Weak hind legs are quite common among senior dogs however, over the recent years, we have seen the number of dogs with weak hind legs is on the rise. Does your dog have trouble with their hind legs? We hope this article teaches you how to help dogs with weak hind legs.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Weak Hind Legs?
There are two ways for a dog to get weak hind legs – it can either be sudden or gradual. Let us look at both to understand the condition:
Sudden Weak Hind Legs:
- Your dog may be walking just fine and they suddenly yelp in pain or start to limp
- Your dog may suddenly wake up in the morning unable to stand on their hind legs
- Often characterised by sharp pain which they may show by not eating, not exercising, being cranky or avoidant
Gradual Weakness On Hind Legs
- Has difficulty walking
- Often limps
- Has difficulty climbing stairs, getting in cars/beds/sofas
- Shows little interest in physical activity
- Loss of sensation on the hind legs
- Have trouble controlling the bladder
Sometimes weak eyesight is confused for weak hind legs. Dogs with eye problems tend to have wobbly footing and they may also stop eating because of pain in their eyes or depression from not being able to see properly.
But unlike the symptoms shown above, they are wobbly on all their four legs and they tend to lift their legs up high while climbing stairs. If you closely examine their eyes, you may notice redness or discharge
Why Does My Dog Have Weak Hind Legs?
There are many reasons for dogs to have weaker hind legs. If it has happened all of a sudden, it is usually because of an injury in the spine. On the other hand, if it is gradual, it can be because of age, poor diet, diabetes etc.
Illnesses and conditions that may cause weak hind legs include:
1. Degenerative Myelopathy
Degenerative myelopathy or DM is a genetic condition that happens to dogs above 7 years. It happens because there is a weakening of the lower spine that is unable to send signals to the hind legs. It’s a gradual deterioration and there are ways to make your dog is comfortable, however, the condition is irreversible. When it becomes too severe owners have no other option but to put their dogs to sleep.
Many other curable conditions are often misdiagnosed as DM which is why it is important to have a look at all possible illnesses they can have. If you notice weaker hind legs in your dog, please make sure to mention their complete history to the vet.
2. Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy
In this condition, small bone fibres come in the way of the arteries that supply blood to the lower spine. Fibtocartiaginous embolic myelopathy can happen very suddenly to dogs and it can be fixed with surgery.
Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy is very painful and if it’s not treated on time it can leave permanent damage. The best way to diagnose FCE is through an MRI scan.
It usually happens to large breed dogs and can happen to dogs of all age groups. Dogs between 2-5 years often get this condition but it can also happen to dogs as young as 4 months old.
3. Intervertebral disk disease
Our spine is placed comfortably between two discs. It keeps the delicate spine safe from injuries. Sometimes, either (or both) of these discs either collide or burst into the spine.
As you can guess, this condition is very painful and if it’s not treated on time it can cause permanent nerve damage and even paralysis on the hind legs. Unprotected physical activities like running or jumping on concrete can cause invertebral disk disease. It can be fixed with surgery.
4. Wobbler’s Disease
Wobbler’s disease is very common amongst Dobermans and it is genetic. It can affect dogs as young as six months old. So, if you suddenly see them dragging their feet or having an unsteady gait, you should not take it lightly.
Sometimes it also affects the neck area of the spine. You may notice that your dog wines and remains stiff on one side. If you notice any stiffness in the neck and cervical area, take them to the vet immediately.
Wobbler’s Disease has a quick progression and timely treatment can save your dog’s life. That being said, it is almost always difficult to reverse Wobbler’s Disease. But timely treatment can help them live a somewhat normal life.
5. Cushing’s Disease
Cushing’s disease leads to an increase in cortisol or the fight or flight hormone. Though weak hind legs are the determining factor for Cushing’s disease, you may see a host of other symptoms as well. For instance, your dog will always be hungry, their hair will start to thin out and there will be a sudden increase in their appetite followed by the size of their belly.
