this problem earlier rather than later.
If you ever see your dog suddenly do a skip on one leg that quickly returns to normal, don’t pass it off as a one-time thing. That’s a clear sign of a sliding kneecap.
Luxating Patella Dog Massage Tips and Tricks
Luxating patella dog massage should only be done after a veterinarian or canine massage therapist shows you how to do it.
IMPORTANT: Make sure your dog has been diagnosed and graded according to the luxating patella severity. Massage is not recommended if your dog has been graded in the 2 – 4 range.
The following techniques are not meant to be performed on a dog with a serious kneecap injury. Be very careful and be mindful of how your dog reacts. Flinching, moving away, growling, and whining could all be signs of pain and should be your cue to STOP.
The first thing you should do is sit with your dog in a relaxed, quiet location.
Instead of going straight for the knee, I prefer to calmly pet my dog in long, slow motions from the tip of the head down the back. Here are a few steps to get into it:
1) Make sure you’re in a quiet location without other animals around.
2) Sit quietly with your dog until he/she is fully relaxed.
3) I start with regular patting in long, easy strokes. Once I see my dog is okay with this, I gradually increase the pressure. Not too much!
4) Once my dog’s head is down and I can see she’s fully relaxed, gently but firmly encircle the top of each leg (the healthy legs first) and rub from the top, down towards each kneecap, but not on the kneecap.
5) Never apply a lot of pressure directly on the kneecap or any joint.
6) If your dog is not flinching or showing other signs of pain, use your thumbs and press firmly (but not too hard) on the outside of your dog’s leg starting from the top.
7) Firmly but carefully slide your thumbs down and be sure to stop before you get to the kneecap. Repeat if your dog isn’t showing any signs of pain. This action is meant to bring blood flow to the knee.
Proceed with Caution!
If your dog is getting older and has had this problem, there is a risk of the dog tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee (otherwise known as the ACL joint). This is painful and likely requires surgery.
Give Your Dog a Break with a Doggie Lawn
Sometimes it’s too much to ask your dog to hobble outside, down the stairs, and across the grass to go to the bathroom.
When they’re healthy it’s no problem at all. However, if your dog is suffering from a painful kneecap or other condition, he/she might appreciate having the option to use the bathroom in the house!
Use the bathroom in the house?
That’s right. There’s a company called Doggie Lawn that sells dirt-free patches of grass.
They come in every size, offer attractive frames to keep the patch of grass in place, and are dirt-free!
Some companies use really cheap, plastic-type “grass” but you can’t fool a dog.
Dogs want to feel real grass under their feet. If it doesn’t feel like the real thing, you’re wasting your money.
If your dog is struggling, why not give him a break? When he’s better, you can put the doggie lawn away for another day or pause your subscription.
These nifty patches of grass absorb odor and can be used on a balcony or dining room. It’s up to you.
Give YOURSELF a Break
If you live in a condo or apartment building, you know what it’s like to have to get all bundled up in the winter to take your pooch out to pee.
What if you’re not feeling well?
Having a doggie lawn is a huge asset when you can’t get out with your dog. Whether you’re recovering from surgery or have some mobility issues, a doggie lawn can really save the day.
What if your dog is recovering from surgery?
Dogs usually require rest right after surgery. The more they must move around, the more pain they’re in.
Besides, bringing a dog who has recently had surgery outdoors and can introduce bacteria to the surgical site.
Have a look for yourself. It’s really the perfect solution for a variety of situations.
Signs and Symptoms of a Luxating Patella
In the early stages, it might actually look cute.
You know your dog is running and jumping, hopping and shaking his leg. It’s quick and it returns to normal so you might be inclined to think it was just a “thing”.
In reality, you should be watching for the following signs:
- Favoring one leg
- Knee won’t bend
- Pain when moving the leg
- Hesitates to jump or run
- Won’t exercise at all
Gently inspect your dog’s leg for any swelling and make an appointment to see the veterinarian.
While on the phone, ask what you can do to make your dog more comfortable while waiting for the appointment.
I don’t recommend bandages or braces for luxating patellae as they can often cause more harm than good.
Your best bet is to see your veterinarian to get appropriate pain medications and discuss what grade the luxating patella is to understand the best treatment.
Good luck! The best part of having a dog is the joy and exuberance it brings to the family. Nothing takes joy out of your life than a dog who can’t move. It’s sad and painful for everybody.
Take good care of your little family member and remember….no massage unless you have consulted with your veterinarian first.