A dog loves nothing more than to run around the house and yard, chasing balls or sticks, bringing them back to you for a loving pat on the head.
However, in some cases, your dog may unexpectedly be limping, lethargic, or otherwise showing that their back legs no longer work.
Their hind legs are suddenly weakened, maybe to the point where they cannot use those legs at all.
What causes sudden hind leg weakness in dogs – and how can you fix it?
If your dog’s hind legs are starting to give out – at any age – it could be a symptom of a variety of different physical conditions.
Here we will take a look at the symptoms, causes, and treatments available.
- Symptoms of Sudden Weak Back Legs in Dogs
- Causes of Weak Back Legs
- Which Dogs Suffer The Most From Weak Back Legs?
- Treatment for Weak Back Legs
Symptoms of Sudden Weak Back Legs in Dogs
Depending on your dog and their particular medical condition, the weakness in their back legs may appear suddenly or come around gradually over a long period of time.
Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Weakness, instability, and loss of mobility – also known as “ataxia.”
- Loss of coordination or balance; staggering or wobbling as they walk.
- Lameness or having a difficult time walking.
- Using an abnormal or slow gait.
- Having a difficult time standing up or showing a reluctance to move, jump, or be active.
- Pain, swelling, or licking joints.
- Complete or partial paralysis.
- Incontinence or, conversely, an inability to urinate.
- Weight gain or loss of muscle mass.
- Lethargy or collapse.
Not all of these symptoms may appear at once. For example, your dog might not seem to be in any pain, even though they are suddenly unable to run.
Their tail may still wag as they lie on the floor, unable to stand. This is because there are multiple causes for weak back legs in dogs.
Causes of Weak Back Legs
There are several factors which may cause dog hind leg weakness, of varying levels of severity.
Let’s take a look at some of the potential factors that may cause your dog’s back legs to become weak.
If your dog experiences a serious injury to their back or spine, from getting hit by something or being attacked by another dog, this injury may affect the dog’s nervous system and cause subsequent effects on the functionality of their muscles.
If your dog loses mobility in their hind legs shortly after or clearly because of such an injury, ask your vet to check for back or spinal trauma. These injuries may require surgery or medication for complete recovery.
Degenerative myelopath, also referred to as DM, is a relatively common condition in older dogs. DM damages the nerves inside a dog’s spinal cord, creating ataxia in canines.
DM is not known to cause your dog any pain, but your dog will lose mobility within six to twenty-four months of gaining this nerve condition, which will cause other difficulties for you and your dog. Your dog’s hind legs may even become completely paralyzed.
DM has been found to occur in dogs as early as four years old. Theories behind the origins of DM include vitamin deficiencies, a spinal injury, or an immune-mediated bodily response.
This physical condition involves your dog’s knee slipping out of its groove-socket.
It does not technically create weakness in the legs, but it does make it painful for your dog to place weight on the affected leg, so they may end up dragging the leg around as though it has weakened.
Just like humans, dogs can develop arthritis as they get older. Arthritis inflammation can cause pain in the joints, which can become bad enough that your dog’s movement and the function of their legs are restricted.
This indirectly can cause weakness in your dog’s hind legs. An X-ray scan will usually confirm whether your dog has arthritis.
Diabetes is another condition for older dogs, which may cause pain in their leg joints, indirectly causing back leg weakness.
Dogs with diabetes are unable to produce insulin, causing their blood sugar levels to rise too high. A simple blood test can be used by your vet to discover whether your dog has diabetes.
Also referred to by the initials FCE, fibrocartilaginous embolism is a condition in which a small piece of cartilage from your dog’s body enters your dog’s bloodstream, clogging a part of the bloodstream and blocking the supply of blood to the spine.
This causes swelling and usually results in a one-sided paralysis; one of your dog’s hind legs will be fine, while they cannot move their other leg.
Neuritis is a spinal cord inflammation. If your dog is feverish and generally seems unwell, then this may be the cause of your dog’s weak hind legs.
Cushing’s Disease is a condition that directly affects your dog’s adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands normally release a wide variety of useful hormones; however, Cushing’s Disease causes your dog’s adrenal glands to release an excess amount of the hormone known as cortisol.
Too much cortisol can lead to various symptoms – including hair loss, weight gain, an increase in thirst and appetite, and weakness in the dog’s hind legs.
Cushing’s disease usually develops in older dogs that are more than six years old, though it has been known to show up in dogs younger than six years as well.
Botulism is a bacterial infection that you may have heard of as a disease for humans, though it can affect dogs as well. It is an infection of wounds.
A potential side effect of botulism is a weakness in your dog’s legs, in addition to seizures in extreme cases.
Which Dogs Suffer The Most From Weak Back Legs?
Older dogs are more likely to have conditions such as arthritis, which can cause weakness in their back legs.
