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What are Atrophy of Muscles?

Aging dogs will begin to suffer from atrophy of muscles especially when they have a reduction of physical activity. They may be suffering from bone and joint pain from arthritis. There will also be a reduction in growth hormones that causes your dog to be less able to process protein, which is necessary to build and maintain muscle mass. Large breed dogs will generally age faster than smaller breed dogs. Senior dogs that suffer from atrophy of muscles will generally come on slowly and will appear in the hind legs and hips. If you notice severe muscle atrophy or atrophy of the muscles in the neck and head, you should immediately contact your veterinarian. 

There are certain illnesses and diseases that can cause atrophy of muscles in dogs. There are usually other symptoms that will help your veterinarian properly diagnose the illness. Many times myositis or inflammation of the muscle can cause atrophy of the muscles. Myositis is caused by an abnormal reaction of your dog’s immune system against the muscles. This can happen to only one muscle or to a group of muscles. Degenerative myelopathy is another disease that affects the spinal cord and then the limbs. Muscle atrophy, unsteady gait and paralysis are some of the symptoms of degenerative myelopathy.

Atrophy of muscles in dogs is very common in aging dogs, dogs that are ill or dogs that cannot exercise properly. Muscle atrophy is when there is a loss of muscle mass. It is noticeable when parts of your dog’s body appear weaker and thinner than usual. Generally, the hind legs, hips, face or neck will look noticeably thinner due to the loss of muscle mass.

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Symptoms of Atrophy of Muscles in Dogs

Atrophy of muscles in dogs can come on slowly due to aging or it can quickly occur, causing a younger dog to look sunken or thinner. Any time you notice that there is a difference in your dog’s muscles, either they look swollen or thinner, you need to have your veterinarian look your dog over. Your veterinarian will need to determine if the changes are normal or if there is an underlying condition that needs to be addressed. Symptoms of atrophy of muscles in dogs include:

  • Progressive rear limb weakness
  • Ataxia
  • Limbs unable to support your dog’s weight
  • Paw dragging
  • Crossing the legs as they stand or walk
  • Thinner, sunken muscles

Causes of Atrophy of Muscles in Dogs

Atrophy of muscles in dogs can occur for several different reasons. An aging dog can experience atrophy of muscles. As dogs age, their nutritional needs change and they are not able to process protein in the same way. Therefore, senior dogs will usually need a specialized diet with easily processed protein sources to help them maintain muscle mass.

Illness or disease can also cause your dog to experience atrophy of muscles. If your dog experiences quick atrophy of the muscles, then you will need to have your veterinarian determine what is causing the problem. 

Simply not using their muscles can cause your dog to experience atrophy of muscles. Dogs that do not get much exercise or confined to small cages will not be able to develop muscle tone and their muscles will then atrophy from disuse.

Diagnosis of Atrophy of Muscles in Dogs

Your veterinarian will begin by taking your dog’s medical history as well as asking questions about your dog’s normal daily activities and exercise routine. Your veterinarian will try to determine if your dog’s atrophy of muscles is from aging, illness or disuse. A physical examination will be conducted allowing your veterinarian to feel for any lumps or masses that could be causing problems. 

A complete blood count, biochemistry panel, urinalysis and fecal exam will be conducted to rule out possible causes. X-rays, CT scan and MRI may help your veterinarian determine the cause of your dog’s muscle atrophy. An ultrasound may also be conducted to rule out degenerative myelopathy or intervertebral disc disease.

Treatment of Atrophy of Muscles in Dogs

Once your veterinarian has determined the cause of your dog’s atrophy of muscles, they will discuss with you the different treatment options. If your dog is not suffering from an illness or disease, then a regiment of regular exercise and proper nutrition will be prescribed. If your dog is overweight, they may need to be put on a low-calorie diet with plenty of exercise to build up their muscle tone and mass. 

Dogs that are suffering from an illness or disease may be given large doses of steroids to initially treat any inflammation and control a disease. Steroids do suppress the immune system and using too much can cause infection or even cancer. Your veterinarian may opt to put your dog on a pain management treatment plan that would include NSAIDS instead of steroids such as prednisone.

Recovery of Atrophy of Muscles in Dogs

Generally, dogs that are suffering from atrophy of muscles due to aging or from disuse will have a good prognosis. They will need to maintain a healthy exercise program that is designed to build muscle and be given appropriate nutrition for their age and activity level.

