Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

Overview of Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

Medial patella luxation (MPL) is a condition in which the patella (knee-cap) no longer glides within its natural groove (sulcus) in the femur, the upper bone of the knee joint. It becomes displaced to the inside of the joint and can be partial or complete, intermittent or permanent.

MPL can occur as a result of trauma or develop during the first year of an animal’s life. Congenital or developmental MPL is more common. It is most commonly found in a wide variety of small dogs such as poodles, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese and bichon frise, but it also occurs in larger breeds. Animals may present when they are young, during the first year of life, particularly if the abnormality is severe, or any time later in their life if the problem is lower grade and leads to a more progressive, chronic lameness. Traumatic patella luxation can of course occur at any age and is usually secondary to being hit by a car.

What to Watch For

Lameness can vary from an occasional hitch of the leg, like an intermittent skipping, to a persistent weight bearing lameness. Traumatic luxations are more likely to result in a non-weight bearing lameness.

Diagnosis of Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

Physical examination is a crucial part of diagnosis. Your veterinarian will observe your dog both walking and trotting. In a standing position, the knee joint of the affected leg is compared to the opposite side.

Your veterinarian will put the knee joint through a normal range of motion to feel the tracking of the patella during flexion and extension of the joint. Dependent on the severity of the problem the patella may move only slightly toward the inner aspect of the joint or may pop completely and audibly out of position.

X-rays of the knee can be helpful in documenting the luxation.

Treatment of Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

Home Care and Prevention

Following surgery many small dogs are sent home with the leg in a soft padded bandage. This should be kept clean and dry at all times and the toes at the bottom of the bandage checked twice daily for swelling and/or pain.

Most animals require exercise restriction for the first four to six weeks following surgery. The bandage and stitches are removed at 10 to 14 days. Passive flexion and extension of the knee can be helpful to reduce joint stiffness.

Congenital luxation is commonly a bilateral problem, that is it affects both hind legs, though not necessarily to the same degree. When selecting a dog, ask the breeder about the history of patella problems in the bloodline.

In-depth Information on Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

There are many other causes of lameness referable to the knee joint, and your veterinarian considers these during the history taking and the physical examination. Some examples include the following:

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

With an acute patella luxation the lameness is usually the result of trauma and so this questioning is not so important as the physical examination. With a chronic patella luxation, the lameness usually varies, is often worse when first getting up after lying down, may produce some skipping during exercise or low grade partial weight bearing lameness that is slowly becoming more noticeable and does not change much despite rest.

Your veterinarian will ask you to walk and then trot your dog, in order to observe the lameness. With your pet in a standing position, the affected side will be compared to the opposite side for muscle wasting, patella position while standing, swelling of the knee joint, thickening of the joint, position and thickness of the patella tendon and its attachment to the tibia, the bone below the joint.

The stifle joint will be put through a normal range of motion, paying particular attention to the tracking of the patella through its groove and the ability to push the knee cap in or out of its normal position manually.

The knee will be assessed for abnormal motion such as side to side looseness or laxity due to collateral damage, and front to back laxity or “drawer” due to a damaged cranial cruciate ligament.

The patella luxation will be assigned a grade, from 1, being mild and without clinical signs, through 4, being severe with a permanently displaced patella. Dogs with grades 2, 3 and 4 are often candidates for surgery.

All other joints, bones and soft tissues on the affected side are also palpated and put through a normal range of motion to ensure the problem is isolated to the knee. X-rays of the affected knee are not always essential but may be helpful to evaluate bony deformity and arthritic change as a result of the luxation. X-rays are important following traumatic luxation of the patella, to ensure that the bones around the joint are not fractured.

In-depth Information on Treatment

Home Care for Dogs with Medial Patella Luxation (MPL)

A soft-padded bandage is usually placed on the leg following surgery to offer comfort, reduce some of the normal postoperative swelling, and provide some support. Because it is not possible to observe the surgical incision for problems, you need to check the toes on a daily basis for swelling, excessive heat or pain. If your pet tries to chew the bandage and is not behaving normally in any other respect, a bandage change might be helpful to evaluate the surgical site.

Some dogs just do not tolerate a bandage well, despite the absence of complications at the surgical site. Elizabethan collars can be helpful, but in some cases the bandage should be removed if it becomes more trouble than it is worth.

Your dog should have the bandage and stitches removed at 10 to 14 days following surgery and have strict rest for four to six weeks. This would require, in most cases, confinement to a single room, no going up or down stairs, avoiding slippery surfaces such as tile, hardwood floors or linoleum, and leash walk for bathroom duty only.

Your veterinarian may demonstrate how to put the knee through a passive range of motion, that is gentle flexion and extension of the knee to encourage earlier weight bearing.

Prognosis and Prevention of Medial Patella Luxation in Dogs

The prognosis for dogs with grade 2 or 3 MPL is generally good following corrective surgery. As anticipated, the more severe the deformity, the grade 4 MPL’s, the more guarded the prognosis, because there is only so much correction that can be achieved. Severe MPL will be associated with more cartilage damage, more arthritis and subsequently a poorer long term outlook for the knee.

It is not possible to prevent developmental MPL. Certain breeds of small dogs commonly have MPL. At the first sign of lameness or gait abnormality, have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian ti assess the position and tracking of the patella. As discussed earlier, not all MPL’s necessitate surgical intervention. The problem may only need to be monitored and evaluated periodically during your pet’s development. In cases of more severe MPL, the prognosis is improved with early detection and surgical correction, as this improves joint function and alignment while the dog is still developing.