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What are Back Leg Weakness?

There are many different reasons why back leg weakness can affect your dog. These reasons may vary, ranging from an acute injury to something more serious that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian. This is why it is essential to monitor your dog to best determine what course of action you should take as a caring dog parent! One possible reason your dog might be showing signs of back leg weakness is due to an inherited condition. In this case, back leg weakness is a term that is often used to refer to Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), a disease of the spinal cord. In DM, the myelin sheaths that surround and protect the nerves in the spine degenerate to eventually expose the nerve fibers. This degradation of the myelin sheath disrupts the body’s communication between the spinal cord and brain, leading to a progressive weakness that can result in total paralysis.

There are a few theories as to why DM occurs, such as an immune-mediated response, vitamin deficiencies, or a spinal injury, but many agree that it is an inherited condition that affects many large breeds, and specifically German Shepherds.

While DM may be one cause of back leg weakness, it is not the only reason your dog might be showing signs of back leg weakness. If he is having a hard time walking, or he is staggering and wobbling on his feet, this back leg weakness may be a result of muscle atrophy, pain, or nerve damage. Other signs that can alert you to this condition are a reluctance or inability to stand, lameness, or paralysis in the legs.

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Symptoms of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs

Symptoms of a weakness in your dog’s back legs may come on suddenly or develop slowly over a long period of time, depending on the reason for the weakness. Often, there are other signs that can help lead to a diagnosis, so take note of any physical or behavioral changes that occur. Symptoms of back leg weakness can include: 

  • Lameness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of balance
  • Instability
  • Wobbly or staggering when walking
  • Difficulty walking
  • Abnormal gait
  • Slow gait
  • Difficulty standing up
  • Reluctance to move, jump, or be active
  • Pain
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Incontinence
  • Loss of ability to urinate 
  • Swelling 
  • Licking joints
  • Weight gain 
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Lethargy 
  • Collapse
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Causes of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs

The reasons behind a weakness in your dog’s back legs can vary. While obvious trauma can weaken muscles and tissues, and age can contribute to the degeneration of muscles and joints, other conditions can wreak havoc on the spinal cord, nerves, and hormones. Causes of a back leg weakness can include:  

  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Injury
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy 
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Vertebral instability, or wobbler syndrome
  • Lumbosacral stenosis 
  • Cushing's disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Botulism infection
  • Toxic poisoning
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Diagnosis of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs

If you have noticed signs of weakness in your dog’s back legs, take him into the clinic to be checked as many of the causes can be progressive. Relay all symptoms you have noticed in your dog, including changes in appetite and behavior and the history of the weakness. Your vet may also ask if your dog has been exposed to any toxins or infectious diseases, such as those found in an animal carcass. 

Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam to see if there are any discerning neurological or physical abnormalities. This can also reveal the possible presence of an enlarged liver, a sign of diabetes, or a tumor. A urinalysis and bloodwork will be performed next to determine your dog’s overall health. This will detect toxins and infections, high levels of glucose or liver enzymes, and electrolyte abnormalities. Results of these tests can point to poisonings, botulism, diabetes, or even Cushing’s disease. 

Imaging techniques such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds can be used to find tumors, reveal any structural weakness in bones, joints, and tissues, determine the size and state of the adrenal glands, kidneys, and liver, and visualize the state of the spinal cord. Additional testing can include a spinal tap, aspiration of joint fluids, or hormone testing.

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Treatment of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs

Treatments can vary considerably, and will be prescribed appropriately after the diagnosis. Any injuries will be treated according to the severity of the trauma. Surgery can be recommended for many conditions, such as degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease, wobbler syndrome, cancer, or Cushing’s disease. Wobbler syndrome can also be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs. Many conditions will need rest, either before or after surgery, which may require cage confinement. Pain medications are often prescribed for many spinal diseases and arthritis. Cancer often uses a variety of treatments to remove or reduce the tumor along with surgery, such as radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. 

Cushing's disease can also be managed through the use of hormone drugs to balance levels in the body, and steroids are discontinued if they have been implicated in the condition. Diabetes will need lifelong management through special diets and exercise plans, blood glucose monitoring, and daily insulin injections. Arthritic animals can also benefit from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and glycosaminoglycan supplementation, as well as changes in your dog’s environment to aid in rest and ease of movement. Various alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy can help as well. 

Botulism is treated mainly through supportive care, including fluid and electrolyte therapy. Any infected wounds are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and medication can be prescribed if symptoms worsen, such as in the case of seizures. Therapies for other types of poisonings, such as from chemicals or plants, can include administering activated charcoal or mineral oil to reduce toxin absorption in the stomach, various medications to treat specific symptoms, and supportive treatments.

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Recovery of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs

Recovery is dependent on the cause of the weakness, the severity of the condition, and how soon treatment is begun. For poisonings, the quickness of treatment can be essential, as some toxins can be fatal. 

Many conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and degenerative myelopathy, can be managed through an appropriate diet and exercise plan that can keep your dog’s weight under control and aid muscle movement. Intervertebral disc disease can be treated to return your dog to normal function, or it can progress into complete paralysis. Cushing’s disease and cancer can be treated successfully, but they can also carry a guarded to poor prognosis, depending on the extent of the disease and other factors. With lifelong treatments, diabetes and arthritis can be successfully managed.