Cushing’s Disease usually occurs because of poor dietary choices and it’s hard to reverse the disease. With necessary curative measures, you can keep it under control.
Unlike humans, diabetes is rare among dogs. That being said, dogs that do have diabetes are more likely to have type 1 diabetes. If the illness is not diagnosed on time, it can lead to many other problems like a damaged peripheral nerve; this may reduce mobility in the hind legs.
Fortunately, with diabetes, there are other symptoms as well, like sudden weight loss, increased appetite, increased thirst. It is usually detected in dogs above 6 years old.
Another reason why your dog may have weak hind legs is that they have to support a heavier body on those hind legs. Obesity is a serious problem in dogs and it reduces their quality of life.
The can get knock knees from supporting the weight of their bodies just like humans can. It is harder to reduce weight for dogs, especially if they are senior dogs, because of their structure. So, we suggest starting as soon as you can and help them lose the extra weight.
If there is damage to the neck or cervical area of the spine, they may have spondylitis. It may reduce sensation and mobility around the hind legs.
Weakness in the hind legs are the most common symptoms of spondylitis in dogs but you may also notice other symptoms like:
- Agitation when being touched especially around the back, shoulders or hips
- General stiffness
- Disinterest in play
Just like humans, you cannot reverse the effects of spondylitis. If the symptoms are very severe, doctors may give anti-inflammatory medicines. Other therapies like acupuncture tend to give them relief.
Arthritis usually happens to older dogs. There is a considerable amount of swelling in the joints that reduces mobility in the hind legs. There is no real cure for arthritis. Pet parents can make them a little comfortable so that they can move without pain.
Pet parents can usually detect arthritis if their dogs gradually start to show signs of stiffness. Obesity also tends to worsen the pain in arthritis. If your vet suspects arthritis, they may suggest an x-ray.
Certain exercises and weight reduction can relieve some pain. If walking is a problem, you can take your dog swimming. It’s a good workout and they are able to do it pain-free.
How To Help Dogs With Weak Hind Legs?
Well, the first step would be to take them to the doctor. If they suddenly lost function in their legs, we suggest taking an emergency visit to the vet. Sudden changes are almost always caused by an injury and helping them urgently can reverse the symptoms.
Be sure to mention their history. The history is very important because many illnesses and conditions have similar symptoms. By mentioning the symptoms in detail (even those symptoms that seem completely unrelated) can help vets make the right diagnosis.
If diet, obesity or diabetes is the cause for weak hind legs, doctors may advise a lifestyle change. Once their condition is under control their nerves, veins and arteries will have less pressure. As a result, their legs will also be stronger.
As with the case of tumours and injuries, doctors may suggest an emergency surgery. Surgery can either reverse the condition or prevent it from getting any worse.
Other conditions like age and spondylitis, need special care for the rest of their life. Doctors may advise you to use a hip harness to help them get into cars. Pet parents usually make a low bed for senior dogs with arthritis or spondylitis. This will reduce pressure on their hind legs.
Preventing Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs
Many conditions mentioned in this article are genetic but that does not mean that we can prevent them. With the right care, we can prevent most of the conditions mentioned above.
Diet is perhaps one of the most important things on the list. They must have a fully balanced diet that is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, calcium and Vitamin B1 or thiamin. You can feed them any diet however, it is a good idea to talk to your vet, discuss their medical history and decide on a balanced diet accordingly.
Another thing that you must do is to provide them with proper exercise outlets. Please be careful because concrete flooring can affect their bone, joint health and paws. Running on the grass is very beneficial. Make sure they have a fun and active lifestyle as young puppies.
Another thing is to make sure they are on the leaner end. So many illnesses can be avoided if they are just a little lean. Dogs can gain weight after being spayed/neutered, during their middle and senior years. So, if you start by keeping them lean and providing them with an active lifestyle, they are far more likely to shine during their senior years, with exceptionally strong hind legs.