Luxating Patellas – Rehabilitation After Surgery or Instead of Surgery

First and Foremost: 

1) Please pay attention to the discharge instructions your veterinarian/surgeon has given you if your pet just had surgery for luxating patellas or you have received instructions regarding your pets injury. These instructions usually tell you what to do in the first 24-72 hours in order to care for your pet based on the surgery they had. In many cases, my rehabilitation recommendations will likely fully complement your veterinarian’s instructions and may be used in conjunction with your post-surgical care.

–For example, my instructions and this website both discuss additional information about pain. I have found in my practice that this information is extremely helpful for clients (and their pet patient!).

–As an additional example, my instructions about how to walk your pet, post-injury or post-surgery, will also help you deal with your pets potty and feeding needs, and they don’t contradict knowledgeable post-op protocol.

2) Please pay special attention to the part about no running, jumping, or playing.

3) After paying special attention to those things, please carry on by following those instructions. 😉

And, if your veterinarian or their staff did not say so, please note your pet should not be doing any flying over or onto or off of couches or beds, no galloping stairs, no jumping into or out of cars and trucks, no twisting very fast in tight circles chasing their tail or air fairies, no hilarious sliding on ice, and NO freedom in and out of doggie doors.

I hope this short list leads you toward further thinking about dozens of other activities you shouldn’t allow your pet to do while they are recovering, so that you may discover and eliminate potentially damaging activities I haven’t mentioned that are a part of your and your pets lifestyle.

But, Wait! There’s More…

And, I’ve found I need to add, there shouldn’t be a pet partner/guardian, or their friend(s) jumping out from behind things to scare the dog into running crazy funny around the house (because, likely damaging to the injury) like you, or your friends, sometimes like to do (because, hilarious).

“No running” really means no running to the door when the doorbell rings, no running away from Halloween costumes, no running from one end of the house to the kitchen every time the fridge or a plastic bag is opened, no running to you when you yell to ask the dog if it wants to go outside, and no running inside after the ball, which is very similar to no running outside after the ball.  No, no swimming until at least 8 weeks after surgery or after injury recovery, and only if your pet isn’t lame/limping.

Next Steps:

For further instructions, including the next steps in my rehabilitation protocol, please see the additional links on

this page about steps to follow after surgery,

or on

this page for steps to follow after injury diagnosis, without surgery or before surgery.

Also, please look at and purchase my related books (on Amazon.com if you want the expanded 4-week program.

What’s in the Books?

The booklets contain the first four weeks of information about “workouts” or active rehab you may do with your pet. These instructions are the same for non-surgical and post-surgical treatment of luxating patellas, as they are for my rehab homework for torn knee ligaments. In the future, I intend to publish the booklet that deals with more specifics of luxating patellas.

The main difference between the post-surgical booklet and the “instead of surgery” booklet is that the post-surgical booklet covers additional information about infections after surgery and about dealing with the surgical incisions.

Guidelines for Home Rehabilitation of Your Dog: Instead of Surgery for Torn Knee Ligament: The First Four Weeks, Basic Edition

Guidelines for Home Rehabilitation of Your Dog: After Surgery for Torn Knee Ligament: The First Four Weeks, Basic Edition

Does My Pet HAVE to Have Surgery?

I have worked on rehabilitation for many cases of luxating patellas that did not require surgery in order to improve the pets function and/or quality of life.

Your veterinarian and I are able to approach your pets recovery in most cases to devise a plan that immediately reduces pain with pharmaceutical pain control (medications), if necessary, and gradually reduce pain with my rehabilitation protocol.

Pain can be quite detrimental to quality of life.

After, and while, reducing pain, I recommend that you follow the instructions in my booklet in order to begin work on improving your pets function.

There are many adjunctive, additional body work therapies that are also helpful for your pets recovery at this time. I speak further about some of them in the booklets I linked above. Please follow this link for my easy & productive massage technique for some info on massage so you may get started with adjunctive therapy on your pet.

The three approaches I just mentioned apply to both non-surgical cases and surgical cases.

Why Do These Exercises and Recommendations Work or Help?

In some cases the patella stops luxating (flipping out of the groove on the bones around the knee joint) when you do the right types of exercises with your pet. These exercises should create stronger and larger, hypertrophied, thigh muscles.

In some cases the increased exercise and specific exercise protocol for individual animals does not completely eliminate all luxation, however in those rehab cases, the kneecaps/patellas usually luxate less, and this work usually reduces or eliminates altogether the initial pain of the kneecap flipping back and forth.

I designed additional rehabilitation protocol toward improvement beyond the first four weeks. I do not yet have these in booklet form, however I’ve been using them for 20 years in my practice. Stay tuned for future booklets and related posts, and in the meantime, you should experience good success with the initial program I have outlined for you on this website.

My Pet is Grade 1 – 2 – 3 – 4…

For animals with grades 1 and 2 luxation, as diagnosed by your pets veterinarian, my rehabilitation protocol has worked successfully to reduce pain and/or luxation. My client’s veterinarians have seen this in practice and have agreed/concurred.

My recommendations and protocol often greatly help pets with Grade 3 luxations. Depending on the size and lifestyle of the animal, or the severity of lameness, your vet may yet recommend surgery for your pet. I, and a lot of veterinarians, recommend that you start your pet on the first week(s) of my rehab protocol while you await your surgery date. We call this “pre-hab” in the functional rehabilitation world. You will also likely gain more confidence in how and what to do when you bring your pet home from surgery. You will have already had some experience with how the exercises “work”.

Grade 4 luxations are almost always referred by a veterinarian to surgery, in order to possibly improve quality of life and to possibly help the pet if it has persistent pain due to pelvic or other malformations. I have worked with grade 4 luxation pets, and to my knowledge, all were helped with these rehab protocols, despite physical malformations. If you do opt for surgery, the I recommend you follow my post-op rehab protocol and follow your veterinarian’s post-op recovery instructions (gonna be more “no running, jumping, or playing”…always!).

How Long Do I Do Rehabilitation?

You should continue rehabilitation work with your pet for at least six to eight weeks after injury or surgery. I prefer 12. Often owners relax around week four (or three, or two, or at the end of a successful first week), especially if things seem to be going very well.  I recommend you continue all the way up to “week four” exercises, and continue those, until you are released from re-evaluations with your pets veterinarian and your pet is cleared for “regular activity”. In the meantime, I’ll soon be working on a book with a full 12 weeks of protocol for you.

copyright 2007, Deborah Carroll

Reviewed November 16, 2023

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