Albuquerque Journal Article – Sudden Lameness in Small Dog

limping chihuahua

Age is Not a Factor for Improved Quality of Life       


My Chihuahua is 13 years old. Last week he ran and started limping on his rear leg. We took him to the veterinarian and she said that his knee is popping in and out. She said he is actually too old for surgery. Is there something we can do?


Dr. Nichol:

Luxating patellas (dislocating knee caps) are common in the small breeds. Depending on severity they can cause a dog to carry a rear leg, often for only a few steps, before resuming normal use. A problem that results from abnormally shaped bones it may be years before a dog’s first lame step. That knee cap slips out of its groove near the end of the thigh bone but then snaps back where it belongs. Your little guy has been one step away from this since he was a kid.

Dogs’ joints are prone to degenerative, inflammatory changes as their body’s age. The late onset of your Chihuahua’s limping suggests that he may also have advancing arthritis in addition to his wayward knee caps. If he’s been overweight the excessive load on his legs would exacerbate his symptoms.

A chunky monkey with luxating patellas may do much better if his person simply reduces the amount of food that’s measured into his bowl. If your dog continues to carry that leg even at a normal weight I would encourage you to have his knees evaluated for possible surgical correction.

For the latest and best information I checked with my colleague Dr. Peter Schwarz, a board certified specialist in veterinary surgery. He explained that if there is no conservative way of helping your dog feel better (weight reduction) surgical treatment would very likely help him a great deal. His age, at 13 years, would not be an impediment to a healthy recovery.

In my previous life as a general practitioner (I am a veterinary behavior specialist now) I did lots of these procedures. I can tell you from my experience that if it’s the best course of action for your boy I would not hesitate. These dogs almost always do much better. Life is too short for bad knees.


Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.