If your dog is getting up there in age, you may notice their hind legs start to weaken and cause them problems. Here, our Denver vets discuss what may be causing your dog's hind leg weakness, and share some advice on improving or maintaining an older dog's hind leg strength.
Sudden Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs
Various factors can lead to the weakening of your pet's hind legs, especially in senior dogs. If your dog's back legs are not working as well as they should, it could be for many reasons, including:
Just like humans, dogs can get arthritis, especially in their back legs. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that particularly affects the hind legs of a dog. This occurs when their joints don't have enough 'grease', which can make movement painful. If your furry friend experiences any of the following symptoms, it's best to take them to the vet for a check-up:
- Difficulty climbing stairs or walking
- Bunny hopping while moving
- Development of large front-leg muscles and weakening of rear-leg muscles
This condition can cause problems with balance and in more serious cases, osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia is more common in larger dog breeds, including:
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
- Great Danes
Hip dysplasia is primarily caused by genetics, but other factors such as size, weight, and overuse can also lead to this condition.
Canine Degenerative Myelopathy
Keep an eye on your pet for signs of degenerative myelopathy, a condition in which the nerve coverings wear out to cause nerve problems, resulting in improper nerve function. This condition can lead to your dog's back legs slipping out from under them, making it hard for them to get around. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Quivering hind legs
- Hind legs coming together while standing
- Feet positioned at unusual angles
Many dog breeds are susceptible to developing a spinal condition, but certain breeds are more susceptible to developing canine degenerative myelopathy, such as:
- German Shepherd
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
Diabetes can cause weakness in your pet's hind legs. This happens when their body produces insufficient insulin, leading to unusual blood sugar levels. Look for signs like increased thirst and hunger, incontinence, and weight loss. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, it's best to seek advice from a veterinarian and have a blood test done to confirm the diagnosis.
Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) is when a small piece of cartilage blocks the bloodstream, leading to spinal swelling. The result is temporary hind leg movement restriction and pain. This is especially common in larger dog breeds. Breeds such as German Shepherds and Irish Wolfhounds often receive a diagnosis of FCE.
If your pet needs surgical intervention, such as tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgery, they might have to take it easy. This might make them temporarily less active, but it's important for their complete and successful recovery.
Signs a Dog Is Having Difficulties With Their Hind Legs
Due to the similarity of symptoms among the conditions listed above, it can be difficult to identify what causes sudden hind leg weakness in dogs. Because of this, it is crucial to seek advice from a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you notice your dog's leg giving out, or any of the following behaviors in your dog, taking action promptly is important:
- Hind leg tremors
- Swaying of the hind end
- Trouble transitioning from lying or sitting to a standing position
- Difficulty walking or a complete inability to walk
- Inability to climb stairs
- Sudden reluctance to go for walks or play
- Stumbling and lack of coordination
- Muscle mass loss
- Decreased walking speed in general
How to Strengthen an Old Dog's Hind Legs
Once you have pinpointed the reason for your pet's distress and have received treatment options, there are also some non-medical actions you can take to assist in their recovery and help them regain their vitality.
- It is recommended to take your furry companion for brief yet consistent walks daily. This will aid in gradually restoring their hind-leg muscles.
- Let your dog swim in a safe place. Swimming provides a low-friction way to work their muscles and benefits their overall strength.
- As dogs age, their metabolism slows down, and excess weight can cause strain, weakening their legs. To prevent this, ensure your pet enjoys a healthy diet with lean, protein-rich foods.
- One way to support your pet's joint health and mobility is by giving them supplements that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements can help reduce inflammation and provide extra nutritional support for aging joints.
- Inflammation-reducing treatments, such as acupuncture and regenerative therapy, can greatly address limited mobility and reduce pain.
Alleviating Pain & Discomfort
If your dog's back legs are so weak they can no longer perform strengthening exercises, there are other options to help them feel better.
You can consider using mobility aids like a wheelchair, a rear-lifting harness, or a hip brace. These aids will give your dog a certain level of freedom and help them enjoy an active lifestyle during the longer, warmer summer months.
As pets get older, they require regular check-ups with the vet to catch any health problems early and keep them feeling good.
Our veterinarians in Denver specialize in helping older pets maintain optimal health and quality of life. We can identify and treat emerging health problems early, and provide proactive treatment while the condition is still manageable.