The Saga of Spot's Knees

Jeff Poling

December 31, 2001

The full story covers approximately seventeen months. I am doing my best to remember all the facts, but until January, 2001, nothing I was told indicated any worrisome problems, thus relegating what I was told to "background noise."

I had Spot's patellas checked the same week I got him in September, 1999. As I recall, the vet said the left kneecap was a little loose, but I "need not worry for now, just have it checked again later when Spot is full grown as it could correct itself." Over the course of the next seventeen months, Spot was checked several more times, with the same results, except that I was now told surgery was an option if it bothered him. Then, about August, 2000, the vet said that it could be as bad as a grade 2, but again, surgery was an option only if it bothered Spot.

Spot had always been a little slow, and I wondered if it had to do with his kneecaps. However, my yardstick was Papillons that were bigger and more robust than he, making it very possible that it was simply a matter of differing strengths. He absolutely did not show any lameness, nor what the vet told me is the most telling symptom of luxating patellas: during locomotion, the leg is suddenly carried against the body for a few steps due to the dog not being able to extend the leg. Then, some time late in 2000, I began to note an odd little behavior. Whenever Spot would jump from a sitting position, such as onto a piece of furniture, he would make several starts before succeeding. Think of sitting on a chair, then rising an inch or two, then sitting back down, then repeating several more times before standing. How long this had been going on, I do not know. Come December, 2000, I started noticing a crack just before he would successfully jump. I also started noticing this crack while he was going up stairs. In January, 2001, I remembered the vet the previous August all of a sudden saying Spot might have grade 2 luxation in one knee. Taken all together, that decided me to have Spot looked at by an orthopedic vet before we started competing in agility at the end of February, 2001.

The orthopedic vet did not have good news. He diagnosed grade 2 medial patellar luxation not only in the left leg, which was known to be loose, but also in the right, which, at least prior the August, 2000, visit, had never been found to be loose. Further, I was now told surgery was not optional as patellar luxation is a degenerative condition, and things would steadily get worse. Worst of all, he said dogs with the condition cannot do agility, even after the surgery. I decided to seek a second opinion on the agility prognosis, and did get a different one. Only time will tell which is correct.

Since surgery was not optional, I left Spot at the OSU vet hospital where we got the second opinion. On January 11, 2001, Spot received a bilateral tibial tuberosity transposition. This is where they cut the patellar connective tissue connection point off the tibia, move it to a new position, and then literally nail it back on to the bone (screws are used for larger dogs). Usually, the surgeon also has to deepen the trochlear groove, the groove the kneecap rides in, but even the left one was deep enough that this was not necessary in Spot's case.

The surgery went well; Spot is young, very healthy and very strong. Other than a scare where the little contortionist got past his protective collar and ripped out all the stitches on one leg, he recovered well. After two weeks, I took him back in for stitch removal and reevaluation. The right leg was solid dead on. The left leg was still a little loose, but the doctor believes that once Spot starts using the leg normally again, it will tighten up. The joint is still cracking a little bit, but it appears to be due to the patella riding out of the top of the groove, rather than the side, due to its relative shortness. As the patella rides in its proper groove, it should deepen and lengthen the groove so that this will no longer be a problem. I decided to have Spot reevaluated annually, with the first to occur in June, 2002.

Spot had six more weeks of recovery, at which time he returned to his normal life. Until then, no running, jumping or playing was allowed. Just short walks and hydrotherapy. Spot's jumping problem seems to have been cured, although he does occasionally have difficulty. I cannot tell whether this is due to memory or reasons other than his condition, or whether he is still really having problems. I do know that he has been tearing up the agility circuit since beginning to compete in August, 2001. As of December, 2001, he has placed fourth or better in 59 out of 72 runs (82%), with 39 of those first place (67%).

To see postop photographs of Spot's knees, find the link under the "Luxating patellas" sub-heading.

Update May 29, 2002

Today I took Spot in to the orthopedic vet to have his knees rechecked. A year and a half after his surgery, the vet feels Spot's knees remain stable and healthy. The vet feels there have been some osteoarthritic changes in the joints, but these changes are not uncommon, and are not painful or otherwise causing Spot any problems. Both legs are equally well muscled, so neither leg is being favored. The vet feels the joints should remain healthy despite the arthritis if, unsurprisingly, I keep Spot's weight down and, surprisingly, since I would have thought the opposite, I keep him active. With regional and national agility competitions coming up, he certainly will get plenty of activity.

I had planned on taking Spot in yearly for checkups, but I likely will change that to every 3 to 5 years unless there are problems. Hopefully I won't need to be concerned any longer.

Update November 25, 2013

Every now and then a request will be posted to groups such as agilepaps asking about agility and luxating patellas, so I thought I would add some brief comments to this page.

Spot went on to an excellent USDAA career.  He won a Grand Prix of Dog Agility regional championship and a Performance Grand Prix of Dog Agility regional championship.  He is the first Papillon, and in most cases one of only two Papillons, to achieve many of USDAA's highest titles.  He currently has the third-most LAA-eligible qualifying scores of any Papillon, and likely would have hit the top spot had he not passed away from cancer before his career was done.  Although not the speed demon of the Moso-Masher-Devo lines of Papillons, nor as skilled as the Papillon currently at the top of the LAA-Q list, he compared favorably to both.  I believe the only truly negative impact his knees had on his agility career was that he was not able to turn on a dime.  In a straightaway there were few who could match him.

This should not be taken as a guarantee that any individual dog will respond as well to the surgery.  Every dog, and every knee, and every surgeon, is different.  But I think that Spot's experiences can serve as a source of hope when contemplating options regarding the condition and the possibility of competing in agility.

Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Poling.
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Revised: November 25, 2013; New: December 31, 2001