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What is Struggling to Walk?

There are times when a dog may look as if he is struggling to walk. This may occur very suddenly, or gradually over time. Like humans, walking is a way of life for dogs, and when a dog has difficulty with mobility, it is important to get it assessed and treated. If a dog loses all mobility, there are ways to get him moving with assistive devices. 

There are many muscles, tendons, joints, and nerves that work together for a dog to walk and run, just as in humans and other animals. When something is amiss, your dog may have difficulty walking or running. He may limp, scoot across the floor, or hold one leg up. Typically, when dogs have difficulty walking, it is quite noticeable.

Dogs may have struggle to walk for several reasons. Some of them are very mild and treatable while others may be more severe. Reasons include:

  • Strains and sprains
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Arthritis

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Why Struggling to Walk Occurs in Dogs

When dogs struggle and experience pain when walking, they can suffer if it is not diagnosed and treated. Reasons your dog may have pain when walking include:

Sprains and Strains

If your dog has overexerted himself or landed in a harsh way when running or jumping, he may have a sprain or strain. When muscles, ligaments, or tendons are pulled or twisted in an unnatural way, pain can occur. An MRI can usually diagnose a sprain or strain in your dog.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This spinal cord disease occurs most often in aging dogs. The spinal cord begins to deteriorate, and the first symptoms are usually loss of the mobility in the hind area. Eventually the dog loses complete hind leg mobility and needs assistance when walking.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease occurs when a disc in the back becomes problematic, and then part of the inner material of the disc leaks into the spinal column. This causes pain when walking that has resulted from nerve damage. Otherwise known as a herniated disc or the protrusion of the material from a disc, this occurs more commonly in very active dogs or older dogs.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a disorder of the spine in which the cartilage begins to deteriorate. This occurs over a period of time, and when the cartilage calcifies it causes significant mobility and discomfort.  Trauma can cause spinal stenosis, as well as infections, bone disorders of the spine, aging, and disorders of the connective tissues.


Inflammation of the joint in the legs or hips can cause a dog to have pain when walking. Arthritis may also give your dog difficulty rising from a sitting position. Fortunately, there are supplements and medications that can be given to dogs with arthritis to make the pain and inflammation less discomforting.

What to do if your Dog is Struggling to Walk

If you notice your dog seems to be in pain when walking, or is unable to walk or run properly, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will ask you about your pet’s symptoms, particularly those related to where he is having difficulty walking. He may want to know if he is struggling when attempting to walk up the stairs, when walking for long stretches, or even while getting up from a sitting position. He will conduct a thorough physical examination of your pet, including blood work, urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile. These tests will determine, or help the veterinarian learn more about, any underlying health conditions.

After doing a physical examination, he will also take a closer look at your dog’s back, legs, and torso. He may choose to do imaging procedures on his back if he suspects your pet has a back injury, or one in his leg or torso area. It will depend on where the dog is showing symptoms and pain. Your veterinarian may choose to do specific scans of your pet’s muscles, such as with an MRI. 

Once your veterinarian reveals why your dog is having pain when walking, he will let you know of the treatment options that are available.

Prevention of Struggling to Walk

While some reasons for pain from walking cannot be avoided, there are some actions you can take to help keep your dog pain-free. Be sure your dog has a safe environment to run and play within, as a bumpy yard or uneven area can cause injury. It is also important to avoid overexertion or activities that are too strenuous for him. 

While certain back conditions and arthritis may be hard to avoid, ask your veterinarian about supplements which can be given to your dog to nourish his joints and keep them from deteriorating so much over time. You can also ask your veterinarian what types of dog food should be fed to your specific breed of your dog, and he may have advice for you.

If you notice your dog limping, rather than waiting to see if it will get better, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. If your dog is having issues for more than a day or two, a quicker diagnosis may help speed up his recovery.

Cost of Struggling to Walk

The cost of diagnosing and treating strains and sprains may be $600. The cost for treating a more serious condition such as degenerative disc disease, or spine degeneration, may be approximately $4500.

Struggling to Walk Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Labrador Retriever
3 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Looks stoved up
Looks wobbly on his legs

Medication Used


Our dog Red is about 3-4 years old...and he's a wild boy. Jumping and playing and just being a young man. About a month ago, we started to notice he had weakness in his left hind leg. Our vet has looked at him twice and now he's on Rimadyl. We also have been giving him some sedatives to make him calm down a bit so he can heal. The doctor thinks he's pulled something in his leg, but on the good side, there is no clicking when his knee joint is bent a few times by the doctor while he was checking him out. Red started losing his appetite after starting Rimadyl, but it's come back within the last week. We give him the meds in the morning and later in the evening, trying to overlap the meds about an hour in the evening. As of the last 3-5 days, he's been considerably worse. I am not sure if he's feeling better, and going about being his wild self, thus causing more damage, but he's having a hard time walking, sitting down and getting up. When he goes out he runs around and this is what the sedatives are for, to try to calm him down and heal, but our plan doesn't seem to be working. We are not walking him right now because he seems to be in pain, and taking him out in the back yard on a leash to relieve himself doesn't work because he gets excited, thinking he may be going somewhere. We're worried. He's young. And being a Labrador probably doesn't help this situation. What is the next step we should take?

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Doberman Pinscher
5 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

loss of coordination
Brain Tumor
Fades in and out of consciousness

My dog athena was recently diagnosed with epilepsy in May of this year. She is 5 years old and only now began showing symptoms. From running and playing roughly to having 5 seizures within a day. She was prescribed phenobarbital, and did well the first couple of weeks. However, after about 2-3 weeks, she severely lost mobility and her balance. She struggles with coordination and hits many objects that never got in her way before. It seems her hind legs hit more than the rest of her body, but she's all around uncoordinated. She oftentimes has moments in which she slams into walls and objects, or simply can no longer stand. She falls quite often and uses me as a crutch. IHowever, I guided her towards her bed earlier, and instead of lying down all the way on the bed, she sat her back half/torso down on the bed very shakily, and then when I attempted to straighten her onto the bed so that she may lie down, she fell the complete opposite direction into my lap/arms. She continued to lay there without much movement. Was she having a seizure/premonitions, or is she asking me for help?

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Bishon frisée Norfolk terrier
10 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Struggling to walk hind legs

Our dog daisy is struggling to use her hind legs this started a month ago & we took to vet who prescribed anti inflammatory which seem to make her worse she is struggling with steps & does not want to go for walk & is not eating much.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
There are various possible causes for a dog struggling to walk and may be neurological, musculoskeletal or other in origin; a thorough physical examination is required along with x-rays (possibly with myelography) to help narrow in on a diagnosis. Without examining Daisy myself, I cannot start to name any specific cause as there are so many. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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