Luxating Patella Cat: Definition, Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment

Table of Contents

Your kitty is nothing short of a furry acrobat.

They love to climb to their favourite spots high in the house to watch the world go by and to chase their treasured toys around the house.

But what happens when your cat stops in their tracks, and you notice they aren’t being their normal selves? Maybe you’ve even noticed them hopping and skipping suddenly, holding their legs strangely.

This might be a sign your kitty is dealing with a feline luxating patella. 

This condition, while common, can be a headache for your kitties especially if it goes untreated. It’s important to understand how this condition affects your cat, as well as how cat luxating patellas are diagnosed and treated – which is precisely what we’ll cover today.

What is Luxating Patella in Cats?

Luxating patella cat problems occur when the patella slips out of place. The patella is also known as your cat’s kneecap and is one of the most important parts of their knee – it allows them to run, jump, and flex their little legs so they can get to their favourite spots and jump high in the air.

Check it out in the diagram below where you can see the patella and other important parts of the knee. Note that in a properly working knee, the patella slots into the trochlear groove and the patellar ligament acts as a pulley, lifting the patella up and down in the groove. When the patella slips out of the groove, that is what you call a cat luxating patella.

luxating patella bone

Source

So you can imagine that having that crucial piece of their knee puzzle slip out of place could lead to some problems.

It can be caused by an injury, or more likely, it is congenital. This means that your kitty is born with it and that it is likely hereditary thanks to their breed.

Breeds most commonly afflicted with luxating patella in cats include:

  • Abyssinian
  • Burmese
  • Devon Rex

If your cat has a luxating patella, you may see them skip on one of their legs for a few steps after running or jumping. Your kitty may also hold that leg up for a minute before putting weight on it again. Some cats with luxating patellas will have difficulty climbing stairs and may even hop up them to avoid putting strain on their knees. Luxating patellas are rarely painful, but they can cause pain and arthritis if left untreated.

Feline Luxating Patella Diagnosis

The first step to getting a feline luxating patella diagnosis is to observe your feline friend for symptoms of luxating cat patella. The first and most obvious sign is the “skipping” motion of both cats and dogs with luxating patellas experience. You’ll see the strange hopping or skipping most often when they are running or jumping, and once you see that, it’s time to call the vet.

Other common signs you may see in a cat with luxating patella include:

  • Cat limping in one or both hind legs suddenly or intermittently
  • Brings the rear leg up toward the body frequently
  • Lack of willingness to jump and climb
  • Affected legs seem stiff
  • Bow legged gait (common in cats who have medial patellar luxation)

In order to confirm a diagnosis of luxating patella cats, you’ll need to visit the vet. They are the experts at diagnosing the problem as well as offering a treatment plan to your poor kitty.

via GIPHY

Once you arrive, your veterinarian will likely give your cat a thorough physical exam, including palpation (feeling with hands and fingers on the affected area) of the leg muscles and joints. During a physical examination, your vet can determine whether your cat’s kneecap or kneecaps can be manually luxated. This test may not always be conclusive because it requires that your kitty’s knee flex when pressure is applied during the test.

That’s why your veterinarian may choose to use some other diagnostic tools. This can help to evaluate other concurrent issues with the bones around the knee and to confirm the luxating patella cat problems diagnosis.

The diagnostic imaging that may also be done to determine if you’ve got a feline luxating patella:

  • X-rays
  • Arthroscopic exam (where a camera is inserted into the patellar groove)
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound

The results will help your veterinarian determine what kind of luxation your cat has, which can be helpful in determining treatment options as well as prognosis.

Types of Luxating Patella Cats

types of luxating patella cats

There’s more than one type of luxating patella in cats. It depends on both where the luxation occurs and how severe it is.

Your vet will help you determine what type of luxating patella in cats, your kitty is affected by, and create a treatment plan based on their needs.

Medial Luxating Patella in Cats

Medial luxating patella in cats is what happens when the patella dislocates towards the inside of their knee. This is the most common form of luxating patellas.

Either way, the condition can be either congenital (present at birth) or acquired (develops later) from trauma.

Congenital patellar luxation in cats may happen due to various genetic defects of their limbs and structures such as:

  • Femur
  • Stifle joint
  • Tibia
  • Trochlea

Degenerative joint disease can also lead to the “warping” or misalignment of this joint, and cause the kneecap to pop out of place. And while a cat luxating patella is not necessarily painful at the outset, there will likely be chronic inflammation and the signs of cat arthritis inside their knee if the luxating patella is left for a long time without treatment.

Lateral Patellar Luxation

A lateral luxating patella in cats means the patella in your kitty’s knee dislocates towards the outside of the knee. This is less common than a medial luxating patella, though it is basically the same concept. The difference is where the patella slides in the stifle when it pops out of place on the thigh bone.

The stifle joint where feline luxating patellas occur has two bones to know: 

  1. Femur
  2. Tibia

The femur bone is located on the top and the tibia bone is located at the bottom, which forms a cavity between them (called the trochlear groove, as we mentioned before). The patella or kneecap sits in this cavity. A ligament attaches to both sides of this bone (called medial and lateral attachments) and holds it in place when a cat flexes its stifle joint.