However, larger breeds of dog are also particularly vulnerable to these conditions. Labrador dogs are more at risk for fibrocartilaginous embolisms.
Dogs that eat a diet rich in grains and sugars are at greater risk for diabetes. Female dogs are more likely to get diabetes than males.
While all breeds of dog may be affected by diabetes, Poodles, Keeshonden, Miniature Schnauzers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers tend to be more susceptible.
German Shepherds are known to suffer from Degenerative Myelopathy more than other breeds. Other dogs that are most often impacted by DM include Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Dalmatians, Great Pyrenees, Briards, Miniature Poodles, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Golden Retrievers.
American Eskimo Dogs, Pugs, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, Samoyeds, Siberian Huskies, Standard Poodles, Kerry Blue Terriers, Wire Fox Terriers, and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier are also often at risk of DM.
If you have any of these breeds of dogs, you should be extra cautious about weak back leg conditions, and schedule regular, frequent appointments with your dog’s vet to check up on their muscular and neurological well-being.
This video explains more about DM and caring for dog hind leg weakness.
Treatment for Weak Back Legs
If you notice your dog losing balance in their hind legs, your first concern is to, of course, return them to full health. Nothing’s more heartbreaking than watching them limp or drag their legs.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you undertake this mission.
Can It Be Cured?
This highly depends on the cause of their weakness, as some conditions are reversible or can be halted, while others are progressive.
Progressive cases will gradually become worse over time and cannot be cured.
- There is no known cure for DM, but physical therapy and dietary changes have been found to help manage and ease the condition, especially when it is detected early.
Cushing’s Disease, botulism, and arthritis can all be treated with medications and therapies.
- Cushing’s Disease can be treated via surgery or by the application of hormone drugs to balance out the cortisol levels in your dog’s body.
- Botulism can be treated through fluid and electrolyte therapy, which thoroughly disinfects and cleans your dog’s infected wounds.
- Arthritic dogs can benefit from receiving steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, and supplements of glycosaminoglycan. Massage, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture can also alleviate symptoms of arthritis in your dog.
Treatment Via DIY or With a Vet?
No matter what is causing your dog’s particular back leg weakness, you should ask your vet for advice about the treatment options.
Physical therapy and dietary changes should be recommended by a professional, rather than implemented on your own judgment.
It’s tempting, yes, but making changes to your dog’s lifestyle without a vet’s insight could potentially cause additional health issues.
Making Your Home Safer
In cases where the weak back legs cannot be cured, you should consider making your house more accessible and supportive of an older dog that needs help getting around.
- To get up and down from higher floors of your house, installing dog ramps or special dog stairs can make it easier for your old dog with weak hind legs.
- Puppy stairs and ramps can also help your dog get off and on your bed, without causing further distress to their joints by jumping up and down.
- Add carpeting to your floors or put gripping socks on your dog’s feet, as this will help them avoid slipping or dragging their feet across slick hardwood floors.
- Mobility carriers, such as a dog lifting aid, can help support your dog’s hips and abdominal areas as they move around their home.
- It’s wise to invest in an orthopedic dog bed. These specialized cushions will help ease the stress on your dog’s joints while they sit or lie down. When all you can do is somewhat alleviate your dog’s suffering, that is exactly the solution you need.
Preventing Weak Hind Legs
If you are looking to prevent hind leg weakness for your dog, be sure that your canine gets regular exercise.
You should also customize your dog’s exercise plan to match their age; an older dog should not be taken out for as intense a run as a younger dog can handle!
Monitor your dog’s weight regularly, and feed them a balanced, healthy diet.
Finally, make sure that you visit the vet frequently for check-ups. These will make sure everything is fine, and if something goes wrong, then you can catch it early on!
When to See Your Vet
If your dog occasionally loses balance or experiences a temporary lack of motion, this could be relatively normal.
If your puppy has been running around the house all day long, then fatigue or soreness in their hind legs is natural. It could also be a sign that your dog hit their leg at some point during their daily play, and it is just a minor injury that they will shake off with a bit of rest.
However, a simple injury like this is gradual and clearly temporary. If you notice that your dog’s back legs go weak suddenly, or that your dog is getting increasingly distressed and less able to move over time, you should definitely call your vet for advice.
This sudden or progressive weakness could be a sign of a more serious medical problem. Tell your vet all of the symptoms that you have noticed, including changes in behavior or appetite.
Your vet can perform physical exams to find any specific or notable physical or neurological ailments, including bloodwork and urinalysis.
Imaging techniques, such as the use of X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, or MRIs may also be used to look for structural weaknesses in your dog’s joints, tissues, and bones. Spinal taps or hormone testing can also seek out the source of your dog’s weakness in their legs.
Here’s an exercise to do with your dog when dealing with dog hind leg weakness.
Do you have any tips for dealing with dog hind leg weakness?