Why a Dog Drags Their Back Paw

Dogs usually drag their back paws due to an underlying medical condition. Your dog may drag his back paw only occasionally, just when he’s tired, or it might be happening frequently. Also known as knuckling, a dog drags their back toes when they are struggling with their proprioception. 

What is Proprioception in Dogs?

Proprioception is a dog’s perception of their paw placement, movement, equilibrium, and general awareness of their body parts in relation to themselves. This is an instinctual sense that lets the dog know where their paw is in relation to the rest of their body and how it should touch the ground.

A dog with proprioceptive issues means that they are unaware of where or how they are placing their paw when they walk. This may mean the dog drags their paw or even walks on the top of their paw instead of walking normally. Most proprioception problems in dogs are caused by a neurological issue. 

How do I know my dog has issues with proprioception?

The signs a dog is dragging their paws are fairly apparent. Dogs that knuckle under will walk on the top of their paw. and often drag their nails while walking causing the nails to wear unevenly. When walking your dog on pavement listen for sounds of dragging nails. If you notice any of these signs it’s likely your dog has proprioception issues.

First you should speak to your veterinarian and set up a time for them to examine your pup. A simple test your vet may try is to flip your dog’s back paw so that he is standing on the top of his foot. If your dog corrects their paw to stand normally, then your dog has a normal perception of their paw placement. A dog who does not correct their foot and adjust to stand normally, likely has problems with proprioception. 

Paw Knuckling in Senior Dogs

Causes for Dragging Paws and Knuckling in Dogs

Most pets drag their paws and knuckle under due to an underlying neuro condition. Here are a few of the most common conditions that cause dogs to drag their paws:

  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Spondylosis
  • Arthritis
  • Cervical Vertebral Instability or CVI
  • FCE or spinal stroke
  • Traumatic injury that damaged a dog’s muscle, nerves, or spine
  • Spinal tumors
  • Neurological issues

How can I treat my dog’s knuckling?

A dog’s treatment for knuckling will depend on what is causing their back paw to drag. Your veterinarian will create a treatment plan based on your dog’s diagnosis. Your dog may be prescribed medication and anti-inflammatories to help treat your dog’s condition. 

Physical therapy is often recommended for dogs with proprioceptive issues. Structured exercise can help dogs improve their strength and coordination. Rehab sessions can be enhanced with rehabilitative tools like the No-Knuckling Training Sock. When the training sock is worn for short periods of time it encourages a dog to pick their foot up off the ground and retrain them to walk normally. Pets with knuckling caused by degenerative myelopathy will not be able to retrain themselves to walk correctly, but physical therapy can help to slow down the condition’s progress.

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