Dogs that are suffering from atrophy of muscles due to an illness or disease will have a more guarded prognosis. Usually these dogs will be able to have their pain and other symptoms managed for a time but eventually their quality of life suffers significantly and your veterinarian will recommend euthanasia.

Atrophy of Muscles Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

LadyBug
English Shepherd
12
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stumbling
Falling Over
Muscle Atrophy
Muscle Weakness
Muscle Wasting

Medication Used

CBD
Gabapentin
Meloxicam

This past winter was really harsh. I thought at first my Lady slipped on some ice or stepped down wrong. She started limping slightly but not all the time. I noticed after the ice melted that her left front leg was a bit smaller than her right. In the span of a month, she went from running and jumping like normal to falling and barely able to walk. 2 vets ran all kinds of tests but they found nothing. One vet said her x-rays looked like those of a 5yr old not an 11yr old. The 2nd vet found some minor arthritis starting in her spine just between her shoulders. She sits with her left side out, and he couldn't find a reason why. She almost drags her foot now and stumbles a lot. She has so much energy but falls over or yelps in pain if she ttys to play.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
If your Veterinarians have ruled out the usual causes of limping and atrophy of leg muscles, the only other cause I could consider would be brachial plexus injury; with brachial plexus avulsion the the nerves of the plexus are ripped away and do not recover, with some cases there is a partial avulsion which can cause some symptoms of limping and muscle atrophy or bruising of the nerves which can take a long time to recovery. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/condition/brachial-plexus-avulsion www.msdvetmanual.com/nervous-system/diseases-of-the-peripheral-nerves-and-neuromuscular-junction/trauma-of-the-peripheral-nerve-and-neuromuscular-junction#v26305049

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Prince
German Shepherd Dog
13 Years
Moderate condition
2 found helpful
Moderate condition

Our dog Prince is a German Shepherd/Collie cross. He is around 13 years of age. He was rescued after being treated very badly by his previous owners and has been our dog for the last 12 years. He is very wary of strangers and does not react well to being examined by a vet although is very loving with us.

For about 2 months we have noticed significant weight loss and muscle atrophy. He clearly also has pain from arthritis. Recently he has become very sluggish and does not wish to move or eat. Because of his temperament our vet will not do a blood test without sedating him at their premises. This is practically hard to do because of his size/slugishness and also very stressful for him.

The vet did a home visit but the examination was very superficial. Without a blood test she will not give any diagnosis or guidance.

We do not know how to proceed. We do not know what is wrong with him and so do not know if he can be treated and recover. We do not know if he is in pain and do not know if putting him to sleep would be kind or writing him off too early.

We have given him a weeks course of antibiotics and pain killers clavaseptin/gabapentin but they do not seem to have helped. If anything they seem to have made him less willing to take food.

Your advice on how to do the right thing for Prince would be appreciated.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
You can imagine that it is very difficult for me to give any advice since I cannot perform a superficial examination nevermind anything more intensive like a blood test or an x-ray. I understand your situation and Prince’s temperament along with the difficulties of getting him thoroughly examined; I would suggest trying to use what we can which may involve faecal testing for parasites or indicators for a protein losing enteropathy and urinalysis for the presence of any anomalies like glucose which may give a general gist of what is happening internally but will not give us any concrete information or any blood counts etc… It is just an idea before you start going down the road of euthanasia. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

We did indeed have a urine test which showed some protein and blood in his urine along with lower than normal levels of urea (vet described it as weak). He then had just over a week of penicillin based antibiotics and then a further urine test. The results were unchanged. As of last evening we were still in the dark.

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Bryson
Labrador
16 Years
Critical condition
-1 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

Falling Over
Panting
raised leg

Medication Used

Rimadyl
Gabapentin

I have a large 16 year old dog. She is a mutt and, at her prime weighed 70 pounds. Last month, she weighed 56 pounds. Her back leg muscles have atrophied and she can not stand up now. Over the past 2 days, she has had trouble holding herself up when she is laying down. I've taken her outside and held up her to use the bathroom. She puts some weight on 3 legs, but holds her back left up. She was diagnosed with a UTI and is being treated. She also takes Rimadyl and Gabapentin to help manage her arthritis. At this point, I'm going back and forth about her quality of life. I want her to be around as long as she is enjoying life, but I don't want her to suffer. What advice can you give me?

