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How would I know if my dog has stifle instability? 


Well, let’s look at what is a normal stifle in a dog.  


The term stifle is another name for knee joint for dogs.  In simple terms, this joint is where the femur (thigh bone) meets the tibia & fibula (shin bones).   At this meeting point there is also the patella – what we know as the kneecap.  


The patella sits in a deep groove in the femur and slides up and down as your dog moves.  The patella is held in place by the patella ligament which in in term is attached to muscles above and below the stifle joint.


Within the joint, there are also two cruciate ligaments for stability and menisci for cushioning.  So you can see that there are a lot of structures involved in a stifle joint.



 Stifle instability occurs when the stifle or surrounding structures are not sound.     

There are a number of conditions that cause stifle instability.  They can be a poor conformation of a dog’s joint (either congenital or through poor nutritional health or lifestyle when skeletally immature), through acute injury or chronic wear and tear. 

Depending on the condition, it’s cause and duration, it is important that we treat and manage the affected joint, but also, the whole dogI can’t stress this enough.




 So, what do we do??

First, we look for clues as to whether our dog even has a problem.  It’s always good to research the breed (or mixture of breeds!) of your dog to determine the likelihood of any predisposed conditions.

 Watch your dog move.  Does he skip occasionally at certain speeds?  Are there certain activities or movements that your dog avoids – avoidance behaviours can be subtle.

If you see something that doesn’t look right to you, speak to your vet.  Managing joint conditions is very much a team effort.  Your vet will be integral in helping diagnose and manage any pain related to your doggo’s condition.


 Then what?

Once we have a diagnosis, before we do anything, we need a full exam from a remedial therapist.  Your vet will have addressed any pain that is related to the injured or diseased joint.

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I, your remedial therapist will also perform a full assessment.  From here we can work out our goals.  In the case of stifle instability, the aims are generally:


  •  Preventing atrophy (muscle wastage) of the affected area. 
  • Reduce tenderness and tension in areas caused by postural compensation.  
  •  Strengthen the structures surrounding the affected joint(s). 

These aims are applicable regardless of whether surgical intervention is required.  Again, it is important to note that my treatments will address issues that are associated with the joint condition that may present in other areas of your dog’s body.  

We’ll look at the bigger picture.  We’ll review your dogs lifestyle, regular activities, environment.  We make adjustments that are reasonable and necessary.

We look at options to maximise the benefits of current treatments (and also minimise the risk of further injury or insult to the condition!).

Often a treatment plan will include: 

  • Extended rest – sometimes crate rest.
  • Weight management (especially when associated with extended exercise restriction).
  • Environmental enrichment (again, important when also on strict rest).
  • Supplements.


 Depending on your dog’s condition, it’s severity, duration and prognosis, we will adjust the plan based on your dog’s response to treatment.

I’ll work with you to achieve your goals for your dog’s health and will collaborate with your vets, specialists, training instructors and other caregivers to achieve these treatment goals. 

The long term goal is to improve your dog’s quality of life – for today, and all of his tomorrows.