Jump to section

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.

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

*Wag! may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Items are sold by the retailer, not Wag!.

Kicking Back Legs Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

question-icon-cta

Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Border collie lab mix

dog-age-icon

Eight Years

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

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Extreme Muscle Spasms

My dog will go from sleeping to having controlled muscle spasms in his back legs. He will usually stand up when it starts and it looks like he is almost humping the air. He can’t control it and he gets very upset until it stops. Once it does he seems fine. It happened once or twice when he was a puppy and then stopped but recently I have noticed it happening more. what is this/what is causing it?

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is difficult to say what might be causing this without being able to see your dog, unfortunately. He may have an electrolyte disturbance that is causing this, or a muscle disease, or joint or nerve pain. If this is something that is becoming more common,, it would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian, if they can examine him and see what might be going on. They may need to do some lab work, but they should be able to figure out a solution. I hope that he is okay.

Aug. 3, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Chihuahua

dog-age-icon

Fifteen Years

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

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

2 found helpful

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

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Kicking Back Legs

I’ve been to 2 Veterinarians and can’t get a diagnosis of why my 15 year old Chihuahua keeps kicking her back 2 legs - like a jolt of lighting several times per hour. She’s in pain, hence licking her paws. Xrays of entire body are normal. Blood work all normal. Last Vet (Neurologist) thinks my dog should have MRI (could he herniated disc), but isn’t sure that’s conclusive. My dog has been very active & healthy her entire life. Still plays, runs, etc. Currently on prednisone 2.5 mg x2 per day and 50mg Gabapentin every 8 hours. I’m baffled. I feel so sorry for her. I’m heartbroken.

July 28, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, without being able to examine her or see her lab results, I'm not sure that I can add anything more than your veterinarians have already discovered. If you are in a position to have an MRI, that may be the next logical step, or try the pain medication for a little while and see if that helps if she is having nerve pain or pinched disc pain. I hope that everything goes well for her and she feels better soon.

July 28, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Chipper

dog-breed-icon

Boxer

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Leg Kicking

My dog has had some suspected spinal degeneration going on for a couple of years. I applied his summer flea and tick treatment and within 24 hours noticed that his rear right leg kicks 5-10 times twice a minute all day long. He is also have some mild coordination issues when he first sits up. Thoughts?

July 27, 2018

Chipper's Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

The signs that you are describing may be related to nerve degeneration, or to the topical medication. Without knowing more about Chipper, his condition, or the medication, it is hard for me to comment, and since this seems to be a new thing, it might be a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian, as they can examine him and see if he needs treatment.

July 28, 2018

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Bentley

dog-breed-icon

schnauzer

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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

Mild severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Kicking

About a week ago my miniature schnauzer starting kicking only one back leg. It is the same leg each time. She does it only when she rests. It seems to annoy her but not bother her. Her activity level and appetite have not changed. She walks, runs, and jumps without pain. If I rub the leg or hip she doesn’t show any signs of pain. Sometimes after a spell she will lick and bite on the leg. It won’t last very long just a minute or two.

June 17, 2018

Bentley's Owner


answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1 Recommendations

Bentley may have a little nerve tick or mild pain that is affecting that leg. If she doesn't seem otherwise bothered by the leg and isn't limping or favoring the leg, you may not need to worry about this, but if it doesn't resolve over the next week or two, or if she does start favoring the leg, then she should probably be seen by a veterinarian to make sure that nothing more serious is going on.

June 17, 2018

My puppy is almost 1 year & has the same issues as Bentley. I took mine to the vet about 2 months for these reasons. She did some test my bill was $400. I learned nothing & symptoms still remain. The vet recommended a dog neurologist. Does this mean I shouldn’t have a dog because I can’t afford some medical attention?

Sept. 1, 2018

Ashley V.

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Harvey

dog-breed-icon

Whippet/Bedlington cross

dog-age-icon

9 Months

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Kicking Back Like After A Poo

We have a 9 month old whippet. For the last couple of days he has started to kick back his legs when in the house (on carpet) and is behaving a bit strangely. He has only started to do this since I came out of hospital after a minor operation and I wonder if it's the hospital smells on me that's causing this?

May 2, 2018

Harvey's Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

Dogs can be quite intuitive, and he may be reacting to the smells from the hospital. If he continues to exhibit this behavior, it would be a good idea to have him examined and make sure that he is okay, but this may be a short term problem.

May 2, 2018

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Smudge

dog-breed-icon

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Sore Back
Sore Back Back Legs Giving Way

I have a 10yo Staffy cross, he has started wincing when we stroke his back. When we touch his shoulder blade area his back legs go from underneath him. He walks ok, and is off his food.

dog-name-icon

Ebony

dog-breed-icon

Bitza terrier

dog-age-icon

16 Years

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Leg Kicking

My 16 year old bites terrier has started kicking her back legs involuntarily. It doesn’t seem to hurt her but it does annoy her. She had no control over it. She had it for a short period a few months ago but it had started again today.

dog-name-icon

Auggie

dog-breed-icon

Weimaraner

dog-age-icon

14 Years

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

I have a 14 year old male Weimaraner who during sleep and now during rest when awake will (violently) kick out his hind legs. He sleeps with me and has caused bruises and most recently, a painful bruised rib. Otherwise, he appears healthy, eating, drinking and running gracefully when outdoors. This started about 2 years ago and has progressively worsened. Two years ago he was started on Proin which has worked like a charm. Also, at about that time, my husband, with whom he was very bonded too died at home after a week of hospice services and many strangers coming to the home. I love my old doggie and find it painful to see him going through this.

dog-name-icon

Usher

dog-breed-icon

Bichon Frise

dog-age-icon

15 Years

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

Fair severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Balance
Loss Of Appetite

Today my 15 and a half year old Bichon, started kicking his right hind leg and being unable to control it. He gets frustrated and didn’t even want to walk outside. It seems it is also painful even though he does not necessarily cry or wimps. He has lost weight and is extremely thirsty. If I give him any water he drinks it but will barely eat to keep him satisfied. When I held him for a while close to me he was shaking. I know he’s getting old but a few weeks ago he was jumping like a puppy. What happened?

dog-name-icon

Poppy

dog-breed-icon

miniature dachshund

dog-age-icon

18 Weeks

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

Fair severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Kicking Leg
Nipping At Side
Shaking Back Legs Like She'S Wet

Poppy has just started kicking her back leg on one side. She'll run a few steps then pause to nip at her side, maybe shake her legs and then run some more. She is still running, eating, jumping as much as she normally would, but she's never done anything like this before. She has just (like in the last day) figured out she can jump onto the sofa so I'm very worried she's jumped up and down again when I wasn't in the room and has damaged herself. I'll monitor her I suppose and take her to the vet in the morning and hope it isn't serious.

How can we help your pet?