My Dog Can't Walk on Their Back Legs All of a Sudden
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There are many reasons why a dog's gait will change. It should not be a surprise that older dogs start to lose mobility. As a dog ages, the wear and tear on their bones and joints will take its toll. However, when a dog loses mobility in their back legs all of a sudden, especially if they are not a senior dog, the reasons are less clear. Since it is the back legs of the dog which lose mobility, it can help diagnose the problem. However, the problem isn't necessarily an issue localized to he hindquarters. Neurological and pathological issues can result in a dog's hindlimbs losing function.
At AnimalWised, we look at the reasons why my dog can't walk on their back legs all of a sudden. Since a loss of mobility will seriously affect a dog's quality of life and potential signal a life-threatening illness, it is a problem which cannot be ignored.
Weakness in my dog's hind legs
Before we look at the reasons why a dog can't use their back legs, we need to look at the differences between sudden weakness and progressive loss of mobility. As referenced in the introduction, a dog's age will have a bearing on their mobility. However, there are many factors which can lead to weakness. These include their genetics, overall health, activity levels and even their diet.
In general, we can look at immobility of a dog's hind legs as falling under two different categories:
- Progressive weakness: a dog will start to lose their hindleg mobility little by little. It can start with a small limp, progress to a changed gate and eventually show lameness in the back legs if it progresses sufficiently.
- Sudden weakness: when a dog can't walk on their back legs all of a sudden, it will be a stark difference. One moment they will be able to run and be active as normal, the next they will lose mobility in their back legs.
In terms of progressive weakness in the dog's legs, it can be something which we cannot reverse. However, this is not the same as saying it cannot be treated. There are things we can do to slow degeneration as well as build strength. In other cases, the lameness may be temporary as mobility will be returned once the underlying cause has been treated. Understanding the difference requires looking at the causes individually.
My dog suddenly can't walk on their back legs
When an otherwise healthy dog suddenly loses strength in their back legs, it usually means something sudden has happened. However, this is not exclusive. It is possible the dog has been dealing with a disease which has been asymptomatic up to a point, but symptoms can then appear all of a sudden once it passes this point. It should be noted these types of canine immobility are less common than degenerative diseases.
- Tick paralysis: there are various diseases dogs can get from tick bites. Some dogs may have no symptoms at all, but some can have no symptoms for a long period of time before their sudden onset. The toxin in a tick's saliva can affect their motor nerves in their central nervous system. It begins by paralyzing the hind legs, but can progress to the point they lose respiratory ability.
- Botulism: this is a paralyzing illness caused by neurotoxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Dogs can get it by eating carrion (dead animals), spoiled food or food which has been improperly stored. The prognosis depends on the degree of bacterial infection.
- Myasthenia gravis: this is a disease that affects muscle mobility at the level of the central nervous system. The weakness it causes can be generalized, but it may first appear only in the hind legs. The dog will start to tremble when walking and show difficult in getting up. There is an autoimmune form of the disease that can occur concurrently with hypothyroidism.
- Hypokalemia or low-serum potassium levels: occurs when there is a loss of potassium. This can be due to severe vomiting, prolonged administration of diuretics or other causes. You can learn about a condition which causes low potassium levels with our guide to Cushing's syndrome in dogs.
- Spinal cord injuries: they usually occur after serious trauma. These can be due to traffic collisions, falls or various types of accident. Infections and tumors can also damage the bone marrow. Spinal cord injuries can result in pain, weakness, paralysis, stumbling when walking, or urinary or fecal incontinence. The prognosis will depend on the extent of the injury and surgical intervention may be necessary.
My dog trembles when they try to walk
When a dog walks with a wobbly gait, it could be due to experiencing pain, weakness, tremors or simple loss of muscle function. These problems can be pathological, but often tend to be neurological (or sometimes both). With neurological conditions, the reason the dog stops walking on their hindlimbs is due to signals not being sent by the brain. Whether the problem is damage to pathways to the brain or the brain itself, the dog's mobility is affected.
Here we look at some of the reasons a dog's back legs tremble and stop working:
- Encephalitis: this is a brain inflammation which has various underlying causes. Often, the problem is an infection by bacterial viral or even fungal pathogens. The dog has various symptoms with loss of motor skills in the hindlegs being only one.
