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What is Unable to Stand?

Witnessing your dog become suddenly weak in the legs and unable to stand on their own can be very concerning and scary. It can happen naturally with age, or can be caused by an event or illness. Some common causes are:

  • Paralysis
  • Geriatric vestibular syndrome
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Botulism

In most cases, inability to stand is a serious issue that can affect your dog in their everyday life. It can be the sign of the beginning of something serious, and vet intervention is usually necessary. Some of the causes can be dangerous and, in some cases, life threatening, so learning the symptoms of some of the serious illnesses is important. If your dog is showing difficulty standing, do not overlook it.

Why Unable to Stand Occurs in Dogs

Inability or reluctance to stand or perform everyday actions can be serious as it can be caused by a severe disease. Any dog can suddenly become unbalanced or paralysed, although some can be affected more easily than others due to their age or breed. It can be caused by a number of reasons that are all serious and should be dealt with immediately.

Paralysis

Canine paralysis is similar to human paralysis, as it can appear quickly and keep them from doing what comes natural day to day. It can be caused by ticks that spread Lyme disease, which can extend throughout the bloodstream and to your dog’s organs, and can be fatal. Another cause is the development of a tumor in their spine. Tumors can spread life threatening toxins and viruses throughout your pet’s body, as well as travel through the nerves and allow the advancement of damage to vital organs. Tumors will often increase the effect of paralysis slower, compared to Lyme disease. Therefore, the hind end of your dog will be affected first, followed later on by the front if not treated. Sometimes infections can also cause paralysis if not treated properly, especially infections that appear near the face or ears. If not treated quickly and correctly, infections can cause damage to the muscles, nerves and vital parts of the body, and can in turn cause paralysis. Rabies and distemper can also have the same effect as they can spread viruses into your dog’s brain. If these viruses win against your dog’s immune system, it can be fatal.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease happens when the discs in your dog’s back protrude and press against the spinal cord. This will cause internal swelling which can lead to decreased nerve function and pain, which can keep your dog from performing everyday functions with ease, for example walking and standing. It can even cause paralysis in any part of the body, depending on the location of the damaged disc. Corgis, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds and any other breed that is subject to genetic dwarfism are more susceptible to slipped discs, but no breed is immune. Dogs that are of predisposed breeds that are obese and out of shape can also acquire this injury more easily. 

Some possible signs of IVDD include reluctance to move the neck or carrying the head low. A dog with this condition will not want to move their head or neck as it is painful, and will instead resort to shifting their eyes in order to look at you. Other symptoms are stiffness, back pain, crying out suddenly when moving or being touched, tenderness or tenseness in the abdominal area, incomplete or unusual urination, hunched posture or an arched back, dragging their legs, toeing or knuckling over when walking or standing, an unwillingness to jump and a reluctance to stand or sit, as well as dragging legs. It can sometimes cause anxiety, since the dog knows that moving will inflict pain. A drop in appetite and activity level, loss of bladder control, shaking or trembling, collapsing or a loss in general coordination can also occur.

Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome

It is suspected that geriatric vestibular syndrome is caused a brain lesion or a hemorrhage, but so far no evidence has come forth to prove it. This disease affects the body’s balance and will result in dizziness, a loss of balance and vertigo. It can be more common in older dogs. In nearly every case there is a full recovery, with only minor head tilts left over. It can be caused by recurring infections in the ears, perforated eardrums caused by excessive cleaning of the ears or trauma that can be left from head injury. Stroke, tumors, polyps, hypothyroidism, meningoencephalitis as well as certain drugs and antibiotics can also be causes. This disease can also be a congenital effect that is present from birth. Ear infections are the most common cause in younger dogs. When developed in older dogs the cause is unknown, but brain tumor is a possibility. Central vestibular disease, which is a less common and more serious type, can be caused by inflammatory disease, infection, brain bleeding or trauma, cancer and a loss of blood flow. Symptoms include excessive drooling, nausea and vomiting, head tilting, loss of coordination, circling and stumbling, falling, rolling and involuntary or nystagmus which is a rhythmic jerking of the eyes going up and down or side to side. If a single ear is infected, the head tilting, circling and nystagmus will only occur to that side. This disease is usually seen between birth and three months old. Some predisposed breeds are the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, Beagle, English Cocker Spaniel, Smooth Fox Terrier and Tibetan Terrier. When taken to the vet, your dog will go through a physical examination in order to determine whether the disease is peripheral or central. Sometimes x-rays will be done, and blood tests, sensitivity and culture as well as cytology will be taken to help eliminate other potential causes for the symptoms.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This is when the nerves in the spinal cord begin to degenerate, which interferes with the communication between the brain and limbs. It usually occurs between the age of 8 to 14. It will begin with a loss of coordination in the hind legs, which will cause the dog to wobble when walking and drag their feet. It will sometimes occur in one leg and move to the other. As it gets worse, the limbs will get weaker and the dog will have trouble standing. It will continue to get worse until the dog is no longer able to walk or stand, which can take between 6 months to a year to happen. If signs continue, the dog will eventually lose the use of its front limbs as well. Degenerative myelopathy is known as a non-painful disease.

