Why is my dog suddenly having trouble walking? A gradual onset limp and a dog’s sudden inability to stand up or walk on its own can be caused by many different factors. Although old age may play a part, there is likely another cause for a dog’s hind leg weakness. Sudden mobility changes in dogs are often caused by an underlying condition. Dogs experiencing hind leg weakness should be seen by a veterinarian immediately for proper assessment and treatment.
Symptoms that your dog is experiencing hind leg weakness include:
- Uncoordinated movements or loss of balance
- Instability and loss of mobility
- Struggling to walk or a slower than normal gait
- Painful joints or dog is repeatedly licking a joint
- Complete or partial paralysis
- Dog’s back legs are weak and shaking or trembling
- Loss of muscle and signs of atrophy
- Knuckling of the toes of the hindlimb
- Vocalizing in pain or becoming distressed or agitated
- Your dog is unable to walk, get up or move around, this can be permanent or comes and goes
- Fecal or urinary incontinence
Dogs experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed need to see a vet for immediate care and treatment. Dogs who receive immediate veterinary care will experience a better chance of full recovery.
7 Causes of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs
There are many conditions that can impact a dog’s leg strength, here are seven of the more common causes of back leg weakness in dogs:
Intervertebral Disc Disease
Sudden paralysis in dogs can often be attributed to IVDD. Most dogs are diagnosed with sudden mobility loss from IVDD following a period of exercise. It’s quite common for a dog’s hind legs to collapse and even become paralyzed after a disc herniation from IVDD. Intervertebral Disc Disease is a spinal cord condition that causes severe back pain and paralysis in dogs, often with little or no warning signs. This condition needs urgent veterinary treatment and surgery to correct the issue. IVDD is seen most commonly in Dachshunds, but other breeds affected include Beagles, Shih Tzu, and Bichon Frise.
Fibrocartilaginous Stenosis or FCE
An FCE is a spinal stroke that occurs when a small piece of cartilage blocks an artery. Dogs experiencing an FCE will have a sudden loss of hind leg function with little sign of pain. Dogs with FCE can become paralyzed on one hind leg and not the other. This is most commonly seen in larger breed dogs such as Labradors and German Shepherds.
Arthritis is a painful joint condition most often impacting dogs as they get older. Arthritis inflammation causes severe joint pain which can limit a dog’s movement, making each step they take painful.
Lumbosacral stenosis is a condition that slowly impacts a dog’s leg function due to spinal pressure caused by a narrowing of the spinal cord, often from pressures by tissues such as ruptured intervertebral disks, tumors, fractures, and severe osteoarthritis. Dogs with spinal stenosis struggle to stand and wobble when they walk. Some dogs may experience severe nerve pain in their hind legs as well. This condition is very painful and can result in urinary and fecal incontinence, and paralysis of the tail.
Also known as DM, degenerative myelopathy is a progressive spinal condition that results in hind leg weakness and paralysis in dogs. Degenerative myelopathy is most common in large dogs such as German Shepherds but can also impact many other dog breeds.
A knee condition that involves a dog’s knee slipping in and out of place. Clinical signs of patellar luxation include holding the limb up in the air and doing a bunny hop.
Neoplasia or cancer can form in the long bones in the hindlimbs, pelvis, or soft tissue structures such as nerves and cartilage. Cancerous growths can be slow-growing and gradually press against nerves or very rapid in onsets such as Osteosarcoma (seen most commonly in the tibia and fibula bone in larger dogs such as Rottweilers. Osteosarcoma can cause limping, reluctance to bear weight on the limb, and even cause spontaneous fractures of the leg if cancer becomes too advanced.
What To Do If Your Dog Can’t Get Up
Dogs with hind leg weakness can struggle to stand up and push themselves up off the ground. Dog boots can be worn to provide your dog with additional traction. Dog boots and traction socks help your dog to better grip the floor as they stand. Pets needing additional assistance to stand up can use a simple rear support leash. A rear support leash easily slips up your dog’s legs so that you can gently guide your dog to stand.
If your dog is unable to stand, it’s recommended to turn your dog over to the opposite side every 4 hours to prevent muscle damage from too much pressure. Massage and grooming can be helpful to stimulate the muscles and promote blood supply and movement through the hindlimbs. A dog that is unable to get up unaided that has not already had a diagnosis by a veterinarian is a medical emergency and veterinary assistance should be sought immediately.
How To Help Your Dog Walk
Hind leg weakness is debilitating for a dog and their family. Luckily paralysis doesn’t have to be an end-of-life decision. Dogs with weak back legs need proper support. Dog wheelchairs provide the rear support your dog needs to stand up and walk on their own. Contrary to popular belief, a dog doesn’t have to be paralyzed to use a wheelchair. Dogs can use a wheelchair and still walk using all four legs. A dog cart provides the hind leg support your pet needs to enjoy their daily walk, get outside for potty breaks, and to play.
Slings are another effective way to walk your dog and are regularly used in the treatment of hospitalized veterinary patients during their recovery. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to use a sling without causing pain or too much pressure on the bladder. Toileting can be a two-person job when using a sling.
There are many reasons why a dog’s mobility may suddenly change. Neurological conditions, degenerative mobility conditions, and injury are just a few of the possibilities. Only your veterinarian can help determine the cause of your dog’s hind leg weakness and work with you to create a treatment plan for your dog.
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Dr. Corinne Wigfall, DVM
Veterinarian Dr. Corinne Wigfall, DVM graduated from University of Nottingham, U.K, in 2014 and lives in New Zealand. Cori has worked with all animals big and small over the years. Currently, she splits her time between writing and working as an emergency care veterinarian. When not working, she enjoys taking Amber, her Labrador puppy out for adventures, and finding new sewing projects to get stuck into!