Not-so happy hopping
Now that we are truly into the summer and the sunny weather is definitely here, we can see kids outside running, jumping and enjoying the outdoor life. Many are using skipping ropes and have an amazing array of hops, skips and jumps as they bounce around the park.
Quite often we see terrier dogs also skipping along. The seems to run fine, then hop on three legs for a few paces, kick out their legs and run on four again. Rather than being a challenge of the playground, this is actually a condition in their stifle or knee known as luxating patella.
Dogs’ knees are very much like human knees. Where the large thigh bone, the femur, meets the shin bone, the tibia, a free floating bone called the kneecap or patella sits above them. It nestles in a little groove and is anchored to the other bones by a network of ligaments. Its function is to control the direction of pull of the large patellar ligament, the one we ping as kids to make our legs jerk out.
If the groove is too shallow, the patella pops out, causes a slight discomfort, but with a kick of the leg often pops back in again. This causes the characteristic hop skip and jump.
Luxating patella is the most common orthopaedic disease in dogs. It is an inherited condition and most often occurs in the small breeds such as Miniature Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers and Pekinese,but it is becoming more common in larger breeds too.
The condition is due to the curve of the leg or the angle of the knee joint. Small dogs often have slightly bowed hind legs, whereas larger breeds tend to have knocked knees. It occasionally occurs in cats, but cats tend to have traumatic patella dislocations as they can fall off walls and trees and damage their legs this way.
Most dogs have a very mild form of the disease and manage very well, but need to be monitored since as they age, as it can lead to arthritis in the older pet.
Other dogs with more severe problems need surgical intervention. Depending on the severity of luxation, this may range from simple surgery to stabilise the joint, to reconstructive surgery where the angle of the joint is corrected and the movement if the patella is returned to normal. Each case needs a thorough examination and X-rays to assess the extent of the rotation, as treatment is based on individual needs.
So next time you see your little dog trying the hop, skip and jump, think potential kneecap problem and it may be time to see the vet. On the other hand, he may just be enjoying the dog days of summer.