Botulism

This is caused by an infection with a bacteria called clostridium botulinum that releases a toxin. This group of bacteria can stay dormant for a very long time and thrives in low-oxygen conditions. The sources of the toxin are decaying hays, grass and grains, decomposing carcasses or spoiled vegetables. It is a fairly rare but serious disease, and symptoms should begin to occur 12 to 36 hours after contact with the botulism toxin. Some symptoms include excessive drooling, dilated pupils, a general weakness, paralysis that begins at the hind limbs and moves towards the front, increased effort to breathe, difficulty swallowing and facial nerve paralysis. If unchecked, the disease can lead to fatal respiratory failure. The most common way for a dog to obtain the botulism disease is by eating a dead carcass that has the disease. It is difficult to determine that a dog has obtained the virus, as it mimics the symptoms of many other illnesses.

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What to do if your Dog is Unable to Stand

If you suspect paralysis caused by a slipped disc, bring your pet to your vet immediately, as it can be an emergency. If your vet is not open, consider bringing them to an emergency vet or taking them as early as possible in the morning. The longer you wait, the more damage will be done to your dog’s spine. The vet will most likely administer painkillers, anti-inflammatories and/or steroids, which will decrease the swelling, improve the nerve function and help to reduce some of the pain. If these treatments are unsuccessful, decompression surgery to remove the disc may be necessary. Although geriatric vestibular syndrome cannot be cured, it can be treated to help ease the pain and speed up the recovery. Your dog should recover on their own within a few days or weeks. 

Degenerative myelopathy cannot be cured, but vitamin and physical therapy can help maintain a good quality of life. Dogs with botulism are treated with supportive therapy and an anti-toxin. Supportive therapy, such as nursing care and confinement, can also help with vestibular disease, along with motion sickness medications to help with nausea and vomiting. Antibiotics may be needed to eliminate ear infections. If the vet suspects degenerative myelopathy, they will use MRIs and myelography to rule out other diseases. To confirm the diagnosis, an autopsy will be necessary. It is important to observe your dog’s behavior well, as botulism will often be diagnosed by the owner’s observation of the dog, it’s exposure to dead animals and detection of spores in the fecal samples. Once diagnosed, the only treatment is supportive care in the form of respiratory therapy and nursing care. In some cases, an equine-derived antitoxin has been used with success, but only when given during the early stages of infection.

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Prevention of Unable to Stand

The best way to prevent botulism is to keep your dog away from dead animals and carcasses in order to prevent them from coming into contact with the toxin. Monitor your dog while they are outdoors and survey the yard in order to remove any potential threats. Many of the other illnesses cannot be prevented, and catching the diseases early are the best ways to keep your dog healthy. Be sure to keep track of any changes in behavior and have regular checkups at the vet.

Get your dog vaccinated in order to protect them against rabies that can cause paralysis. If your dog is paralysed or has IVDD, they may have trouble performing some necessary tasks, like grooming and walking. You should be prepared to bathe them often, help them eat and drink and carry them outside when they need to do their business. A bedding area that is well-padded is also necessary during the healing process. It should be small but comfortable in order to keep them from moving around too much. If they are unable to reposition themselves, you may need to reposition them in order to prevent bedsores. Many forms of therapy can aid in the recovery. Vestibular disease can make eating and drinking and going to the washroom difficult or nearly impossible, and supportive therapy in the form of IV fluids and supplemental nutrition may be necessary. Natural calming agents can be helpful for older dogs that can get stressed out by episodes of vestibular disease.

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Cost of Unable to Stand

Depending on the cause, treatments can have different costs. Paralysis can cost between $4500 and $8500. Intervertebral disc disease treatments will cost around $9000. Curing degenerative myelopathy will cost $1800, and treating botulism will cost $2000.

