Every one of these little limbs is as crucial as the other, but dogs are particularly dependent upon their hind legs. When a dog starts to lose control over his back two legs, it can be hugely detrimental to any hound’s quality of life. If your pooch is struggling to walk, run or jump, you’ll need to take action.
This guide will cover everything to do with a dog’s hind legs, and how you can ensure that your pet stays healthy and happy.
Table of Contents:
What Happens When a Dog’s Back End Goes?
When a dog’s back legs are weak and shaking, it’s time to pay a great deal of attention. In a best-case scenario, the issue may be temporary and salvageable. Unfortunately, it can often end in the most heartbreaking way possible – dogs can’t function without their back legs.
When a backend finally goes, the chances are your vet will sit you down and discuss your options with you. Sometimes surgical intervention will be possible and extend your dog’s life, but if the damage is to the back legs or spinal cord, it’s more likely that you’ll be told that it’s kinder to say goodbye and put an end to your canine companion’s pain.
We’ll discuss the possible reasons why a dog will experience weakness in their back legs in a moment, but it’s hugely important that you are vigilant about keeping an eye on any potential warning signs. With the correct precautions and lifestyle changes, you can do everything possible to keep your dog’s anatomy in tip-top shape.
My Dog Can’t Stand Up or Walk – What Do I Do?
This is a terrifying experience for both pet and owner, but thankfully it doesn’t always mean game over. At the very first sign of your dog experiencing problems standing up or walking around, even if they are eating and drinking, seek help and advice from a vet. The paralysis may be temporary, depending on the nature of the problem.
What Causes Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs?
If your dog appears to experience tremors in their back legs, there could be many reasons for this.
Some of the potential causes for weak and shaking back legs in a canine include:
- Age. Sadly, as dogs grow older, they become less and less mobile. Have you noticed that every time you get closer to adding birthday with a zero on the end, you make more noises as you stand up and sit down and struggle to walk for hours without limbering up first? It’s the same for dogs. As long as they are still walking around without any sign of discomfort, this shouldn’t be anything too serious.
- Pain and Discomfort. If your dog is in musculoskeletal pain, this will be reflected in their legs. Problems with the hips and knees, in particular, will result in Fido’s hind legs shaking – and they will also demonstrate their pain by licking and chewing on their feet, as this is an attempt at self-soothing. This will be extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant for your dog, so if you suspect that they are in discomfort get them to a vet for the appropriate testing and treatment.
- Temporary Muscle Weakness. If your dog has over-exerted himself or herself on a walk or by leaping around the various items of furniture in the house, they may have some temporary muscle weakness in their hind legs. This can look a little frightening when the limbs start to shake and wobble, but if your dog’s legs return to normal after a snooze, it’s nothing to worry about.
- Botulism. This is a bacterial disease, usually caused by a dog consuming something they found on the ground (deceased animal carcasses are the most common cause of the disease). You’ll need urgent help from a vet if you suspect that your dog has this condition, as they can treat it with a course of antibiotics before the symptoms grow too severe.
- Anxiety. When a dog is stressed, you’ll usually find that their entire body shakes – and they will also show other warning signs (take a look at our guide to whether a dog’s tail between its legs means that its sick for more advice on canine body language cues.) If your dog is nervous by nature, and they tend to show signs of distress every time they experience something new or meet a stranger, their wobbly legs may be attributable to anxiety. This doesn’t mean it should be ignored, though – do what you can to calm your dog down and soothe their worries.
- Poison. If your dog has eaten something toxic, such as human chocolate, spoiled food from the garbage or any of the wild plant life found in nature that would do their innards harm, they may exhibit warning signs through trembling, shaking hind legs. This behavior will often be accompanied by vomiting, spitting white foam or diarrhea, and should result in a trip to the vet.
- Fibrocartilaginous Embolism. This is a condition that is most likely to impact upon larger breeds of dog, and it involves a small piece of the spine snaps and makes its way into your dog’s bloodstream. This results in a lack of blood flow and a temporary paralysis that usually rights itself after a week or two. Naturally, however, you should speak to a vet at the onset of the suspected condition.
- Parasites. It may surprise you to learn that tick bites can result in paralysis in dogs, as these unwelcome parasites leave all kinds of toxins and germs behind. The loss of rear legs in this scenario comes on very suddenly, so if you dash to the vet quickly enough, you should be able to reverse the problem with a course of medication.