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Back Leg Weakness Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Siberian Husky

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Five Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Balance, Pacing, Sadness/Lack Of Energy,

Our pup appears to be wobble when walking and losing balance in his back legs. He didn’t sleep for almost 24hrs yesterday because he spent the whole night pacing, and when put in his kennel he kept going in circles until he tired out at 2am. He was falling over and his back legs seem to give out, when drinking water he seems too tired to be standing when drinking. He is still drinking water and eating. We think it might be neurological issue, he appears sad and sometimes walks as if he doesn’t see us He was pacing but stick to the walls of our apartment and bumping into things He is teething

Sept. 19, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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So sorry to hear about your dog. It does sound like he is neurologic and really needs to see a vet. If there is anything toxic that he got into could cause this. There are other issues such as distemper that can cause your puppy to be neurologic. It would be best for you to get your puppy into a vet for an exam and they will be able to see what is wrong after examining him Good Luck!

Sept. 19, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Twelve Weeks

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wines Wobbly Back Legs

What can cause my puppy to act this way

Sept. 14, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Puppies will often whine when they need something, and that is difficult to say what might be causing the whining. Your puppy may be hungry, painful, uncomfortable, or nervous. Wobbly back legs may be caused by being tired, or weak, or having a problem with the knees or hips. It would probably be best to have your puppy checked out by a veterinarian, as they can examine him or her, and see if there is a problem or if everything is normal. I hope that all goes well for your puppy.

Sept. 14, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Weak Legs And Walking Sideways.

A couple of days ago I noticed my dog looked a little sad. Today she walks slow, sideways, hesitant to jump (not always) and i saw her on her back legs (begging to pick her up) and they gave out from under her. They looked like spaghetti noodles. I do see tears in her eyes and sadness.

Aug. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that your dog is not feeling well. Small breed dogs are prone to problems with their knees, but she may also be having a problem with her nerves or muscles. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, and until then, keep her as quiet as possible and don't let her move around as much as you can. I hope that all goes well for her.

Aug. 30, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Seventeen Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Trouble Walking

My baby girl chihuahua is having trouble walking and she's just laying down, as soon as I stand her up and let go she sits down immediately. She's blind and has trouble hearing but isn't deaf figured I'd mention. The issue seems to just effect her back left leg when I'm supporting her and helping her walk/stand it's limp and not touching the floor to help her balance. I have to hold her by her water bowl and food and she isn't having trouble eating or drinking I just have to help her. I was wondering if anyone had any idea what could be causing this and what I can do. Thank you in advance. :)

Aug. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello I'm sorry to see that your pup is not walking well. She may have arthritis or a back issue. I recommend that you take her to a veterinarian for an exam. They may want to do x-rays to see what's going on. Good luck.

Aug. 26, 2020

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dog-breed-icon

Chihuahua

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Seventeen Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Trouble Walking

My baby girl chihuahua is having trouble walking and she's just laying down, as soon as I stand her up and let go she sits down immediately. She's blind and has trouble hearing but isn't deaf figured I'd mention. The issue seems to just effect her back left leg when I'm supporting her and helping her walk/stand it's limp and not touching the floor to help her balance. I have to hold her by her water bowl and food and she isn't having trouble eating or drinking I just have to help her. I was wondering if anyone had any idea what could be causing this and what I can do. Thank you in advance. :)

Aug. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello I'm sorry to see that your pup is not walking well. She may have arthritis or a back issue. I recommend that you take her to a veterinarian for an exam. They may want to do x-rays to see what's going on. Good luck.

Aug. 26, 2020

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Tyson

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Jack Russell Terrier

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness
Back Leg Weakness;
Odd Response Behaviour

I came home from the shops and my jack russell came to sit with me in the lounge. when he walked in he looked as if he was just stiff from sleeping but the more I watched him the stranger he looked. He was losing control and stability in his back legs and stumbled occasionally when we walked around the house. We live on a farm so he might have eaten something off but I haven't seen any other symptoms yet.

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ozzie

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Shih Tzu

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11 Months

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Hold Leg Up

my shih tzu is 11 month and when he does a few steps he skips them and sometime favors it when turning from being in a run vet said his hips and knee looks real good what else could it be plays and runs just fine

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Lola Mae

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Bulldog

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Weak Pulse
Weakness Back Legs

Lola was fine jumping and playing then she could hardly walk she did make it up stairs one step at a time instead of running today she doesn’t seam to be able to stand without help

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Moka

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toy poodle

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26 Days

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Walking
Wobbly Walking, Bad Bone Structure

Hello, my puppy(Moka) is 26 days old today, his sister&brother are already starting to walk and can stand still on their 4 legs, but Moka in other hand can’t even stand with his front legs steadily, he will wobble and his head will be thrown to the right or left. I’ve noticed that his ribcage’s shape is flat on the side (unlike swimmer syndrome that is flat on his chest), and his back legs are also weak, do you have any idea on why my Moka is like that? and do you have any solution on this? I bought Moka to the vet few days ago and the doctor said that it is fine and it’s only a minor defect on his ribcage (i’m not sure about his statement) and i can’t help to worry and be sad seeing Moka walks like that!

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Lila

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Golden Retriever

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10 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Balance
Inestability
Won'T Stand Up

My Golden Retriever is 10 years old, three weeks ago it was hard for her to stand up or sit because one of her back legs was fainting, I saw that she had a bump on it that is quite large but me and my parents decided not to worry about it since she have always devolped benign lumps on her body. 2 days ago both of her back legs started to faint, the back of her leg look swollen and she cant stand up after a long nap since she keep slipping, and when she sits she starts to push herself backwards. I scheduled her for a checkup in less than a week but I am scared of something happening to her, her nose is dry, she barely eats or drink water since it is hard for her to stand up, she does not stands up to say hi to us like she use to, I would love to know whats happening to her, she never been this sick before, help!

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