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Without examining Bryson, I can only speak generally but hind limb weakness isn’t uncommon as dogs age and may be attributable to a few different causes including spinal issues or hip disorders. I would have you Veterinarian check her over and take an x-ray of her back and hips to look for any anomalies; depending on what your Veterinarian finds, laser therapy or acupuncture may be beneficial for her. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

I feel like you did not give this person the pass to say you can let your dog pass as he was clearly stating that the dogs life quality and dignity was deteriorating. Thank you

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Gauri
Labrador Retriever
12
Critical condition
2 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

no mobility
renal failure
Weakness
Cannot stand

Hi my dog, aged 12 years is suffering from Chronic Renal Failure as of 10 days ago, she lost a lot of her weight due to the vomiting and diarrhea. We started the treatment after 3 days of continuous vomiting, and now she has blood in her stool. She is thirsty all the time, but since she is on IV fluids we avoid giving a lot of water to her on an empty stomach. Her hind legs which were fine 10 days back have lot almost all the muscles, she can barely stand up or change her positions in bed. Since her vomiting has stopped we have decided to continue the treatment but are concerned about her quality of life. If there is not improvement in her mobility we may have to put her to sleep.
I just need to know if it is possible in an old dog to regain muscle strength

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
A loss of muscle mass may occur in patients which kidney failure, especially when dietary management is restricted protein; at this stage I do not believe that Gauri will regain the muscle back which has been lost, but treatment and supportive care should be aimed at easing stress on the kidneys and making her comfortable. However, given the severity it may be a time to think about the inevitable. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thank you dr turner this helped me too

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Cabo
Newfoundland
9
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Eye Bulging
Muscle Atrophy
Back

Medication Used

Thyroid

My girl Cabo is a 9 yo Newfoundland. She got a really bad ear infection in summer of 2016 around that same time we noticed her head was starting to get really bony. Fast forward to December 2017. Her head and cheekbones are super bony now. Her right eye recently got a cherry eye. Newfies are already super droopy so now it's really noticeable. My current vet thinks she has MMM, but has not suggested to do anything at the moment. She still has a great appetite and loves chewing on bones and going for walks. The other day I did notice that the top of her back by her tail seemed sensitive when I was petting her. Could this be another symptom of MMM? Or something else? She has another vet appointment soon. I just wanted to make sure I'm not missing any info someone else might know about this.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Masticatory muscle myositis (MMM) may cause muscle atrophy on the head, general myositis may cause issues with muscles around the body; the cause is due to an immune mediated disease and is treated with corticosteroids. Generally, starting treatment and looking out for improvement in symptoms is a good way to confirm the diagnosis; but a biopsy of the cheek muscle will also be diagnostic. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Ray
Mix
5 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

My dog has thin hind legs (the front legs looks fine) and he keeps falling down. He's also having a hard time standing up. The vet said he is malnourished and gave vitamins and other medicine. But im still worried and it pains me to see my dog suffering. I just want to ask for a second opinion. Thanks.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
It is difficult to say what may be causing the muscle atrophy and hind limb weakness without performing an examination; but spinal issues, hip dysplasia, malabsorption syndromes among other issues may be the cause. A good complete balanced dog food which is suitable for breed and age is important, but an x-ray would be valuable to see the spine and hips to determine if there is a musculoskeletal cause for the symptoms you’re seeing. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Sunny
Shitzu
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 15lb. Shitzu is 12yrs. Old and is suffering from atrophy in his hips and back legs, the vet said it was from getting old. He still romps around and seems very healthy but his hind legs gives out and he falls down a lot. He is on a monthly regimen of low dose amoxicillin for bad teeth, I read where a easily digested protein diet should be used, I cook my dogs food which consists of ground round burger with vegetables. Is this an ok diet for him? Can you recommend a better diet? Is there anything I can do to slow this progression ? I give him nuvet plus vitamin and nujoint plus for his joints. I just don't want him to suffer knowing I could of done something to help him. Any advice would be appreciated! Thank you!

