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What are Kicking Back Legs?

You may notice your dog kicking their back feet. This can be normal behavior, but in some cases it can be a sign of something serious. Here are some of the most common instances where you will observe your dog kicking their hind legs:

  • Marking their territory
  • Muscle spasms
  • Active REM cycles
  • Degenerative joint disease in the hip
  • Medial patellar luxation

If your dog is eating, drinking and behaving normally, they are most likely not in any serious danger but should still be checked by your veterinarian. Although it will not be immediate, some causes of muscle spasms and kicking in the back legs can cause long term damage to your dog if not treated.

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Why Kicking Back Legs Occurs in Dogs

Your dog’s kicking can be a behavioral issue or an illness. If they are simply marking their territory, it will not be a danger to their health. However, other causes can be dangerous and your pet should be checked by the vet as a precaution.

Marking Their Territory

It is not unusual to see your dog kicking their back legs against the ground and kicking up dirt after they go to the washroom. Some people assume that they are trying to cover up their business, similar to how a cat would. This is in fact not true. The real reason to why dogs do this is to mark their territory. Canines have scent glands in the back of their feet, and when they kick against the ground they are trying to leave behind their scent. Dogs who are dominant will do this with the goal to warn others dogs to stay away unless they want trouble. Pets who are more submissive will do this to let others know that they were there but that they aren’t a threat.

Muscle Spasms

Dogs that have uncontrollable rhythmic spasms can be experiencing petit mal seizures. This illness will affect small groups of muscles in one particular area. More serious than petit mal seizures are grand mal seizures, in which your dog will experience complete loss of consciousness, uncontrollable contractions of muscles in the whole body and possible loss of stool and urine continence. Grand mal seizures have a higher chance of causing an increase in the body temperature and consequently, brain damage. Infections, arthritis, nerve inflammation and damage, as well as disturbances in minerals and electrolytes, can also be causes of muscle spasms. They can be caused by overexertion, physical injury or neurological damage. Dogs who take part in high levels of physical activity or don’t have a proper intake of fluids can experience muscle spasms due to interruptions in their muscle contractions. They are easy to identify and will appear as tremors or twitching in a particular part of your pet's body. They will often react to touch as well. Since, in most cases, muscle spasms are a result of another medical condition or injury, you may notice other symptoms aside from the spasms. Lameness, signs of pain and depression are often observed.

Active REM Cycles

Some dogs with very active REM cycles can experience leg jerks and muscle spasms during their rest. These will only happen when your dog is sleeping and often occur in younger and older dogs, as their sleep cycles are different compared to young adult pets. If your dog cannot be awakened, they could possibly be experiencing seizures during their sleep which is causing your dog to kick their legs and perform other random movements. Once awakened from a seizure, they will most likely show confusion and coordination problems. If your pet can be awakened, it is not a seizure.

Degenerative Joint Disease in the Hip

Degenerative joint disease, or DJD, occurs when there is a loss of smooth cartilage that is protecting and covering the end of bones in movable joints. This cartilage has no nerves and therefore, when bones touch and move against each other, there is no pain. When that cartilage disappears, however, the dog will experience pain as the bones, which do have nerves, will be rubbing directly against each other. There will also be inflammation and other signs of arthritis. This is a progressive disease, meaning that it will get worse over time. DJD can occur due to wear and tear on a joint, as well as aging. It can also happen as a result of other diseases, such as dysplasia. 

Dogs with congenital joint problems or those who have previously experienced an injury to a joint are more likely to develop degenerative joint disease. Symptoms can vary depending on your dog’s age, the disease’s severity as well as which joint is involved. The first noticeable sign will be an altered gait, followed by a reduction in the size of the dog’s muscle, and the possibility of a change in appetite and behavior, depending on the level of pain that your dog is experiencing. There can be stiffness in the limbs, lameness and reluctance to perform some movements, weight gain and increased sleeping. Some dogs will also lick and bite at the affected area.

Medial Patellar Luxation

This is when the kneecap pops in and out of place. It is a common orthopedic condition seen in dogs, and occurs in about 7% of puppies. Medial patellar luxation can happen to any dog, but is often found to happen to small dogs, especially Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Miniature Poodles and Boston and Yorkshire Terriers. Larger dogs that are predisposed are Flat-coated Retrievers, Chinese Shar-Pei, Great Pyrenees and Akitas. In half of the cases, it will affect both back knees of the dog, and in other cases only one knee will be affected. This disease can be the result of an injury to the knee, or could simply happen to dogs who have shallow femoral grooves. It can also be a consequence of an abnormal conformation or malformation of the hip joint, the tibia or the femur, deviation of the femur crest or tightness of muscles. 

Symptoms will vary depending on how severe the disease is. Dogs who are affected will often skip or hold up their limb for a few steps and shake or extend the leg out. As the disease gets more serious, the lameness will become more frequent. Puppies with this disease can often have a bowlegged appearance that will get worse as they age. Big dogs may look like they have a knocked in knee. Over time as the knee pops out of place more frequently, it can erode the cartilage and expose the bone, which can lead to arthritis and pain.

