Unable to Stand in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Why is my dog unable to stand?

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Why is my dog unable to stand?

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 with age, or can be caused by an event or illness. Some common causes are:

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 veterinary intervention is usually necessary. Some of the causes can be dangerous and, in some cases, life threatening, so learning the signs 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 certain types of ticks that cause a paralysis starting in the back and moving forward. Another cause may be a problem with their spinal cord or vertebral discs, whether from injury or age. Some 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. These viruses 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 and Basset Hounds 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.  This condition requires immediate veterinary care.  

Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome

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, and it is suspected that a problem with the vestibular system is the cause. In nearly every case there is a partial to full recovery, although some dogs are left with a mild head tilt. This condition can also be caused by infections in the ears, perforated eardrums caused by excessive cleaning of the ears or trauma from a 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. 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. Signs 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 veterinarian, 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 may be taken to help eliminate other potential causes for the symptoms.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This occurs when the nerves in the spinal cord begin to degenerate, which interferes with the communication between the brain and limbs. It usually occurs in older animals. It may begin with a loss of coordination in the hind legs, which can 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 tends to continue to get worse until the dog is no longer able to walk or stand. If signs continue, the dog will eventually lose the use of its front limbs as well. Degenerative myelopathy tends to be a non-painful disease, but can be difficult to watch for an owner.  

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 signs 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 signs of many other illnesses.

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What to do if your Dog is Unable to Stand

If you suspect paralysis, bring your pet to your veterinarian immediately, as it can be an emergency. If your veterinarian is not open, consider bringing them to an emergency clinic or taking them as early as possible in the morning. The longer you wait, the worse the signs may become. The veterinarian will assess your dog, and if a spinal cord compression is suspected, 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 or if the paralysis is severe, surgery may be necessary. Although geriatric vestibular syndrome cannot be cured, it can be treated to speed up the recovery. Your dog should typically recover on their own within a few days or weeks. 

Degenerative myelopathy cannot be cured, but physical therapy can help maintain a good quality of life for some time. 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 veterinarian suspects degenerative myelopathy, they may suggest MRIs and myelography to rule out other diseases. 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.

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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 disc disease, 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.

If your dog is unable to stand, they need immediate veterinary care. Treatment for the possible causes of this symptom can be expensive, though.  To protect your dog and prevent high vet care costs, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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Cost of Unable to Stand

Depending on the cause, treatments can have different costs. Paralysis can cost between $1500 and $8500. Intervertebral disc disease treatments may cost between $400-6000. Treating degenerative myelopathy will depend on the therapy that is needed,  and treating botulism might cost $2000.

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Unable to Stand Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Mix

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Five Years

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0 found helpful

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Has Symptoms

Paralysis

My dog walked with me this morning for about 1 hour, she is used to walk long distances. When we were returning home, she started having trouble with her back leg and she didn’t want go up the stairs. I tought she was just tired, but after that she has been resting at home but she can’t stand up and is having problems with both back legs.

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay in my reply, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. It is possible that she is having some muscle or joint pain or problems, 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 any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 19, 2020

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Beagle

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Nine Years

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0 found helpful

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Has Symptoms

Cant Walk. Weak Back Legs

Took to vet. X ray. Said disc problem. Prescribed prednisone, confinement, getting her out to try and walk 3-4 times a day and massage and physical therapy exercises twice a day. She made gradual progress and could walk several wobbly steps on her own until about 9 days ago. She suddenly got worse. I have no idea what happened. She was walking that morning and when I got her out at lunch she could barely stand. Return to vet. Suggested euthanize. Not an option. Neither the vet nor I think she is in pain. Should I keep up the therapy and attempts to walk or let her completely rest

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay in my reply, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. It is likely that she has had a 2nd spinal injury, from your description, which can happen with disc disease. If she is not able to use her legs, her prognosis for recovery is likely very grim. It would be best to ask your veterinarian as to the best action for her, as I cannot examine or see her.

Oct. 19, 2020

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