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Each case is individual, but hindlimb weakness is normal in dogs as they age and a reduction in movement accompanies atrophy; there are options to explore like laser therapy, acupuncture and other therapies which may be able to assist with Sunny’s hindlimbs but without examining him I cannot say whether he would be a suitable candidate. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Leo
Labrador Retriever
2 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Hi, my boy had a linear body surgery 2 months ago and within a week another surgery to remove an abscess that formed in the abdomen cavity. He has recovered but after a month from surgery had diarrhoea for 2 weeks. Has been on antibiotics Novaclauv, metronidazole, stomogyl but seems very bony and thin. He lost 6 kgs after surgery and has not gained anything post surgery. He is active, eating drinking diarrhoea under control. I am worried about his apparent muscle loss and bony body. He's aged 2 Labrador is now 26kgs as compared to prior surgery at 31 kgs. Any advice why this is the case. Quite worrying.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Weight loss after surgery, especially enterotomy and foreign body removal, isn’t unusual but should be monitored to ensure that the weight loss isn’t too significant. Sixteen percent weight loss is quite significant and should be seen by your Veterinarian to see if there is any other underlying issue which may be contributing to the weight loss; it is more concerning if Leo has a good appetite and is eating whilst losing weight, which is why it should be investigated before it gets any worse. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thanks for your reply. He dropped straight down from 31kgs to 25/26kgs post surgery and stable since then with no loss no gain in weight for last 2 months. Leo is not losing weight gradually he lost in one go and now constant. My worry is no weight gain and how long would it take to gain the weight he lost.

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Tula
German Shepherd
10 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Severe limping on front and rear leg stiff on fle

Medication Used

Metacalm

Hi took my German shepherd bitch to vets as she was limping on left front leg and right back leg when there we found small lump on rear leg which was removed and she was given metacalm for limping I have since noticed severe atrophy on her shoulder and is starting to develop a bony nodule on front leg joint Vet does not seem concerned about this but I am as when we are out she is struggling to walk painkiller or not she is still limping badly

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Without examining Tula it is difficult to common on these types of cases, muscle atrophy may be caused by a few causes but the bony nodule may be a normal anatomical feature which has been exposed by the loss of muscle mass; other causes may be due to inflammation and other causes. If you have concerns, take a visit to another Veterinarian for another opinion to be on the safe side and to put your mind at rest. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Sonny
Labrador Retriever
9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

lethargic
Loss of Appetite
Muscle Atrophy

Sonny our lab is 9 1/2 years. He has lost his appetite and has lost a significant amount of weight very quickly. He also has lost muscle mass in his face, hips and back side. We took him to the vet and he had a rectal exam which is was negative and no fever. She said physically he looked good but to bring him back in for a blood panel if he continued to get worse. Any suggestions on what the possible causes of his sudden onset symptoms might be?

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

There are various possible causes for the symptoms you are describing but coupled with the loss of appetite, I would suspect more some type of hormonal condition like Cushing’s Disease (normally you would see other symptoms like pot-bellied appearance and symmetrical hair loss). Without an examination and some blood tests, it is difficult if not impossible to say what the underlying cause is. Sometime, injury may reduce activity and suppress appetite but you wouldn’t normally see the muscle loss from the face. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Chili
Lancashire heeler/mix
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Muscle Atrophy
Panting
tear streaks
Vision Problems

Medication Used

Tyro-tab .8mg half of one a day
Rimadyl 100mg 10 day trial
Amoxicillin 500mg

Hi my dog is 12 years old.. last weighed at 51 pounds one week ago... and lost 3 pounds since her previous weight only a few weeks before that. She suffered a seizure last week which was her first. Her blood work came back with kidney levels only a .0... something number above normal. The vet said it was not significant and we talked about her diet needs. Her white blood cell was higher than normal so she is taking an antibiotic. Everything else was normal. She has definitely lost a lot of muscle mass in her hind legs and she has thinned out a lot where her dip is. Her front legs seem to have started to lose muscle mass recently within the last couple of weeks. She struggles with getting up on the couch or bed. Some times she makes it other times I have to help her... she also has periods where she pants persistently. The vet did give her an arthritis medicine to try and she is still taking for a few more days.

My concern is now she seems to be losing her vision and she seems to be thinning out to an what appears unhealthy weight... yet her weight loss doesnt seem significant we she gets weighed.
She does have good days where she is interactive and shows desire to chew on a toy or she greets me.. although the past two days when I came home she didn't greet me. She did chew on a toy last night..