Depending on the side that is more affected (medial or lateral) and where the patella pops out, your kitty will experience either a medial or lateral cat luxating patella.

Luxating Patella Grades

A cat with luxating patella can be anywhere between very mild and very severe, and the treatment and outcomes applied to your kitty’s needs will depend on the degree of severity of their luxating patella cat problems.

Luxating patellas in cats can be classified into four degrees, with the higher degrees being more severe, as outlined in the table below.

Luxating Patella Cat Grade Description
Grade I When pressure is applied to the patella, it will slip out of its groove, but it will return to its original position once the pressure is released.
Grade II There are occasional times when the patella comes out on its own. As soon as the leg is hyperextended and rotated, it returns to its groove.
Grade III The patella is usually out of the groove, but it can be pushed back in manually.
Grade IV There is no way to reposition the patella manually because it has come out of its groove permanently.

Cat Luxating Patella Prevention

cat luxating patella prevention

Like any good cat owner, you want to make sure you protect your kitty from unnecessary pain and suffering.

The thing is, you can’t 100% prevent a cat from luxating patella. It’s largely a hereditary disease and can’t be avoided in cats who are predisposed to it based on breed and family history.

That said, you can do things to strengthen your cat’s soft tissues and joints as well as maintain good overall pet health for the best chance at avoiding painful repercussions from cat luxating patellas.

Ok, with that note out of the way, let’s get into the tips for preventing feline luxating patellas.

Joint Supplements

Like we said, we can’t 100% prevent your kitty from getting a luxating cat patella. But one of the best ways to build strong, supportive soft tissues and muscles is to feed a cat joint supplement.

Taking joint supplements will help your cat’s joints, including their knees, feel stronger and healthier. In cats genetically predisposed to luxating cat patellas or those with arthritis, this is particularly paramount.

Cartilage wears away over time leading to the development of this degenerative condition. When this happens, your cat’s bones rub against one another, causing inflammation and pain over time.

There are however some active ingredients that can maintain the health of your joints in order to prevent arthritis.

You should look for a joint supplement for luxating cat patellas that includes:

  1. Glucosamine: Restores cartilage that has been damaged
  2. Chondroitin: Lessens cartilage deterioration
  3. MSM: Pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory

One cat supplement that has those ingredients? TRI-ACTA for pets. This 100% pure formulation is third-party batch tested and Health Canada approved, so you can trust the quality for your precious pet. This is an important supplement to consider to prevent joint issues like luxating patella.

TRI-ACTA for Pets

A proactive approach for developing and younger adult pets to maintain optimal joint health mobility, minimize inflammation and fend off age-related ailments.

Screening

The only true prevention for cat luxating patella is making sure the hereditary trait doesn’t get passed down. And how do you do that? You screen it out.

If you’re hoping to make sure your kitty has the best chance at not experiencing luxating cat patella problems, then you need to look for a breeder who is able to tell you the family history of your kitty. This is especially important for breeds like Burmese and Cornish Rex who are more prone to the condition.

That said, a cat luxating patella can only be “screened” informally. In spite of the fact that patellar luxation seems to be an inherited condition, joint problems have complex inheritance patterns and are multifactorial, so there are no genetic tests available for this condition yet.

If you already brought home your sweet kitten, and if they are a mixed breed or one of the breeds we’ve mentioned as being likely carriers, make sure you take them to the vet on time and regularly throughout their young life. That way your vet can consistently check for physical signs of patellar luxation, and you can get on top of treatment early.

Weight Management

Maintaining good overall cat health can solve a lot of your kitty’s health woes. By keeping them in good shape and at a healthy weight, you can make sure they have the best chances at reducing the pain and onset of luxating patella cat problems.

Why exactly?

Well, consider this: a cat with a heavier overall body weight will have more weight bearing down its joints. They are also less likely to exercise enough every day, leading to stiff, sore muscles and cat joint pain when they do take that big leap every once in a while. This extra stress on their joints can cause arthritis and degeneration of the cartilage in their joints, thanks to the weight bearing down on them 24/7.

So, as much as we like rewarding our kitties with plenty of treats, that can be a big contributor to obesity in cats and when you are trying to prevent a luxating patella in cats from getting worse, it’s even more critical to manage their weight.

When it comes to your feline’s diet, you could opt for a specialty diet like a cat raw food diet, but even better is choosing a scientifically formulated food focused on weight management.

To avoid feline luxating patella symptoms, these foods are balanced to include the proper nutrients your kitty needs to maintain good body condition including

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Fish and meat proteins
  • Fatty acids
  • Amino acids
  • Fiber

By feeding a weight management diet that’s properly balanced by the pros, your kitty will get exactly the right amount of calories and nutrients and keep those pounds off.

Also important to weight management is exercise.

And we know that cats love napping in their favourite sun puddles more than anything, and getting them to move can be tricky!

via GIPHY

The thing is, it’s super important to get your kitty moving, and you may even find it to be a great bonding time for you and your furbaby. Ideally, you want to make sure your cat is active for 30 minutes a day.

