Why is my dog dragging her paws?

Written By hannah hollinger
Published: 07/20/2017Updated: 01/12/2022
Veterinary reviewed by Michele K.
Why is my dog dragging her paws?

What are Dragging Paws?

Dogs who are dragging their paws are most likely unaware of the placement of their feet. This can occur when there is a loss of communication between the brain and nerves, which can be because a nerve has been stretched, cut or bruised. Here are some illnesses that may cause your dog to drag their paws:

  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Lumbosacral spondylosis
  • Sciatic nerve injury

Your dog may also be scraping their nails against the ground, and you may notice that the affected paws have worn down nails and, in some cases, the skin will be raw. Loss of muscle mass on one side can also occur.

Why Dragging Paws Occurs in Dogs

There are several diseases which can have dragging paws as a symptom. They can range from muscle damage to tumors in the spine to an injury involving the disks and bones of the spine. They vary in painfulness and some are more severe than others.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This is a painless and progressive disease of the spinal cord that occurs in older pets, usually between 8 and 14 years old. The first signs will be a loss of coordination occurring in the rear limbs. Dragging of the feet, knuckling over and wobbliness can all be observed in dogs who are developing the condition. Symptoms will most likely begin in one hind leg and progress to the other. The disease will continue to progress, and after a time, the dog will experience difficulty standing. It can take between 6 months and a year until the dog is unable to walk. If it continues to progress further, the affected dog will lose function of the fecal and urinary continence, and eventually they will lose functionality of their front limbs as well. 

Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy

Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy occurs when an area of blood vessels in the spinal cord becomes blocked. It can sometimes be called a spinal cord stroke and a part of the spinal cord can die. Any damage done to the neurons in the first 24 hours is usually permanent, but luckily the illness is not progressive. This condition can occur after a dog undergoes an intense exercise or can develop after an awkward landing from a jump. Fights with other dogs or playing rough, as well as any accidental trauma can also be causes. It is more often seen in male dogs from big breeds, or miniature Shelties or Schnauzers who are between 3 to 6 years old, where it is often an underlying condition. Severe pain brought on suddenly that can make your dog yelp or cry followed by a lessening of pain and a lack of reaction to pain, showing signs of weakness, uncoordinated or wobbly movement and complete to partial paralysis in a hind limb can all be signs of fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy.

Intervertebral Disk Disease

Intervertebral disk disease represents when the disks, which are found between the vertebrae in the spinal column and act as shock absorbers, push against the nerve roots or spinal cord. This will cause pain, damage to the nerves and potential paralysis. Problems will begin to appear anywhere between the neck and hind legs of the affected pet, depending on where the damaged disk is located. Some middle aged dogs who are chondrodystrophic and have skeletal deformities, like genetic dwarfism, are more prone to the condition. Some of these dogs include Beagle, Basset Hound, Pekingese, Poodle, Shih Tzu, Corgi and Dachshund. Other dogs who are more commonly affected but not due to chondrodystrophic reasons are German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Labrador Retrievers most likely between 8-10 years old. Dogs who are of these breeds and are overweight will be furtherly susceptible. 

Holding their head low and a reluctance to moving the neck, stiffness, sudden crying out in pain when moving or being touched, being tense and tender near the abdominals, being arched or hunched over, dragging their legs or knuckling, unwillingness to sit, stand or jump and moving with an odd gait are all behaviors to watch out for. Pets with this disease can develop anxiety as they are afraid to move, knowing that it will cause pain. They may also show reduced levels of activity and appetite, losing control of their bowels or bladder, no coordination, shaking and trembling, paralysis and, in serious cases, collapse.

Lumbosacral Spondylosis

This condition is degenerative and arthritic occurring in the lower part of a dog’s spine. Lumbosacral spondylosis usually affects dogs who are getting old, and will often inhibit their mobility. Common signs of this illness include loss of mobility and balance, lameness, pain and stiffness in the back, incontinence, crying out when touched and pain in the leg joints. It is not known for sure what causes lumbosacral spondylosis, but trauma, environmental factors or genetics may play a role. German Shepherds who are getting older can often be seen with this disease. Otherwise, it is known to occur in older dogs of large breeds.

Sciatic Nerve Injury

Sciatic nerve damage, also called sciatica, is a painful condition that will begin in the lumbar area and move to the legs. The sciatic nerve is used to transmit signals from the brain to the legs and when it gets damaged, it interferes with the signals and can stop your dog from moving it’s legs. Some vaccines that are given in the back of the thigh can be causes of sciatica, as the muscles that get vaccinated are surrounding the sciatic nerves. The medication that is being injected may be influential to the development of this condition, and if the needle comes into contact with the sciatic nerves by accident, it can cause damage. This disease can also develop if sciatic nerves get injured after the dog undergoes physical impact, like a car accident. The dog can be affected either on only one side causing them to limp, or on both in which case the dog will drag both of their back feet. The main symptom will be pain, but loss of muscle mass due to inactivity of a limb, constipation, incontinence and inability to urinate can also occur. These symptoms are signs that the sciatica is becoming severe and your pet should visit the vet immediately.