I just don't know what to think. She was at the vet twice in a month.. and the vet didn't say there was anything terrible going on. She still eats and controls her bowels and urinates okay.
I'm trying to determine if she is okay... I know she is old but she didn't begin losing muscle mass until about a few months ago. It seems things are happening more rapid than gradual.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

Chili is in old age and as dogs age, their activity levels and health may slowly decrease; without examining Chili, I cannot say whether or not physically she is alright or not. Weight wise, I don’t like weight (OK as a general guide) I prefer body condition score as no two dogs are the same. White blood cell counts may indicate infection, inflammation among other things; slightly raised kidney levels are to be expected, but it sounds like they are still going strong. The reduction in muscle mass is normal given Chili’s age and reduced mobility; again, I haven’t examined Chili so I cannot give you a depth answer. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Toby
Border Terrier
7
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Unsteady on feet ,weakness in leg

Hi my dog had a accident 6 weeks ago injuring his back legs , left one worse than right , he has quite bad muscle wasteage now in his leg , he can get around in in the house slightly unsteady but when he first gets up very unsteady gradually improves during the day then seems to deteriorate in the evening do you think he will improve he is 7 and a border terrier he seems to look a bit " lost " at times in his own little world ..

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

Loss of muscle mass is a normal consequence of a reduction in movement after injury, the prognosis will vary depending on the severity of Toby’s injury; your Veterinarian would have probably taken an x-ray to evaluate the injury, I cannot comment on whether or not Toby’s condition will improve as I haven’t examined him but your Veterinarian will be able to tell you more. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Yes thank you for your reply I do intend to go for a second opinion at another vets practice as I was not satisfied with the original ones off the cuff comment oh it's atrophy and that was it no treatment no explanation of why it happened I believe the nodule on her leg is an arthritic node but even that was not commented on painkillers and sent home ,not good got more info from you.
Thanks

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Seersha
Schnauzer/maltese mix
9 yrs (human)
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Weight loss, muscle mass loss, thirsty, lethargic

Medication Used

None

My schnauzer/maltese mix dog, 9 years of age has muscle loss in her back legs, face is thinner than it used to be, an eught pond weight loss over the past year, and dilute urine with protein. She drinks a lot of water. Vet isn't too concerned but I am. Recent blood work is normal. What could be happening?

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

Gradual weight loss may be just a part of getting older, but may also be the start of something more serious; parasites, toxins, foreign bodies, hormonal conditions, liver and kidney disease (among others) may cause weight loss. The most important thing is to check the body condition score as this is a more accurate measure of dog’s weight than kilograms or pounds; essentially you shouldn’t be able to see the ribs, but you should be able to feel them when you run your fingers over the chest. I’ve placed a link below to a video of body condition score, if Seersha has a score of less than four I would be concerned and it may be worth getting another Veterinarian’s opinion. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7lHRRbmpBQ

Excellent help! Thank you for responding so quickly! Very informative and I will follow through.

My 8yr old mini Ausie has always been on the heavy side . We rescued him 5 yrs ago. He loved to run and catch frisbee and ball. But he has bad arthritis now. He still wants to play and do those things but we limit it due to arthritis..... Today I took him to groomer to get his summer hair cut (shaved) and I noticed this evening his legs looks very very thin... it is worrying me. He's not lost any weight, he eats and drinks normal not lethargic at all. I have been ready about muscle atrophy ... I don't know what it could be but plan to take him to our vet tomorrow... makes me sad... he dosnt appear to be in any pain.

Hello,my 11 year dog had a op to repair his ligaments and then he got distemper looks like he is now over it. He was bed ridden for almost 3 months. His head mucsles is gone from week 3 of onset of disease. He is very thin eating 200 gram chicken a day. My question is is his mucked tone loss due to the illness or wrong bed redden or not eating for 3 weeks or all 3 and will it improve as he gets better

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stella
Dog
8 Years
Unknown
Has Symptoms
Inactive
Painting Drinking Lots Of Water
Hello, rescued a Corgi mix who has spent 11-12 hours a day in a kennel, lovely little lady, all she wants to do is lay down, very little stand up activity, will walking her cure this problem