The table below has some ideas to help keep your cat active and help reduce the onset of a cat luxating patella.

Cat Exercise Ideas & Tips
Toys and tools
  • Catnip stuffed toys can make playtime extra enjoyable
  • Toys that mimic prey are great for cats who like to pounce and stalk
  • Offer your cat a variety of toys that are both independent and require you to play with them to keep it interesting
  • Scratching posts, perches, and cat wheels can also be helpful to encourage stretching and climbing
Games
  • Use a laser pointer to create a chasing game for your kitty
  • In a dry bathtub, place light balls such as ping pong balls and allow your cat to chase and pounce on them as they bounce around the tub
  • Use feather wands to entice your kitty to play with you
Friendly play
  • If your cat has a sibling at home, pay with them all together, or offer toys they can wrestle over
  • If your kitty is an only cat, invite a feline friend over for a playdate to make sure they are socializing
Environment enrichment
  • Catios make for a safe way for your cat to explore the outdoors
  • Window seats and perches near windows are great tools to help your cat observe the world around them
  • Specially made fish and bird videos can help your cat stay engaged inside

Cat Luxating Patella Treatment

luxating patella cat treatment

For cats with luxating patellas, the good news is there are plenty of options for treating and managing the condition.

For kitties who are experiencing a less severe form of feline luxating patella, such as a Grade I or II, conservative treatment is usually recommended as a first course of action. Your vet will be able to design a plan that is suited to your feline’s needs, but it usually includes rest, exercise restrictions, and sometimes, anti-inflammatory medications.

This is also a case where a cat joint supplement can come in handy. Joint supplements, like TRI-ACTA H.A. can help reduce pain and inflammation as well as help repair and protect cartilage. This is crucial, because feline patellar luxation, if left untreated, can cause arthritis and other joint problems, like cruciate ligament tears. Building a strong foundation of healthy soft tissues and joints can delay or even prevent the onset of cat arthritis.

Surgical treatment may be needed if conservative therapy doesn’t work and your cat is in a lot of pain and can’t get around comfortably and therapeutic supplements like TRI-ACTA H.A. can also aid in surgery recovery (remember how we mentioned it reduces pain and inflammation above?). For Grades III and IV patellar luxations, this is often the case. The goal of surgery is to keep the patella in its groove and to stabilize the kneecap. This is done in a few different ways, and the right method will be recommended by your veterinarian after they evaluate their condition.

The table below shows the types of surgery your vet may consider for cats with severe feline luxating patella.

Cat Luxating Patella Surgery Type What It Is
Tibial Tuberosity Transposition During this surgery, the patellar ligament is moved either medially or laterally on the proximal tibia to help keep the patella aligned in the trochlear groove.
Retinacular Release & Tightening The goal of this procedure is to help maintain the patella in the trochlear groove by modifying the parapatellar soft tissue tension. Except in cases of traumatic patellar luxation, this technique is typically used in conjunction with other corrective surgeries.
Trochleoplasty When a cat’s got a very shallow trochlear groove, a trochleoplasty procedure is recommended to deepen the trench, so the patella can properly slide in and out. There are various techniques for doing a trochleoplasty, such as the block recession method. Which is best for your cat should be determined by your vet.

Luxating Patella Cat Recovery Time

It’s important to make sure the cat luxating patella surgery recovery goes smoothly for a successful long-term outcome. Following surgery, you need to closely follow your veterinarian’s instructions concerning activity restrictions and containment so that the injured area can heal properly, and your kitty doesn’t open up stitches.

If you follow the post-op cat luxating patella instructions carefully, the recovery time for a luxating patella operation is usually about 6 weeks. Your cat will be fitted with a bandage to keep the patella in its new position, but keep in mind that you may need to help your cat keep the leg in place, especially when they are using the litter box.

You will also need to keep the incision site clean and dry and give your cat any medication that they may have been prescribed after surgery.

The most common medications prescribed to cats recovering from feline luxating patella surgery include:

  • Nocita (a local anesthetic that numbs incision area)
  • Buprenorphine transmucosal (pain management medication)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (pain and inflammation management)
  • Antibiotics (to reduce the likelihood of infection)

If your sweet kitty seems to be acting off, is suddenly vomiting, or is lethargic or groggy for more than a few days post-op, call your veterinarian for advice to make sure they aren’t having a bad reaction to the medication.

Once your kitty has completed their course of medication and is working on some physical therapy or stretching exercises (however reluctantly), adding in an extra-strength joint supplement like TRI-ACTA H.A. can help your cat return to normal, and keep their joints healthy for years to come. The addition of hyaluronic acid to our regular strength formula helps promote improved synovial fluid and better mobility. That way, your kitty can bounce back to their old selves quickly, and you can enjoy healthy and happy years to come.

TRI-ACTA H.A. for Pets

Our maximum strength formula is optimally designed to accelerate the formation of cartilage, minimize inflammation, expedite the healing process, and improve joint conditions.