It is usually the hind limbs that are most affected by weakness in dogs, regardless of their cause. It makes sense as the hind limbs of the dog do so much. They push the dog up from a laying or sitting position, and propel it forward during movement. These simple tasks are essential for daily living. If you have difficulty with them, it could indicate weakness.
How does it look? Slow to rise, sinking onto hind limbs and dragging the tops on the toes are all signs that hind-limb weakness is present.
These are the signs that your dog may be showing. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause.
Do you think the weakness is episodic or permanent? Is it exercise-induced?
Some conditions are more likely because of the age and size of your dog. This information is also used to diagnose the condition.
There are four main causes of hind-limb weakness: neurologic, metabolic or cardiac.
ORTHOPEDIC CAUSES FOR HIND-LIMB WEAKNESS
Chronic joint inflammation/pain in dogs can cause hind-limb weakness. Although arthritis is clearly painful, compensatory pain is often accompanied by muscle aches or pains. It makes it difficult for dogs to get up and move around. This can lead to him becoming more sedentary and causing him to lose muscle strength and fitness.
Arthritis is most common in older dogs. This is due to wear and tear on joints over the years. Overweight dogs are more likely to develop arthritis because of the extra stress they put on their joints. Hip arthritis may occur in dogs with hip dysplasia, which is an abnormally formed hip joint. These arthritic conditions can cause hind-limb weakness. It usually occurs slowly and insidiously. It will not seem like it happened overnight.
Lyme arthritis and immune-mediated arthritis are two examples of acute forms of arthritis that can cause sudden weakness in the hind end. Broken bones, bilateral anterior cruciate ligament tears (ACL), and intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) are all possible causes of hind-limb weakness in overweight dogs. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and recommend the appropriate treatment by using x-rays and blood tests.
NEUROLOGIC CAUSES FOR HIND-LIMB WEAKNESS
IVDD can be referred to as an orthopedic probem or neurologic probem. This is when a diseased disc, or discs, puts pressure on the spine cord and causes neurologic weakness. Although many of these cases can usually be treated medically, paralysis or a lack thereof may indicate that surgery is necessary.
Similar signs can be seen in spinal tumors and other neurologic disorders. Advanced imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography are required for diagnosis.
Diskospondylitis refers to an infection of the intervertebral disk and adjacent vertebrae. It can be very painful and cause hind-limb weakness. The treatment is to give antibiotics for a longer time (6-12 months). This condition is difficult to diagnose early on. Your dog may need repeat x-rays or more advanced testing such as CT or MRI in order to be able to make a final diagnosis. These dogs can recover if they are properly diagnosed and treated.
Lumbosacral Stenosis (also known as cauda Equina syndrome) is a similar degenerative condition to IVDD, but it affects the lumbosacral joints. This joint connects the last vertebrae to your pelvic area. This joint is different than the other intervertebral ones in that it’s where all peripheral nerves going to the hind end branch from the spinal cord. This area can be very painful and often causes neurologic deficits that lead to hind-limb weakness.
Degenerative myelopathy (DM), a slow, but steady degeneration of the spine that causes hind-limb weakness, is a progressive and slow process. This disease can affect many breeds, but the German Shepherd Dog is the most common. It is most common in middle-aged dogs and older dogs. There is no cure for DM. Supportive care is the only treatment.
Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune neuromuscular condition that causes muscular weakness. It can be treated with exercise. It may begin with the hind legs, but quickly progresses to full-body weakness or collapse.
Here’s a classic scenario for MG: Your dog wakes up from his rest and goes about his day as normal. Your dog goes for a walk, but within minutes he’s slipping, sinking, and staggered to the point that he cannot stand or walk. He can function briefly again after a brief period of rest that allows the neuromuscular transmitters to be replenished. A blood test is required to diagnose the condition. The treatment is usually long-term (six to six months). Some dogs will experience remission and can continue to live normal lives. Others may require ongoing treatment.
EIC is an inherited disease in Labrador Retrievers, as well as a few other breeds. It is usually diagnosed between 6 months to 2 years old. After a few minutes of intense exercise, it can happen. The dog becomes weaker and less coordinated in his hind limbs, until eventually he collapses. This is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment. Prevention involves avoiding strenuous exercise. It is crucial that your puppy be purchased from a breeder that has tested their parents for the EIC gene. You should have your dog tested for the EIC gene if you adopt a dog with these characteristics.