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Unable to Stand Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Boston Terrier

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Eight Weeks

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In The Morning Can Stand Up And As I Little Blood In His Poop

What can I do and what can it be please help

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Puppies are very prone to parasites and infectious diseases like parvo virus. If you are noticing blood in your puppy stool, it would be best to have them seen by a veterinarian. They will be able to examine your puppy, see what might be causing this, and get treatment so that your puppy is healthy. I hope that all goes well and they feel better soon.

Aug. 7, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Five Years

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1 found helpful

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Cant Walk

Cant walk throwing up wont eat or drink barley moving

Aug. 6, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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Hello- Thank you for your question. With your dog's symptoms it sounds like he is very seriously ill. He needs to be taken to your veterinarian or a veterinary ER immediately to be assessed. It is hard to say if his inability to stand is due to weakness from his illness or related to an orthopedic or neurologic disease. Regardless I would take him to the vet right away to get him some help. They will be able to examine him, perform blood work and x-rays to help differentiate the underlying cause of his symptoms.

Aug. 6, 2020

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Pit Bull

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One Year

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Weakness, Can'T Keep Food Down, Lost Alot Of Wight.

Help my baby girl get better please.

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. From your description, she sounds quite sick, and it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian. She may have a parasite, in intestinal infection, or a blockage, and at veterinarian will be able to examine her and see what might be going on. They will be able to let you know how to treat her once they know more. I hope that she is okay.

Aug. 3, 2020

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Bernadoodle

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Five Years

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Cant Get Up

Max, has been at the hospital for 6 days, 2 rounds of iv for pancreatitis. We brought him home yesterday, and this morning his back legs were giving out on him. By the time I got home from lunch, he could not get up on his own, and when we did stand him up, it was for a very short time, and he went down again. We brought him right back to the vet. They have given him 2 lymes test, negative, an ultrasound, and now they are going to take x-rays. The pancreatitis came out of nowhere, he has never been sick. They cant figure out what the problem could be.

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If they are not able to determine what is happening to poor Max, it may be a good idea to get a referral to a specialist. Sometimes secondary care is needed when things just don't make sense. I hope that all goes well for him and he feels better soon.

July 28, 2020

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Mixed breed

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One Year

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Tarry Stool

It can't stand on its feet again

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Without being able to see your pet, it is difficult to know what might be going on, but if it isn't able to stand, it would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian right away. They will be able to examine your pet and see what treatment is needed. I hope that your pet is okay.

July 28, 2020

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Sammy

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Golden Retriever

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Licks Back Legs
Shakes When Standing
Hard To Go Up And Down Stairs
Wining When Using Stairs

Last night my 2 year old Golden Retreiver who is very active, wouldn't come up from downstairs. When I finally worked him up enough to come up the stairs he wined with every step. He laid down the rest of the night except when I made him go out to the bathroom. But getting him to get up took awhile and going down the patio stairs looked hard for him. He has never had any issues with his hips or anything like that.

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Coco

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Shihpoo

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

My dog is overweight and she is limping on her right back leg. It doesn’t hurt her when I touch it or seem broken. She started to limp a few months ago but I was on and off. But now she can’t stand being on the back right leg. She can’t walk that much or pee properly

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Linda

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Doberman Greyhound

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11 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Not Moving

My dog is 10 years . She is a doberman. Her name is linda. All of a sudden in the motning we saw that she is not responding and not coming to us. Her four legd has just gave out. She cannot feel her legs. We took her to the vet but they said that they dont know what has happened. So they gave some medicines and said to take good care and make her walk by ourselves. But they said her heart beat is normal

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Mickey

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Maltese x

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Crying Cant Walk

My dog is a Maltese. He is 13 and has Cushings disease. He has had it since he was 4. He all of a sudden cant walk and is crying all the time. Took him to the vet. They gave him 2 shots. One for pain and one to take swelling down. He is still crying and cant walk. Im very worried about him.

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Martha

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Saint Bernard

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16 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Unable To Stand
Splayed Legs

Our dog is quite old and has had a few falls in the previous months but yesterday she was going up the stairs (4 steps onto the porch.) Her hind leg slipped through and she couldn't pull herself back up. We helped her up the step and she walked into the house but hasn't moved since. We have tried to get her standing back up; she tries and tries but her legs look like a newborn deer, like jello. She's eating fine and drinking but her eyes won't dilate for us.

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