Media – Sudden Lameness in Small Dog

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Age is Not a Factor for Improved Quality of Life

My Chihuahua is 13 years old. Last week he 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 small dogs. This problem is caused by abnormally shaped rear legs but it may be years before a dog starts skipping. Your Chihuahua’s knee cap slips out of its groove, then after a few seconds, it snaps back to where it belongs, allowing him to resume his normal gait. His knee has been one step away from this mishap since he was a kid.

Dogs’ joints are prone to degenerative, inflammatory changes as they age. The late onset of your boy’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 reduced 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 Dr. Peter Schwarz, a board certified surgeon at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Albuquerque. He explained that if weight reduction doesn’t reduce your dog’s lameness, surgical correction would very likely correct the problem. His age, at 13 years, would not be an impediment to a healthy recovery.

In my previous life as a general practitioner (I’ve limited my practice to behavior medicine) I did lots of these surgeries. From my experience I can assure you that it can make a world of difference. You should not hesitate. Dogs like yours feel much better if they can walk and run normally. Life is too short to hobble around on a bum leg.

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Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.