Geriatric dogs can develop idiopathic vestibular Syndrome, which is a common cause for incoordination and weakness of the hind-limbs. It can happen suddenly and may feel like your dog is suffering from stroke-like symptoms. It is not known what causes this disorder. This disorder is often accompanied by balance problems and a tilted head. With supportive care, most dogs will be able to recover.
Generalized neuromuscular weakness can be caused by several tick-borne diseases. This may initially appear in the hind legs. If you suspect your dog has been infected by ticks, consult your veterinarian immediately.
METABOLIC CAUSES FOR HIND-LEG WEAKNESS
A healthy weight for your dog, such as the one in the background, will help to prevent future problems. It also helps you know what the chances are of it developing. Any injury will be more painful if your dog is overweight, as well as any weakness.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hypoglycemia (anemia), or low potassium (hypokalemia), are all metabolic disorders that can lead to hind-limb weakness. These disorders can be easily diagnosed using blood tests. These issues can be resolved by further diagnostic testing.
Endocrine disorders can lead to weakness, such as Addison’s disease and hypothyroidism. Both conditions can be diagnosed by blood tests and are treated for life.
A metabolic condition known as hepatic-encephalopathy can occur in certain liver conditions. This causes episodic weakness or confusion that is most apparent after eating.
CARDIAC CAUSES HIND-LIMB WEAKNESS
A healthy cardiac function is vital for blood flow and oxygen delivery. Weakness can result from impaired cardiac function, regardless of the cause. For the same reasons, weakness in dogs usually manifests first in the hind legs.
Congestive heart failure (cardiomyopathy), heartworm disease, heartworm disease, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), heart arrhythmias (cardiorhythmias), cardiac or pericardial cancers, fluid in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion), and heartworm disease are just a few examples of cardiac conditions that can be found in dogs.
Your veterinarian will use your dog’s physical exam to determine if there is a cardiac reason for the hind-limb weakness. Once that has been confirmed, treatment can begin.
HIND-LEG WEAKNESS DOES NOT RESULT ONLY FROM “OLD AGE”
There are many possible causes for hind-limb weakness in dogs, as you can see. It is vital to get your dog checked if you see this problem. Don’t dismiss it as “old dog” issues. A veterinarian can help you rule out the root causes of your dog’s problems and provide a definitive diagnosis. Even if your dog is very old, identifying and treating these diseases can make a huge difference in his life.
There is no cure for some chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. There are many things you can do to make your dog’s life easier and more enjoyable. It all starts with tender love and support.
Assistance for Arthritis-Related Mobilities
Weight management. Overweight dogs make it more difficult to do everyday tasks. Nordic Naturals and Welactin from Nutramax are my favorites. )Anti-inflammatory medications. The mainstay for pain relief from osteoarthritis is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), such as carprofen and deracoxib. Physical therapy is geared towards building and maintaining muscular strength. You can have your dog do this at a rehabilitation center where an underwater treadmill and other exercises can be integrated into the individual plan. You can also exercise your dog at home. For example, you could try “Puppy Pushups”: Your dog should sit, then move to the side, then get down. Repeat. Keep going. This rubbery, inflatable platform will help your dog develop muscle and body awareness. Begin by teaching your dog how to balance on the bone. You can then have your dog do puppy push-ups while standing on the bone. Use a food lure or food to get him to stretch his neck towards his flanks on both sides while he stands. These exercises are great for core strengthening and helping to combat hind-limb weakness. A trained professional administers it using a handheld probe into the tissue. The treatment is usually done twice per week for two to three consecutive weeks. After that, it’s applied with a hand-held probe into the tissue. A skilled practitioner is required to perform acupuncture. Visit ivas.org for a list of veterinary acupuncturists. It requires a skilled professional. Visit ivas.org to find trained veterinary acupuncturists. The harness fits comfortably so your dog can wear it all day, just like his collar. The harness has two handles, one over each shoulder and the other over your hips. This allows you to reach down and assist your dog quickly and without putting too much strain on your back. For more information and videos, visit helpemup.com.
What causes hind-leg weakness in dogs? Whole Dog Journal.