Most dog owners with middle-aged pets might find themselves worrying about their dog’s back legs weakness problems. Illnesses like degenerative myelopathy and rear limb lameness or claudication can be a result of a few other problems that may not be visible initially. Fortunately, there are treatments available for each of these ailments. This article seeks to help out dog owners who are going through a tough time understanding what is wrong with their dogs’ back legs and why they are collapsing all of a sudden.
Back Leg Weakness
Back leg weakness or shaking in dogs is normally a direct result of aging. It can also be a result of the following possible diseases,
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive illness in older dogs that affects their spinal cord. It directly impacts your pet’s inability to control and coordinate its hind legs and keep from wobbling or knuckling over. In other words, this devastating disease is a gradual onset of paralysis and affects numerous dog breeds. The limbs become weak as the disease progresses, and slowly the dog is unable to stand and begins to buckle under the pressure of its body weight.
- Progressive weakness of limbs (hind limbs).
- Difficulty in standing up.
- Stumbling and knuckling
- Tremors and loss of muscle in hind legs
- Fecal and urinary incontinence
- Stress and anxiety
- Muscle atrophy
- Weak front legs due to immense pressure.
- Difficulty breathing, prolonged seizures, vomiting, and diarrhea are some of the additional symptoms in the last stage of this illness.
Unfortunately, no treatments have shown conclusive results to slow down the progression of this disease. Although recent studies have discovered a gene responsible for the onset of this disease, the research is still in its nascent stages.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
As the name suggests, the IVDD is a disease that affects and weakens the spinal column of the dogs. Breeds like German Shepherds, Shih Tzu, Basset Hound, and Dachshund are most commonly affected by it.
The intervertebral discs work as shock absorbers for a dog’s spine. Any damage to them can affect the lower limbs of its body. The disease can be diagnosed with a complete neurological examination.
- Pain, weakness, or lameness in hind legs
- Abnormal walking
- Acute pain
- Anxiety and changed behavior
- Unwillingness to jump
- Low appetite
- Reduced bowel movements
- Hunched posture.
The method of treatment depends entirely on the severity of the illness in that particular dog. The treatments usually begin with a conservative approach and can lead to surgery in extreme cases. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or drugs with steroids can be prescribed by the vet to control pain and swelling. Heat and massages techniques can also provide relief in the initial stages of the disease.
In case of an extreme condition like paralysis, the vet might recommend surgery to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord. This must be followed by post-surgery rehabilitation for improved recovery.
Fibrocartilaginous Embolism, or FCE
FCE is another ailment that occurs in dogs and causes weakness in legs. In this case, a portion of cartilage from the spinal disc prevents the blood flow to the dog’s spinal cord. This can result in a stroke. Although FCE is not considered a painful disease, it may cause your dog to panic and cry out in anxiety.
A physical and neurological examination like MRI and spinal tap can help the vet diagnose the disease.
- Weakness in limbs
- Inability to use lower limbs.
The treatment for FCE does not require your dog to undergo surgery. Instead, good nursing care and physiotherapy can help your dog heal and recover and lead normal lives.
Apart from these ailments, the following diseases can also cause weakness in the dog’s back legs.
- Fractures and trauma
- Tick paralysis
- Low thyroid levels
- Low blood sugar levels
All of these and many others display back leg weakness as a prominent symptom in the dogs who are affected. Therefore, a correct and accurate diagnosis is essential. If you feel that your pet has been displaying any weakness in back legs, then you should consult a veterinarian without further delay.
How Can the Vet Help You?
The veterinarian can conduct physical examination followed by MRI or CT scans to determine the actual cause of weakness in back legs. These scans will not only tell you about your canine’s bone damage but will also give you an idea of the condition of the nerves. Additionally, prompt action can help your dog recover and get better at a faster pace. Therefore, it is crucial to learn the cause before you explore the possible treatments.
Exercises To Strengthen Old Dog’s Hind Legs
Regularly exercising your dog can maintain a healthy constitution and also help them recover faster from an injury or surgery. Exercises can be of the following 4 types:
Like humans, even dogs require good warming up regime before beginning strenuous exercise of activity. Most importantly, it helps the blood flow to the muscles. Additionally, regular stretching of muscles can reduce the risk of an injury during exercise. These exercises typically require 3-5 minutes but are an essential part of your dog’s fitness regime.
