Why Are My Dog’s Back Legs Giving Out?

Why Are My Dog’s Back Legs Giving Out?

Seeing your dog struggle to use their hind legs is heartbreaking. Whether it comes on suddenly or is something that progressively gets worse, if it happens to your dog, you’re probably asking yourself questions like, “why are my dog’s back legs giving out?” and “how can I help them feel better?”

In this article, you will learn why a dog’s back legs might begin giving out, and if that happens, what you can do to help your dog regain strength and stability, or at least stay as comfortable and pain-free as possible.

Dog’s Back Legs Giving Out: What It Looks Like

What does a dog’s back legs giving out look like? An obvious manifestation of this is when a dog is dragging their hindlimbs. Other signs a dog’s back legs are giving out include:

  • Difficulty getting up (uses front legs to pull self up)
  • Shaking back legs
  • Stiff back legs
  • Falling or tripping
  • Wobbly hindlimb gait
  • Dragging back toenails
  • Avoiding stairs or jumping
  • Increased irritability
  • Limping
  • Bunny hopping hind limbs 

Why Are My Dog’s Back Legs Giving Out? 19 Reasons 

A dog’s back legs give out due to several broad reasons: 

  • Lack of strength
  • Lack of function (inability to move muscles/bones)
  • Instability in the legs
  • Pain

More specifically, there are many diseases and conditions that can affect the back legs of a dog. Here’s a partial list, broken down into categories:

Joint Pain/Injury

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) in hip, knee, ankle, toe, or spine (causes pain, lack of strength; seen in older dogs)
  • Acute injury to muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, etc. anywhere on the back legs (causes pain, lack of function, instability; seen in any age)
  • Excessive weight (causes joint pain from osteoarthritis; seen in any age)

Spinal Problems 

  • Intervertebral spinal disc disease (causes pain, weakness, lack of function; seen in any age; common in long back breeds)
  • Degenerative myelopathy (degenerative condition of the spinal cord; causes loss of function and strength; seen in older dogs)
  • Lumbosacral stenosis (narrowing of the lumbar spinal canal pain; causes instability, lack of function and strength; seen in older dogs)
  • Wobbler’s syndrome (narrowing of the cervical spinal canal that pinches nerves; causes instability, lack of function and strength; seen in any age)
  • Spinal tumors (cause pain, lack of function and strength; seen in older dogs)

Neurological Issues

  • Neuromuscular disease, like myasthenia gravis (causes lack of function; seen in any age)
  • Seizures (neurological disease; causes lack of function; seen in any age)
  • Vestibular disease (causes loss of balance due to inner ear or brain problems, instability; seen in older dogs)

Other Conditions

  • Heart disease (causes lack of strength; seen in any age)
  • Debilitation from advanced age (causes lack of function and strength, pain)
  • Exercise-induced collapse (causes lack of strength and collapse after hard exercise; seen mostly in Retrievers, any age)
  • Hormonal conditions, including hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, and uncontrolled diabetes (impacts nerves and muscles; causes lack of strength and function; seen in older dogs)

External Factors

  • Poisoning or bite/sting from a venomous animal (causes lack of function; seen in any age)
  • Tick paralysis (from bites of infected ticks; causes paralysis, lack of function; seen in any age)
  • Botulism (from food poisoning; causes paralysis lack of function; seen in any age)
  • Rabies (from a virus; causes paralysis lack of function; seen in any age)

Treatment Options for Leg Weakness in Dogs

As you can see, there are many reasons why a dog’s back legs are weak, and it should make sense that treatment for this really depends on what is causing the problem. For example, you wouldn’t give pain medication to a dog whose legs are giving out as a result of heart disease or botulism because it wouldn’t help.

If you don’t know why your dog’s legs are giving out, you need the assistance of a veterinarian to give you a diagnosis, as treatment will depend on what’s causing the issue in the first place.

Once the cause of your dog’s legs giving out is determined, your veterinarian can walk you through treatment options. Sometimes, the treatment is to cure the underlying cause, which then cures the issue with the back legs. This can occur with several conditions, including:

  • Injuries
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Poisoning and envenomation
  • Tick paralysis
  • Vestibular disease
  • Spinal tumors
  • Excessive weight

Sometimes the problem can be mitigated by managing the underlying cause, as in chronic hormonal conditions and heart disease that require medication. Other conditions, such as osteoarthritis and degenerative myelopathy, are slowly progressive diseases that cannot be cured. In these cases, the goal is managing pain and maintaining the best quality of life possible.

If your dog’s back legs are giving out because of osteoarthritis in their hips or knees, for example, then there are many options available to you to help manage symptoms and slow the progression of symptoms. 

These options can include:

  • Weight loss (If your dog is overweight, it can help improve symptoms of OA in most dogs) [1]
  • Anti-inflammatory pain medication
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Joint supplements that reduce inflammation and promote healthy joints
  • Joint fusion surgeries
  • Joint injections of anti-inflammatory medication
  • Cold laser therapy (photobiomodulation)
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Monoclonal antibody injection
  • Doggie joint braces and wheelchairs

Physical Therapy 

Another important treatment for leg weakness can be low-impact cardio exercise, strength building, and physical therapy. Physical therapists will tell you motion is lotion for your joints — the same is true for dogs! Exercise also preserves and builds muscles, which are important for overall metabolism and support of bones and joints. Working with a veterinarian certified in canine rehabilitation is extremely helpful to learn the most beneficial exercises for your dog.

Conditions like osteoarthritis are best managed with a combination of therapies that veterinarians call “multimodal therapy.” The right combination of treatments varies with each dog, but when you work with a veterinarian, they can guide you on the most effective treatment combination so that your dog feels better faster and you waste less time and money. 

Comfort Measures and How to Help Your Dog Cope

If your dog is suffering from a condition that can only be managed not cured, take heart! There are also a number of easy things you can do at home to help your dog be more comfortable and get around more easily. These include:

  • Getting your dog a high-quality orthopedic mattress
  • Using non-slip tread on stairs and non-slip rugs or mats on slippery hard floor surfaces
  • Using ramps or pet stairs for your dog to climb stairs, into cars, and onto furniture
  • Giving your dog a high-quality CBD oil for pain [2]
  • Giving your dog high-quality fish oil daily. (Ask your veterinarian for the right dosage)
  • Walking your dog twice daily (after managing pain. Remember, motion is lotion!)
  • Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed regularly
  • Using baby gates to fence off stairs or slippery floors

Related Conditions

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Intervertebral spinal disc disease
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Obesity
  • Heart Disease

References

  1. Marshall W, Bockstahler B, Hulse D, Carmichael S. “A review of osteoarthritis and obesity: current understanding of the relationship and benefit of obesity treatment and prevention in the dog.” Vet Comp Orthop Traumatol. 2009;22(5):339-45. doi: 10.3415/VCOT-08-08-0069. Epub 2009 Aug 28. PMID: 19750285. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19750285/ 
  2. “Cornell University Study Says Hemp Oil Works For Dogs.” Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Retrieved from:

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