- Sickness. Many illnesses could result in a dog losing control of their hind legs, which come with varying degrees of severity. If you have any concerns whatsoever, speak to a vet. They will be able to run many tests, and if the problem is captured early enough, your pet will have a great chance of making a full recovery.
Canine illnesses that could result in muscular weakness include –
- A condition called tremor syndrome, which involves localized shaking across various parts of a canine body.
- Kennel cough, which is thankfully not too serious and will run its course.
- Canine distemper.
- Intervertebral disc disease (IDD), which is the equivalent of a dog hernia – it involves the discs found between the vertebrae place pressure on the spine itself, causing paralysis.
- Cushing’s disease.
- Degenerative myelopathy, which is the first step toward eventual hind leg paralysis.
Even though not every instance of shaking legs in a dog has to result in a panic and an immediate appointment with the vet, you should always be vigilant about keeping an eye on the development.
As we have already established, once the worst happens and your dog loses all control of their hind legs, there is often no comeback. Don’t let things deteriorate too far before you take action.
My Dog’s Back Legs are Slipping Out
One common problem with the hind legs of a dog is that they begin to ‘slip’ – meaning that, as a dog attempts to walk normally, they find their back legs sliding the side.
There could be many reasons for this, most of which involve musculoskeletal damage. You should get your dog to the vet ASAP when you notice this symptom, as they will want to run many X-ray tests. The offending areas of the body could include your dog’s knees, spine or hips.
Remember, a dog’s hind legs slipping is a warning sign that something is very wrong. Get your pet checked out as quickly as possible, and you stand a much better chance of reversing the issue and preventing heartache.
My Older Dog’s Back Legs are Giving Out
As we have established previously, an older dog is more likely to experience a problem with their hind legs. It’s all a natural part of aging, just like humans grow increasingly less mobile as they reach a specific number.
The biggest problem that is likely to impact upon an older dog is degenerative myelopathy, which is the first step in the journey toward complete dog hind leg paralysis. This condition involves the brain no longer receiving messages from your dog’s body that it can’t move its hind legs until the fibers give way entirely.
The good news is that this is not a painful condition so any dog that lives with it will not necessarily suffer or live in discomfort, but that also comes with an issue – your dog may not know that they are unwell, and will thus not be able to give you any signals that they might need treatment.
A dog living with degenerative myelopathy will typically struggle to use one hind leg, then the other – eventually, they won’t be able to stand up, and they’ll drag their back legs behind them as they walk. Sadly, once the disease takes hold there is no cure, but the condition can be managed and quality of life improved if it’s caught early enough, with physical rehab a possibility to keep the hound as mobile and supple as possible.
If you have any suspicions at all that your dog may be struggling with degenerative myelopathy, make an appointment with an animal healthcare specialist. They will be able to run many different tests, including x-rays and MRIs, in an attempt at seeking a solution and begin treatment.
My Puppy Can’t Use Their Back Legs
When puppies are first born, the muscles in their back legs are not strong enough to support their weight. Naturally, however, they soon learn how to walk independently. If they are not standing on all four legs after 3 or 4 weeks, there is typically a problem that needs to be identified – and resolved wherever possible.
Some of the possible explanations for a young dog that can’t use their back legs include:
- Straight Leg Shepherd. This condition – which initially seemed to only impact upon German Shepherds, hence the name, but has now been reported in other breeds – involves a neurological mutation that leads to deformities in the legs. This means that the dog with SLS cannot bend their hind legs. Thankfully, the problem can be fixed with physical rehab.
- Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. This disease takes its name from the fact that a puppy living with the condition will ensure splayed limbs that look like they are always swimming. This will prevent the pup from walking easily. Again, however, massage and physiotherapy can treat it.
- Myasthenia Gravis. This is a condition that prevents the nerves from communicating with the brain, which leads to the muscles in the hind legs gradually growing weaker and weaker. Think of MG as a juvenile equivalent of degenerative myelopathy, but it can be treated if captured early enough.
It can be heartbreaking to watch an adorable puppy struggling to use their back legs, but at least a professional can resolve these problems. It’s also very important that a puppy receives an adequate amount of exercise and learns how to walk using their back legs – but not too much, as overworking a developing dog’s legs can be equally dangerous!
Can Dogs Use Wheelchair Equivalents?
Yes, if a paraplegic dog has particularly strong front legs, they may be able to use a canine wheelchair to get around. These take the shape of a hardness that is attached to your dog’s midsection, and they use their front legs to stay mobile.
If a dog is forced to use a wheelchair and they get along with it, you’ll often find that it becomes second nature. A dog with a wheelchair can even live a long, happy and fulfilling life, still getting to enjoy long walks.
