First Walk is on Us!

✓ GPS tracked walks
✓ Activity reports
✓ On-demand walkers
Book FREE Walk

Jump to Section

What is Unable to Walk?

An inability to walk refers to your dog’s lack of ability to stand and walk on his own. This is a distinct condition which differs from difficulty in walking, or lack of desire to walk. A dog who has engaged in strenuous physical exercise might be tired or sore, and may have even pulled a muscle, but that dog should still be able to walk if he wants to. A dog with the inability to walk cannot stand or move on his own. 

  • Arthritis
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy

This is always a very serious condition, and requires immediate veterinary assessment and treatment. A dog who is not mobile cannot take care of his own bodily functions, and will require some kind of medical care if he is to survive. 

Book First Walk Free!

Why Unable to Walk Occurs in Dogs

A dog’s inability to walk is typically due to either a problem with the dog’s joints or issues with his spinal cord.


Arthritis is probably the most common reason for a dog’s inability to walk. It often develops with age, but can even occur in very young dogs. Arthritis develops in 1 out of every 5 dogs from wear and tear on their joints. More specific causes can include cruciate ligament tear, poor nutrition, joint infection, extra stress from heavy exercise or injury, age, and obesity, among others. If your dog takes great care with his joint movements, such as moving more slowly, moving very slowly or having difficulty getting up after resting, licking his joints, or exhibiting reluctance to jump or move about, arthritis may be developing. 

Hip Dysplasia

In hip dysplasia, there is similar wear and tear, but only to the hip joint. It is a hereditary condition, and can develop in your dog as early as 16 weeks old. Though stereotypically thought to affect only large breeds, such as German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, and Great Danes—breeds that carry a lot of weight, thus putting a lot of pressure on the hip joints—hip dysplasia can even affect small breeds. Symptoms are similar to those of arthritis, but are localized in the hips, and include lower levels of activity, difficulty using the rear legs for anything, and evidence of pain in the hip joints.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

In intervertebral disc disease, the discs between the spinal vertebrae rupture, and no longer adequately cushion the discs, leaving them to rub on each other. This hurts, and the dog can lose feeling and function of his legs, possibly even becoming paralyzed. The discs can either gradually degenerate, or rupture suddenly, but in both cases, the rupture is the result of everyday wear and tear and disc deterioration. This condition is more likely to occur in dogs that have dwarfism in their genes, including the Dachshund, Pekingese, Beagle, and Lhasa Apso. 

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy occurs when the spinal cord’s white matter degenerates over time; like intervertebral disc disease, degenerative myelopathy also develops as hind leg weakness that can lead to paralysis. The cause is unknown. German Shepherds are more likely than other dogs to develop this condition. Its symptoms look like those of arthritis and hip dysplasia, but in this condition, the dog wobbles, stumbles, and falls. 

Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy 

Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy (FCE) is a stroke to the spinal cord, caused by fibrous cartilage entering, and then blocking, a blood vessel in a vertebrae, cutting off blood to the spinal cord. All dogs are equally susceptible. Symptoms appear suddenly, though the dog may have seemed to complain of pain several days earlier. One or more limbs totally lose their functioning, with one side of the body usually being more affected than the other.

What to do if your Dog is Unable to Walk

If your dog is truly unable to walk, you must take him in for a veterinary examination immediately. A dog’s inability to walk is indicative of a very serious underlying condition. Joint disorders are easier to treat than spinal cord issues, though all are challenging. Arthritis requires a lifestyle change, in which your dog’s diet and exercise routines will change, and he may be prescribed non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or steroids. Various physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser treatment, massage therapy, and physiotherapy may be used as lower-impact options to give your dog better mobility and less pain. In addition to these options, surgery may be recommended for hip dysplasia. 