- Intoxication/poisoning: when the dog ingests a toxic substance, the symptoms can range from mild to fatal. In some cases, they may only have mild gastrointestinal upset, when the toxins affect the brain, it can lead to immobility.
- Cognitive dysfunction syndrome: this is a degenerative disorder often associated with senior dogs. It is of neurological origin and can result in lameness as well as confusion, sometimes resulting in the dog walking in circles for no reason.
- Congenital diseases: there are certain degenerative disorders which can cause paralysis in the back legs. These will include issues such as different types of ataxia in dogs, something which is progressive and will not happen all of a sudden. There are certain breeds which are more prone to this condition with the German Shepherd being the most notable.
- Stroke: although relatively rare in dogs, if they suffer from a stroke it can lead to paralysis of various parts of the dog's body. The hindlegs are only one area, but it may depend on the area of the brain affected. Learn more by looking at the different symptoms of stroke in dogs.
My dog can't walk on their back legs and is in pain
In many of the conditions we have described, the paralysis of the back legs may not necessarily be concurrent with pain. Although a dog's joints will get stiff when they are older, they may not feel any pain when at rest or when not exerting themselves physically. However, when there are evident signs of pain in the dog, it could be a veterinary emergency:
- Trauma: if a dog has been in a fall, a traffic collision or suffered any kind of physical trauma to the back legs, they may be damaged to the point they cannot walk anymore. Although dogs are good at hiding their pain, when they suffer a serious traumatic injury, they will likely show signs of pain, as well as disjointed limbs, bleeding or any of the associated symptoms.
- Herniated disc: while this can be related to a trauma, a dog may herniate a disc in their spine for various reasons. Although age is a factor, activity levels, genetics and other factors can lead to a herniated disc. Since it is a spinal problem, the result may be a lack of function of the hindlimbs from the herniated disc down. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) in older dogs may also result in a herniated disc once it has progressed sufficiently.
- Tumors: unfortunately, dogs can develop tumors on almost any part of their body. If they have one which affects their spine, their central nervous system or anything which might affect mobility, it can result in weakness or lameness.
What to do when my dog can't walk on their back legs
If you see your dog is unable to walk on their back legs all of a sudden, it may be a veterinary emergency. You will need to look at the other symptoms which present. For example, if they lose consciousness or have seizures, it is likely a neurological problem such as a stroke. If they are bleeding and showing signs of pain, they may have had a traumatic accident.
When you first see signs your dog can't walk on their back legs, it may not be a veterinary emergency, but you will need to take them to a veterinarian nonetheless. If the problem is a degenerative disorder, slowly building infection or any problem which results in lameness of the back legs, it is a serious problem. It will need treatment to prevent further damage, reverse symptoms or slow progression.
For all the causes of a dog not being able to walk on their back legs, treatment will depend on the underlying condition. Some will be curative, others may be more focused on symptom management. To determine the cause, the vet will give a physical examination, check their medical history and perform various diagnostic tests. For mobility issues, imaging tests such as x-rays, ultrasound or MRIs are likely to be performed.
Strengthening a dog's hind legs
Once the veterinarian has diagnosed the problem, treatment will be administered. Since a dog loses strength in their back legs, they may need some help to either support their movement or help to rehabilitate them back to strength. This may require supplementary medical treatment. Possibilities include:
- Massages: regular massaging of the limbs can help condition muscle, bring back strength and relieve associated pain.
- Assisted walking: treadmills and other equipment may be used to help the dog condition their legs back to strength.
- Swimming: taking pressure off the legs while in water is a great way to help rehabilitate or simply provide exercise for a dog that can't walk on their back legs.
- Harness: a harness with wheels can be used to support the back legs and the dog is able to propel themselves with their forelimbs.
- Diet: ensuring the animal has a proper diet which is beneficial to muscle is vital if we want to best ensure mobility. This should be something we consider for all dogs, regardless of health status.
For issues which related to all limbs, not only their hindlegs, take a look at our related article on why a dog can't stand up properly.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Can't Walk on Their Back Legs All of a Sudden, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.