Dragging Back Leg in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog dragging back leg?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog dragging back leg?

What is Dragging Back Leg?

Your dog is having a difficult time moving around.  He is walking by using his front legs and dragging his back legs.  It is very upsetting and heart wrenching to see him trying to move around. The dragging of the back legs may be caused by:

  • Canine degenerative myelopathy
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Botulism
  • Trauma to the spine
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Discospondylitis
  • Tick bite paralysis

If your dog is dragging his back legs he should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.  The dragging of his back legs may be a symptom of a very serious condition.

Why Dragging Back Leg Occurs in Dogs

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy

Canine degenerative myelopathy is also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy. Canine degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease, which causes nerve root damage in the spinal cord. The disease usually occurs in dogs over 7 years of age.  It is more common in German Shepherds, Boxers, Chesapeake Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) is also referred to as a herniated or slipped disk.  The intervertebral disks usually act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae. If the disk deteriorates, slips or protrudes it can compress the nerves and spinal cord. IVDD can cause the dog to suddenly drag his back legs.

Botulism

Botulism is caused by the ingestion of the toxin produced by bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which causes damage to the nervous system. Your dog may have eaten a dead animal or plant that had the bacteria on it. Symptoms may appear 12 to 36 hours after ingesting the bacteria.

Trauma to the Spine

Trauma to the spine can cause a dog to drag his back legs. Injuries such as being hit by a car, a fall or physical abuse can cause damage to the spinal cord.

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is the inflammation of the bone. The inflammation is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection in the dog’s body. The infection may have occurred due to an animal bite, injury or bone fracture. If this occurs in the spine, the spinal cord can be affected, impairing mobility.

Discospondylitis

Discospondylitis is the inflammation of the vertebral discs between the vertebrae in the spine. The inflammation is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. Discospondylitis is more common in large and giant dog breeds. There are more cases of discospondylitis found in male German Shepherd dogs and Great Danes, between the age of 4 to 5 years of age.  

Tick Bite Paralysis

Tick bite paralysis is caused by a neurological toxin produced in the saliva of certain types of female ticks. The toxins are released into the dog’s bloodstream while the tick is attached. The toxin can also cause respiratory arrest. Ticks that can cause paralysis are the deer tick, Rocky Mountain tick and the lone star tick.

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What to do if your Dog is Dragging Back Leg

If your dog is dragging his back legs, he should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will determine the underlying cause of the leg dragging. The veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your dog and will assess the patient’s overall condition. The veterinarian may suggest a complete blood count, serum chemistry panel, urinalysis and fecal exam.  He may also suggest spinal x-rays and/or a myelogram, or perhaps a CT scan or MRI. 

During a myelogram, the patient is injected with a contrast medium, which goes into the spinal canal. Once the contrast medium is injected, radiographs are then taken. This procedure allows the veterinarian to see if there is damage to the vertebral discs.  Your dog will need to have general anesthesia for the myelogram. 

Bacterial infections will be treated with antibiotic therapy. Fungal infections will be treated with antifungal medication. 

Most dogs who contract tick bite paralysis respond well after the tick is removed.  Muscle strength usually comes back within hours of the tick removal.  A full recovery may take days.

Dogs diagnosed with botulism may need to be hospitalized.  Once hospitalized, he can receive 24/7 intensive supportive care.

There is no cure for degenerative myelopathy but physical therapy, vitamins and supplements may slow the progression of the disease.

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Prevention of Dragging Back Leg

Some conditions can’t be prevented but some can be.  Dogs should not be left unsupervised when they are outside. Keeping an eye on your dog can prevent him from jumping the fence, eating dead animals or falling victim to trauma. Ticks can be prevented by having your dog on a regular and effective tick preventative.  Additionally, your yard should be treated for ticks.

Dogs that have an injury or a possible fracture should be seen by a veterinarian.  The early treatment of a fracture or wound can help prevent a bacterial or fungal infection from occurring.

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Cost of Dragging Back Leg

A dog who is dragging his back legs may be in serious condition. For a condition such as botulism, the expense may be $2000. The treatment for tick paralysis can range from $1500 to $5000.

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Dragging Back Leg Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Blue Heeler

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Five Years

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6 found helpful

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6 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My dog is acting like her back legs hurt maybe, she is starting to be lazy and just lay around all day, whining, and panting like she just ran a bunch of miles. She is still drinking and eating, and going outside to use the bathroom but not wanting to go out as much as usual, and when I lightly push on her legs or hips or belly it doesn't seem to bother her. She does still want attention.. No blue gums, no potty accidents inside, and not constant whining just occasional and random whining.

Dec. 23, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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6 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. There are many potential causes for this kind of behaviour including arthritis, heart disease, lung disease etc. It is best to have a general vet check and they may run some tests such as a blood test and xrays.

Dec. 23, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Two Years

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11 found helpful

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11 found helpful

Has Symptoms

My dog jumped off an edge and now her back legs are limp and she dragging them don’t know what to do

Nov. 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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11 Recommendations

Hi there, you are through to Dr Linda. A jump from a height can cause serious injuries including fractures, spinal cord injuries and dislocations. More commonly, animals can experience bruising and muscle strains. Legs that are limp and dragging are a red flag and it may be that there is an issue with the spinal cord. Immediate vet care is needed and we may need to perform some imaging such as x-rays or an MRI.

Nov. 21, 2020

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