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Why does my dog have a "jump" or "bunny hop" when we go for a walk?

If you see your dog occasionally holding its leg up or hopping when running, it could be due to a common canine condition known as luxating patella.

So what does it mean?

Luxation of the patella occurs when the kneecap (patella) dislocates or moves out of its normal position in the groove of the femur (thigh bone). This condition may be more common in smaller dogs than in larger dogs.

Does this cause pain?

Yes, this dislocation can cause pain, discomfort and difficulty walking in the affected dog.

What are the key points about patellar luxation in dogs?

  • Causes

    • Genetic predisposition: Certain breeds are more prone to patellar luxation, including small and toy breeds such as Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers and miniature poodles.

    • Anatomy: Abnormalities in the bones or muscles around the knee joint can contribute to the dislocation of the kneecap.

    • Injury: Traumatic injury to the knee causing sudden severe lameness of the limb.

    • Nutrition: Poor diet and obesity contribute to the development of joint problems associated with the knee cap due to increased pressure on the joint capsule and knee joint.

  • Symptoms

    • Intermittent lameness: Dogs may show a limp that favours one hind leg, more pronounced after physical activity or exercise.

    • Intermittent jumping: Dogs may suddenly lift one hind leg off the ground when walking or running.

    • Bunny hopping: Dogs may hop like rabbits when running, using both hind legs at the same time to minimise the discomfort caused by the dislocated kneecap.

    • Pain: Your dog may show signs of discomfort or pain in the affected limb, yelping or whining when running or when the affected leg is touched.

    • Stiffness or difficulty getting up: Your dog may be stiff after a period of rest and take a few minutes to loosen up. They may also have difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position, especially if the kneecap has been temporarily dislocated.

How is the severity of patellar dislocation determined?

  • Grade 1: No severe pain, occasional dislocation usually returns to normal position.

  • Grade 2: Pain when the patella falls out of place, frequent dislocation of the patella, manual repositioning required.

  • Grade 3: Constant pain and may develop severe arthritis, frequent dislocation of the kneecap, may require manual repositioning.

  • Grade 4: Constant pain as the patella is permanently dislocated and the joint may be deformed.

How can canine remedial massage help your dog?

Canine remedial massage can offer several benefits for dogs with patellar luxation, aiding in both the management of the condition and the overall well-being of the dog. While massage should always be performed under the guidance of a canine massage therapist, here are some of the potential benefits:

  • Pain relief: Massage can help relieve the pain associated with a dislocated patella by promoting relaxation, reducing muscle tension and increasing blood flow. Gentle massage techniques can target areas around the knee joint, providing relief to the affected region.

  • Improved range of motion: Dog massage can improve the flexibility and range of motion of the affected limb. By working on the surrounding muscles and tissues, massage can help improve joint mobility.

  • Reduced muscle tension: Dogs with a dislocated patella often have compensatory muscle tension in the affected limb. Massage can help release tension in these muscles, promoting a more balanced and comfortable state.

  • Improved circulation: Massage improves blood circulation, which is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Improved circulation can contribute to the healing process and overall joint health.

  • Joint support: Focused massage around the knee joint can provide support by promoting proper alignment and addressing muscle imbalances. This can be particularly beneficial in managing the condition over time.

  • Stress reduction: Dogs with health problems, including patellar luxation, may experience stress and anxiety. Massage has a calming effect on the nervous system, potentially reducing stress levels and contributing to the overall wellbeing of the dog.

  • Increased awareness of body condition: Regular massage sessions allow for closer monitoring of the dog's body condition. Identifying changes or early signs of discomfort allows for timely intervention and adjustments to the treatment plan.

Canine massage therapists experienced in working with orthopaedic conditions can tailor their approach to the specific needs of a dog with luxating patella.

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