Dear Christopher Cat
Crystal, my 1-year-old cat, has a problem. Sometimes when she walks, one hind leg suddenly locks up. She hobbles in discomfort for a few seconds and then walks normally. What’s going on?
It sounds like one of Crystal’s kneecaps may be dislocating and then popping back into place. The technical term for dislocating kneecaps is luxating patellas.
Most cats with luxating patellas are born with the problem, which becomes evident during the first few years of life. Usually both knees are affected.
Some cats with luxating patellas have minimal problems, but others become lame and feel pain when their kneecaps dislocate. During the episodes, the affected hind leg may lock when it’s extended, or the cat may walk with a crouching or shuffling gait.
In one study of cats with luxating patellas, half the knees were treated conservatively, by simply letting the cat rest, and half were treated surgically.
The cats treated conservatively were followed for 4.5 years, on average, and 76 percent of them had an excellent or good outcome. The cats treated surgically were followed for an average of 1.5 years, and 94 percent of them had an excellent or good result.
If Crystal’s leg only rarely locks up, and she can still run up and down the stairs and jump onto and off the furniture, she may do well as long as she doesn’t put on excess weight.
But if she has frequent episodes of hobbling accompanied by pain, she may need surgery.
Have Crystal examined by your veterinarian or a veterinary orthopedic surgeon, who can tell you if she has a luxating patella and recommend appropriate treatment.