Understanding Luxating Patellas in Cocker Spaniels

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

CockerSpaniel.org Volunteer Staff

2/20/20243 min read

brown long coated small dog
brown long coated small dog


Cocker Spaniels can be prone to certain health issues, one of which is luxating patellas. This condition, although common in small to medium-sized breeds, requires understanding and proactive management to ensure the well-being of affected dogs.

What are Luxating Patellas?

Luxating patellas, also known as "floating kneecaps," occur when the patella, or kneecap, dislocates or moves out of its normal position within the groove of the femur (thigh bone). This displacement can vary in severity, ranging from occasional slipping to complete dislocation, causing discomfort and affecting mobility.

Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors can contribute to the development of luxating patellas in Cocker Spaniels, including:

  1. Genetics: Inherited traits play a significant role in the development of luxating patellas. Cocker Spaniels with a familial history of the condition may have an increased predisposition.

  1. Conformational Abnormalities: Structural abnormalities, such as shallow grooves in the femur or abnormal alignment of the patellar ligaments, can predispose dogs to patellar luxation.

  1. Muscle Weakness: Weakness or imbalance in the muscles surrounding the knee joint can contribute to instability and patellar displacement.

  1. Obesity: Excess body weight can exacerbate strain on the joints and increase the likelihood of patellar luxation.

  1. Trauma: Injuries or trauma to the knee joint can lead to the development of luxating patellas, particularly in susceptible individuals.

Recognizing Symptoms

Symptoms of luxating patellas in Cocker Spaniels may vary depending on the severity of the condition but can include:

  1. Intermittent Lameness: Dogs may exhibit intermittent limping or favoring of one or both hind legs, particularly after physical activity or prolonged periods of rest.

  1. Pain or Discomfort: Signs of discomfort, such as vocalization, reluctance to bear weight on the affected limb, or sensitivity to touch around the knee joint, may be observed.

  1. Altered Gait: A bunny-hopping or skipping gait, where the dog alternates between hopping on both hind legs, may indicate patellar instability.

  1. Joint Instability: Palpable movement or clicking sensation when manipulating the kneecap may be present during physical examination.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect your Cocker Spaniel may be experiencing symptoms of luxating patellas, it's essential to seek veterinary evaluation for proper diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis typically involves a combination of physical examination, manipulation of the knee joint, and imaging tests such as X-rays or orthopedic evaluation.

Treatment options for luxating patellas in Cocker Spaniels may vary depending on the severity of the condition but can include:

  1. Conservative Management: Mild cases of patellar luxation may be managed conservatively with weight management, exercise modification, physical therapy, and joint supplements to help support joint health and mobility.

  1. Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain medications may be prescribed to alleviate discomfort and inflammation associated with patellar luxation.

  1. Surgical Intervention: Severe or recurrent cases of luxating patellas may require surgical correction to realign the patella and stabilize the knee joint. Surgical techniques may include trochleoplasty, tibial tuberosity transposition, or a combination of procedures to address underlying anatomical abnormalities.

Preventive Measures and Management Strategies

While luxating patellas cannot always be prevented, there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk and support your Cocker Spaniel's joint health:

  1. Regular Exercise: Engage your dog in regular, low-impact exercise to help maintain muscle strength, joint flexibility, and overall fitness. Avoid activities that may put excessive strain on the knees, such as jumping or rough play.

  1. Weight Management: Maintain a healthy body weight for your Cocker Spaniel through a balanced diet and portion control. Excess weight can exacerbate joint strain and increase the risk of patellar luxation.

  1. Environmental Modifications: Provide a safe and supportive environment for your dog, including non-slip surfaces and stairs or ramps to minimize strain on the joints, particularly for older or arthritic individuals.

  1. Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule routine veterinary examinations to monitor your dog's overall health, including joint function and mobility. Early detection and intervention can help prevent the progression of joint issues such as luxating patellas.


Luxating patellas can pose significant challenges for Cocker Spaniels, affecting mobility, comfort, and quality of life. By understanding the causes, recognizing symptoms early, and implementing appropriate treatment and preventive measures, owners can help manage this condition effectively and support their furry companions' well-being. With proactive care and attentive management, Cocker Spaniels with luxating patellas can continue to enjoy an active and fulfilling life as beloved members of the family.