What to do if your Dog is Dragging Paws

The vet will possibly take samples of cerebrospinal fluid and a sample from the blood inside the spinal cord, but an MRI is the best way to determine if fibrocartilaginous embolism has occurred. Dogs with fibrocartilaginous embolism who get treatment quickly can have a significant recovery. Treatment will mostly involve physical therapy. Hydrotherapy, acupuncture, range of motion exercises, massages, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, laser therapy and supplements are all possible forms of physiotherapy that can be used for treatments. 

Degenerative myelopathy will be diagnosed by the elimination of other diseases until it is the only option left. Myelograms and MRIs will be taken to search for other possible causes before it is assumed and diagnosed as degenerative myelopathy. Unfortunately, there are not any known ways to stop or reverse the progression. Therefore, treatment will consist of ways to make the pet more comfortable. Quality of life can be improved by nursing care, pressure sore prevention, physical rehab and monitoring for prevention of urinary infections. Carts and harnesses can be used to increase mobility. 

Diagnosis for intervertebral disk disease will require a neurological exam in order to determine where the damaged disk is located. A myelogram followed by an x-ray will be used for discovering compression in the spinal cord or herniated disks. Ruling out other causes for the symptoms, such as infection, inflammation or cancer, may be determined using a spinal tap and accessing fluid in the spinal cord. The best form of diagnosis will be to get an MRI. Treatment will focus on relieving pressure from the spinal cord and reducing the inflammation. This condition can either be managed medically or will require intervention through surgery. The form of treatment will be decided depending on the severity of the disease. All patients will require a well padded area where they must rest in order to recover. It should be small enough that the pet is not able to move around, although they will need to be repositioned every few hours in order to prevent the formation of bedsores. They will most likely require assistance with eating, drinking, urinating and defecating. Physical therapy will also be beneficial for this disease. 

For lumbosacral spondylosis, x-rays, lab tests and a physical examination will be used for diagnosis. Your vet could possibly request a myelogram or an analysis of the force plate and joint fluid. Treatment will either consist of alternative therapy methods such as acupuncture, medications for pain and inflammation or simply physical therapy. If it is severe, surgery followed by six months of physical therapy could be needed. 

Diagnosing sciatica is done by observing how the movement of your dog changes when running or trotting. To confirm the diagnosis, additional examinations may take place. Loss of muscle mass and palpation of the back will also be taken into account. Depending on the seriousness of sciatica, surgery may be necessary. The patient will require physical therapy and rest after the operation.

Prevention of Dragging Paws

To prevent the development of illnesses that can lead to your pet dragging their paws, do your best to avoid trauma and keep your dog from strenuous exercise. As an owner, you should keep them in shape and prevent them from becoming overweight. Exercise can be beneficial and necessary in order to keep your pet healthy and prevent obesity, but uncontrolled jumping and running should be avoided. Degenerative myelopathy and fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy have no known ways to be prevented. Dogs who possess the gene or have the disease should not be bred in order to not pass along the gene.

Although it cannot be prevented, dogs with degenerative myelopathy can have an improved quality of life by having good hygiene and supportive care. There also exists dog boots which can be used to protect the nails and skin from the damage of being dragged along the ground.

Cost of Dragging Paws

Treatments for dragging paws will be different depending on the cause. The underlying problem will need to be treated, and each one has different costs. Degenerative myelopathy has an average treatment cost of $1800, and $4000 for fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy. It might cost around $9000 for surgical treatments regarding intervertebral disk disease.

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Dragging Paws Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals





Eight Years


15 found this helpful


15 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Dragging Paw
My dog is dragging her left back paw across the floor when she walks. And sometimes her leg gives way

Sept. 29, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

15 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is possible that your dog has an injury, and infection, a problem with her tendons or ligaments, or arthritis that is affecting that leg. If it is something that is not improving, it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian who can examine her, as they can see what is going on and let you know what might be causing this problem. Once they know more, they will be able to let you know how to treat her so that she is more comfortable. I hope that everything goes well and she feels better soon.

Sept. 30, 2020

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Red Border Collie





2 found this helpful


2 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Dragging 1 Rear Paw, Slight Stiffness In Front Shoulders.
Mollie the red Border Collie, nearing 17, has had a wonderful life. She's still ready to go, but age is catching up. About a year ago, she had trouble with rear paw awareness. Six months later she started dragging one rear paw. I made her wear army boots or socks outside. She acutely monitors the world (sight still excellent) and loves walks, but I'm not sure how much exercise to give her. No vet visits since covid, but I expect degenerative myelopathy. In the photo (before nail trim), you'll see the center nails on right paw are gone. She'll always be our smiling, beloved miracle girl

Sept. 26, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. What a pretty girl. I would give her only as much exercise as she wants, and stop when she is tired. Most veterinarians are allowing visits, as we are an essential service, and It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for her if possible so that she is more comfortable.

Oct. 15, 2020

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