Just make sure that a dog is fitted for an appropriate wheelchair, and attempting to use something that is not tailored to a particular canine can do more harm than good in the longer term.
My Dog Has Trouble Getting Up but Walks Fine
A dog that struggles to get up but manages to walk once they have done so is most likely has arthritis. This will be very painful for your dog, and sooner or later they’re going to become reluctant to engage in any exercise at all.
Arthritis in dogs can usually be treated with medication to increase the suppleness of your pet’s joints or even some herbal remedies that can be added to their food. A good, quality diet is also pivotal to keeping your pooch mobile – a vet will be able to advise about the best possible food for your dog’s breed and time of life.
My Dog is Acting Weird and Won’t Jump
‘Acting weird’ is a subjective term, but if your dog is behaving out of character and showing reluctance to jump when they would ordinarily be more active it’s a very bad sign – and the same could be said if a dog yelps when jumping up.
A dog showing reluctance or pain when jumping usually points to a problem with their joints. This might be their knees, or it could be a hip problem. Alternatively, it may be a temporary problem such as a muscle strain that will pass of its own accord, although that will still be very painful.
If your dog doesn’t want to jump or cries when they attempt to do so, take them to a vet for all the necessary tests. Fingers crossed it won’t be anything permanent, but if there is a musculoskeletal problem you’ll want to know sooner rather than later so your vet can take the necessary action. This may be the difference between your dog enjoying a longer and comfortable life, or suffering and forcing you into a very difficult and unfortunate decision.
My Dog Cries When Walking Upstairs
This could be very simple, or very serious – in both instances, your dog will be uncomfortable and will need the attention of a vet!
A best-case scenario is that your dog is still eating, drinking and walking around as normal. This would suggest that Fido has pulled a muscle, possibly in their chest, and the activity to move up a staircase is aggravating the issue. If it’s more serious, your dog may be living with a very painful hip condition. This pain will need to be managed using injections or oral medications, and surgery may be required to fix the problem.
As always, seek professional advice at the first sign of a problem with your dog negotiating stairs. Unless you want to be carrying them around for the rest of their lives, you will need to get to the bottom of the issue and put a stop to it!
Preventing Dog Hind Leg Weakness
If you’re keen to prevent your dog from experiencing trouble with their hind legs, there are many steps that you can take.
If you’re worried that your pet may be facing the risk of weak hind legs, take the following precautions:
- Ensure your dog gets the right amount of exercise – not too much, and not too little – primarily as a puppy. Your dog will need to build up the strength in their leg muscles.
- Feed your dog a balanced, high-quality diet that ensures they receive all the nutrients that they need.
- Encourage your dog to avoid too much high-impact activity, such as running and jumping on hard surfaces while out walking.
- Stop your dog from eating anything they shouldn’t, and avoid letting them inhale anything that may result in a bacterial infection such as animal dung.
- Stay on top of any tick treatments, preventing your pooch from becoming a snack for a parasite.
Some of the reasons for a dog losing control of their hind legs are medical, and can’t be avoided – in these instances, seek help from a vet ASAP. Whatever happens, early intervention is always best.
Dog Hind Leg Weakness Treatment
If the damage is already done and your dog has weakness in their back legs, you should follow professional advice to the letter. Sadly, you may also need to brace yourself for a sad outcome and do whatever you can to make your dog as comfortable as possible in the time they have left.
This could be achieved through the following:
- Physical therapy. Take your dog to hydrotherapy if that is an option, and ensure that they get enough exercise. Follow a strict regimen laid out by your vet; excessive physical activity is just as bad as too little.
- Groom your dog regularly. As your dog becomes less mobile, they are going to struggle to keep themselves clean. Ensure that you regularly brush your pet’s fur, and clean up their toilet areas.
- Acupuncture. That’s right, the art of stabbing a dog with needles is medicinal. Your pet may feel that they are being taken to the vet and not talk to you for a while, but it will be beneficial.
- Reduce inflammation. If your dog’s cells are dying off and not sending messages to the brain, inflammation within their body could be to blame. Speak to a vet and gain some insights into how your dog’s diet could be carefully managed to avoid inflammation using supplements and superfoods.
It’s never easy to accept that a dog is struggling to use their hind legs, especially when they are a little older, but you may need to make some difficult decisions for the sake of your dog’s quality of life. At the first sign of any trouble that you can’t pinpoint, speak to a vet and get the appropriate help.