What to do if your Dog is Kicking Back Legs

Although a dog kicking backwards to mark their territory is not a health issue, some people recommend not allowing your pet to do this as it could mean losing control of them. Dominant dogs are more of a concern, as they will no longer look to you for direction and can begin to lose respect for you and take leadership for themselves. You can help your vet determine the cause of muscle spasms by reporting your observations, like when and where it occurs, what your dog was doing before it happened, medical history and their usual levels of activity as well as any current medications or recent injuries. If petit mal seizures do not seem to bother the dog, they may not have to be treated as they are not serious but can cause pain. That being said, you should still seek advice from your veterinarian as it could be a sign of an underlying issue that could potentially be more dangerous, for example a slipped disc, pinched nerve or damage to a muscle. Muscle spasms related to arthritis can be cured by giving your dog glucosamine and chondroitin product along with an omega 3 fatty acid. These will reduce inflammation, improve the health of your dog’s cartilage as well as quality and quantity of joint fluid. It can take up to several weeks to see improvements, but these supplements have been known to help many dogs. If serious, your pet may require massages and other forms of physical therapy, and in some cases surgery to remove the affected nerves. If the problem occurs while your pet is asleep, it can be helpful to record any observations or information of the event to relay to your vet, as your pet will most likely not sleep at the veterinarians office. 

Physical exams and a history of the dog’s symptoms will be necessary to diagnose degenerative joint disease. X-rays or other tests may be needed. Since it is a progressive disease, treatments can be medical (to slow down the process) or surgical (to replace the joint). Fixing patellar luxations may require your dog to be sedated in order to properly assess the damage. The vet may evaluate for hip dysplasia as well as take x-rays of the tibia, pelvis and knee to see the shape of the bones. Blood and urine tests will take place before anesthesia as a precaution. If the patellar luxation does not produce any symptoms for the dog, it may not require correction by surgery. If it does produce symptoms, your pet may require a reconstruction of the soft tissues that surround the kneecap, a deepening of the femoral groove, alignment of the patella, its tendon and the quadriceps by transposing the tibial crest, or a correction of an abnormally shaped femur.

Prevention of Kicking Back Legs

The simplest way to avoid muscle spasms is to keep your dog hydrated and not overworked. Help them warm up and cool down before and after periods of intense exercise. Arthritis and degenerative joint disease can be hard to prevent but can be delayed if caught early. Keep your dog in shape, but keep them from jumping from high places or other activities that could potentially cause injury.

When you notice your dog experiencing muscle spasms, offer them plenty of water and try to massage the area gently. Heat and cold therapies can often help with discomfort. To keep them from recurring, try giving your pet a supportive diet and strengthen their muscular systems without overworking them. For dogs who have trouble sleeping and experience problems with their REM cycle, there are several things that you as the owner can do to eliminate or make the problem easier. For example, adding a nightlight, checking your house for any nocturnal creatures that may be living in the walls and keeping your pet awake, add white noise for dogs who have trouble falling asleep due to noises, ensure that it is not too hot or cold, evaluate for any potential causes or anxiety or stress in your dog’s life and, most importantly, contact your vet. To help your dog be comfortable when dealing with problems related to arthritis, find them a soft place to sleep, such as memory foam or heated beds. Dog stairs and ramps can also help dogs who have difficulty getting around.

Cost of Kicking Back Legs

Depending on the cause, stopping your dog’s kicking can have different costs. Treating muscle spasms can cost around $1500, and degenerative joint disease will be $700. Curing medial patellar luxation will have an average expense of $2000.

Kicking Back Legs Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Rhodesian Ridgeback
7 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Eating and drinking as normal

Hi. My dog will run a little bit, then stop and arch her back a little and kick her back right leg uncontrollably for 2-5 seconds. Then run another 50 metres and repeat. It usually happens when she just wakes, or after a lie down, and after a while she returns to running and jumping normally again.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2142 Recommendations
Kicking of the back legs may be indicative of hip disorders, patellar disorders among other causes; the arching of the back is concerning especially given the breed’s predisposition to spinal issues. I would keep an eye on this behaviour and have your Veterinarian examine Bailey to be on the safe side (x-rays may be required). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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West Highland White Terrier (Westie)
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

I have a 19 year old West Highland terrier. Yesterday afternoon her right back leg started kicking out out it's own and kept it up for about 4 hours or more. I gave her half and aspirin and she was finally able to get some rest. Then today it has started it again and she is holding up her leg some also

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2142 Recommendations
Whilst kicking with the hind legs is considered a normal activity after doing their business, if the kicking is occurring at other times it may be due to hip disorders or knee disorders; given the breed and age it could be either and spinal degeneration may also be involved. You should visit your Veterinarian for an examination (include x-rays and blood tests for a general picture of health given her age). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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German Shepherd Dog
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

I have a 4 yo German Shepherd that has just started kicking his back leg at odd times. Sometimes I think it’s when something has touched his foot, but I’m not entirely sure. The vet says his joints seem to be okay, and to try to get a video of it. It happens so randomly though and he will only kick once, so that’s impossible. Is there anyway to tell if it is a muscle spasm?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2142 Recommendations
The problem with this type of kicking is that we need to catch it in the act which is near impossible, it may be a muscle spasm or may be caused by something else. Were x-rays taken of the hips and spine as German Shepherds are prone is conditions affecting these areas which may have an impact on the hind legs. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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German Shepherd
10 Months
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

We have a old king Charles spaniel and have recently got a German shepherd, it's a he and he is 10 months old , he often pushes the other dog with his back end and then kicks her with his back leg , is this a dominance thing , is he trying to tell her he is boss ?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2142 Recommendations
Kicking of the back legs may be a territorial issue (behavioural) or a medical issue; if the kicking occurs only when he kicks your King Charles Spaniel then I would suspect that this would be territorial but normally dominance is normally fought out with play fighting and biting the nape of the neck. Make note of when the issue occurs, if the kicking only occurs when your King Charles Spaniel is behind Buddy then punish Buddy for his actions; if the kicking occurs randomly whether your other dog is there or not, then have your Veterinarian check Buddy over as German Shepherd are prone to issues with their back legs. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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