- Help your dog extend one rear leg and hold that position for 3-4 seconds.
- Repeat this with the other leg as well.
- A slow-paced walk
- A slow-paced jog
These exercises are aimed at increasing your dog’s heart rate gradually before stepping into more active exercises. Combine these activities with regular stretching exercises to cool down the body as well. These warm-ups and cool-downs are essential to avoid injury to your dog’s muscles.
Nearly all pet owners take their dogs for walks daily. However, instead of walking down the road or in the park, you can take a stroll down the beach. The sandy beach provides a softer surface, which increases limb awareness. This, in turn, builds limb strength.
Similarly, walking exercises in water, like in a lake, a pond, and even a swimming pool, can help dogs exercise better. This is highly applicable for dogs suffering from back leg weakness and can’t carry their body weight while exercising. Water reduces the amount of weight that your dog is supporting, thereby allowing them to move their muscles in a much better manner.
Recent studies have shown that walking backward is another way to strengthen hind legs. This exercise focuses on the dog’s back legs and improves muscle tissues.
Games like tug or dancing on hind legs aim at exercising the dog’s weak back legs. Do these exercises also for their fun factor and both of you can have a wonderful time. Additionally, these don’t require any specific equipment or time of the day. You can mix fun and games and help your canine strengthen weak hind legs.
These few exercises are specifically aimed at strengthening the weak hind legs of your dog.
Elevated Touch Drill
You can use an ottoman or a bench to place your dog’s front paws such that their bodies are in an upright position. Staying in this position for 30 seconds can increase the ability of their hind legs to carry more weight.
A partial squat from an elevated position can improve your dog’s hind leg strength. Stretch their back from the torso region and help them do partial or mini squats along with the back leg workout.
Remember to increase elevation in both these exercises gradually. Starting with a high elevation can increase the intensity of the exercise, and your dog may not be able to cope with it. Lastly, always remember to check with your vet before you begin any exercise regime for your dog.
While motion exercises are excellent ways in which you can help your pooch recover, giving them leg massages is also considered beneficial. Irrespective of your pet’s age, a massage is an effective form of therapy while recovering from an injury or building muscle strength.
Research has found massages to be highly effective if the dog suffers from defective genes, age-related degeneration, or even muscle strain. All these ailments can result in a dog with weakness in back legs.
Moreover, just like their owners, dogs also suffer from joint problems like arthritis. This can leave their hind legs weak and result in imbalance while walking.
Massages are considered to reduce any age-related muscle or joint stiffness. They also help your beloved dog stay agile and keep fit even in old age.
You can give your pet a soothing hind leg massage by implementing the following steps.
- Lay down your dog on its side while you sit behind it, holding the upper portion of its back leg. Keep your other hand underneath the paw. Very gently stretch out this leg and hold it in position for 4-5 seconds. Return to the original position.
- In the next step, repeat the leg stretch three times and increase the holding position to 15 seconds. With every repetition, try and gently stretch the leg a little further. This is an excellent exercise for improving muscle mobility and improving your pet’s gait.
- Use the compression technique to loosen and warm-up your dog’s leg muscles. To do this, hold your dog’s leg with one hand and use your other hand’s palm to apply pressure against the bone gently. The idea is to push the muscle away from it gently. Continue this for a few seconds while sliding your hand down the leg. A three-count repetition is enough for this massage.
- You can also massage your dog’s hind legs by firmly sliding your hands over your dog’s back legs down to its paws. When you reach the paw, squeeze it gently for 3-4 seconds. Gradually release the pressure and repeat it three times.
- Pinch and release is another interesting massage technique and has proven to be quite effective for dogs with weakness in back legs. You apply pressure by gently pulling the skin away from the dog’s leg and releasing it. Doing this on all the skin covering its rear leg increases blood circulation, ensuring better flow to the rear of the leg.
- Lastly, roll your pet’s body over on to its other side and repeat these five exercises.
There are numerous causes and cures for weakness in a dog’s back legs. However, the key criteria are to make your dog undergo proper and accurate diagnosis and then decide on the course of the treatment. Once you have identified the main cause and undergone its treatment, you can begin working on improving the strength in your dog’s hind legs with the help of these simple exercises and massage techniques. But most importantly, as a pet owner, you must provide unconditional support to your beloved dog in this trying time.