Knuckling under or knuckling in dogs occurs when a dog rests or walks on the top of their feet. A dog can knuckle on one or more paws and may not happen with every step they take. Not only can dragging feet lead to scraped paws, but it can also be an indicator of an underlying health condition.
What Causes a Dog to Knuckle Under?
According to Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM., CVJ. “Knuckling in dogs has a variety of causes. The most common causes of knuckling are neurological problems, such as intervertebral disc disease (bulging or herniated discs in between the spinal bones), degenerative myelopathy, cervical spondylomyelopathy (Wobblers), nerve damage, fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE), cauda equina syndrome, and cancer of the spinal cord.”
Arthritis – due to joint pain and stiffness, arthritic dogs may begin to knuckle over. Often occurring when it has become uncomfortable for the dog to walk normally.
Degenerative Myelopathy – a genetically inherited condition that impacts a dog’s mobility. Mobility loss due to DM is progressive and worsens over time, a dragging or scraping rear paw is often one of the earliest signs of DM.
Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) – Spinal injury and trauma can cause difficulties in a dog’s legs and paws. FCE is characterized by an embolism in the spinal cord that can cause a section of the spinal cord to die impacting a dog’s mobility.
Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI) – a partial closing or narrowing in the spine due to instability in the vertebrae. The spinal instability causes interruptions in the neurons causing dogs to drag their paws.
IVDD – a spinal condition that compresses the spinal cord which results in knuckling, rear leg weakness, and paralysis.
Dogs with primary brain problems, like seizures, structural abnormalities, tumors, or dogs that have been exposed to neurological toxins may also knuckle. In addition to neurological causes of knuckling, musculoskeletal conditions such as carpal flexural deformities and osteoarthritis can cause a dog to drag their paw or paws.
Common Causes of Front Paw Knuckling
- CVI or Wobbler’s Syndrome
- Cervical Disc Disease
- Neurological disorders, causing knuckling of the front paw
Front paw knuckling solutions can help to correct a dog’s paw placement and stop dragging feet.
Common Causes of Rear Paw Knuckling
- Intervertebral Disc Disease
- CVI/Wobbler’s Syndrome
- Cervical Disc Disease
- Neurological disorders, causing knuckling of the rear paw
For dogs dragging their back paws, select a rear paw knuckling aid designed for the rear leg. Since a dog’s back legs are furthest from the brain, they will need a thicker cord between their toes to initialize their withdrawal reflex.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Knuckling
There are clear physical signs to look for in a dog that is knuckling. A dog who is knuckling under, may have scrapes on their feet and broken or uneven wearing in their nails. It’s important to note, that pets can struggle with proprioception intermittently. They may not drag their paws every time they walk. The frequency of their knuckling under will vary depending on the cause and the severity of their limb weakness.
To check if your dog knuckles over: Place your dog is in a standing position, turn their paw, so that they are standing on the top of their foot:
If Your Dog Corrects His Paw Positioning – they are not knuckling
Dog Keeps Foot in Place and Makes No Attempt to Correct – they are knuckling
How to Treat Your Dog’s Knuckling
Depending on the underlying cause, a dog’s paw dragging can be treatable. Dogs dragging, scraping or walking on the top of their paws need to be seen by their Vet immediately. The will work with you to determine the cause of the knuckling and the best treatment plan for your pup.
No-Knuckling Training Sock
Available for both front and rear paw knuckling, the No-Knuckling Training Sock is a training tool to help correct a dog’s proprioception. The training sock stimulates the natural withdrawal reflex in your dog’s paw. This reflex encourages a pet to pick up their foot higher and place their foot down correctly. This anti-knuckling device can be used during a pet’s rehab or to enhance at-home training sessions, it should only be worn for 2-5 minute increments at a time.
What makes the No-Knuckling Training Sock truly unique is it’s lightweight design which makes it perfect for rehabilitative use for dog’s that are already struggling with leg weakness. Both the front and rear offer additional joint support above and below the joint. The No-Knuckling Training Sock is beneficial for pets with neurological conditions, as well as those recovering from spinal surgery or suffering from a spinal disc disease.
“Your veterinarian may recommend a training sock as part of the rehabilitation process, which is designed to enhance proprioception and encourage the pet to pick their foot up and place it correctly.”Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM,. CVJ.
Tip: Dogs with DM can use the No-Knuckle to help with paw dragging to help with paw placement while they’re wearing it. However, it will not stop the spread of DM and the disease progression.
It’s vital that you work with a canine rehab expert to help your dog with their dragging paws. They will create a customized treatment plan to help your pet increase leg strength, maintain and build muscle, and work on proprioception. Through a series of exercises, hydrotherapy, underwater treadmill walks, and use of corrective tools (like the No-Knuckling Training Sock) they will work to help improve a pet’s paw placement.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws
In between rehab sessions and when a dog isn’t wearing their anti-knuckling sock, how do you protect their paws? Scrapes and torn nails can be painful and difficult to treat especially when a dog repeatedly drags their paws.
Dog boots can be worn to protect the paw, provide additional traction and prevent more wounds from occurring. A rubber-soled boot can be turned around so that the sole is on the top of the foot, this will keep the top of the paw as protected as possible if the paw does drag. Support for the foot can also be provided by wearing a bootie splint. This type of rigid support, keeps the paw in the correct position and prevents damage to the toenails.
If your pet is dragging their paws or knuckling under, it’s important to speak with your vet as soon as possible. Note what is happening as well as the frequency so you can work with your vet to determine the underlying cause and how best to treat their dragging paws.