For a dog with a mild case of intervertebral disc disease, supervised rest and pain medication may be prescribed. If the damage is moderate to severe, your dog may be prescribed NSAIDS or steroids, or may require surgery. While there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, as the degeneration will continue for the remainder of your dog’s life, his quality of life may be improved by physical therapy, dietary supplements, and pain management. He will no longer be able to go up and down steps or take long walks; consider replacing steps with a ramp. There is no specific treatment for FCE. If your dog is lucky, he can spontaneously heal if the blood vessel blockage clears. Passive range of motion exercises can help to keep him limber, and, as with arthritis and hip dysplasia, acupuncture, laser treatment, and other physical therapies may be helpful. If your dog is entirely unable to walk, you will need to reposition him in his bed every 4 to 6 hours, help him urinate, and clean up after his bowel movements.

Prevention of Unable to Walk

Hip dysplasia can be prevented through breeding it out of the line, and making sure your dog has a healthy diet and exercise routine. Arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, degenerative myelopathy, and fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy can not be prevented, only managed. Regular wellness checks are advised for all dogs of all ages, allowing for the discovery and management of illnesses and diseases that otherwise may not be diagnosed until in the advanced stages.

Cost of Unable to Walk

The average cost to treat arthritis is $300, while the average cost of treating hip dysplasia is $2500. Degenerative myelopathy treatment costs an average of $1800; the average cost of treatment for fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy is $4000. Intervertebral disc disease is much more expensive to treat: it costs an average of $15,500 for basic treatment, plus monthly costs of about $300.

Unable to Walk Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My chihuahua unexpectedly started falling over and wobbling. I am not sure what happened he was fine one minute and then he lost use of back legs. What could I do for him until I can afford the vet prices?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3318 Recommendations
If you are unable to afford a Veterinarian immediately, then it is important to keep Ringo rested and restrict movement as much as possible. There are various causes for sudden paralysis, but you shouldn’t wait too long since some causes (including spinal cord compression) increase in severity over time. If you have difficulty paying for veterinary care, you should try a charity clinic or contact a nonprofit. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Add a comment to Ringo's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Labrador Retriever mix
8 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Sudden onset

My dog went from completely healthy to limping on front paw over night. He seemed to be getting better next few days then suddenly couldn't bare weight on it at all. He was sedated for an xray and came out walking on injured paw but knuckling and dragging a hind leg. He's since regained strength in his hind leg and now both front paws are knuckling/very weak. Vet is stumped and I'm hesitant to do MRI since it progressed the issue. Do these symptoms ring any bells?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3318 Recommendations
It can be difficult to narrow in on a specific cause for the knuckling and dragging of multiple limbs, I cannot think of anything which presents similar to this and would recommend that you visit a Neurologist for a thorough examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Add a comment to Murdoc's experience

Was this experience helpful?

12 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Pain and discomfort

My 12 year old Terrier has been unable to walk for about one week. Her white blood cell count was at 60,000. She is currently taking Galliprant and other meds to bring down a bacteria infection. She has gained her appetite but has a lot of discomfort especially when going to the bathroom...she lying down. We are hoping that she will rgain the use of her back legs, she does have movement in her front paws and her neck.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3318 Recommendations
The Galliprant (grapiprant) is indicated for osteoarthritis, most likely Carla is also receiving antibiotics to fight any infection which she has. You should continue the medication as prescribed but without examining Carla I cannot give you any specific advice on treatment or a prognosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Add a comment to Carla's experience

Was this experience helpful?

black mouth cur
4 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

Unable to walk

Medication Used


My 4-year-old black mouth cur suddenly is unable to walk. She seems to be in immense pain, and medications aren't helping. The doctors in my area cannot tell me what happened to her. She's also developed abdominal discomfort, as she is now unable to exercise. What can I do to help her?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1608 Recommendations
Without being able to see Heidi, I don't have any way to determine what might be going on with her, but common causes for that type of pain and loss of use of legs can be a back injury or a nerve tumor. She may need an MRI to diagnose what is going on with her, and sometimes dogs with this problem need to be in the hospital on a pain medication drip IV. If your veterinarian isn't able to control her pain or determine what is happening with her, you may need to seek a referral to a specialist for her.

Add a comment to Heidi's experience

Was this experience helpful?