My Dog Doesn't Want to Walk All of a Sudden
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Although every dog has their own personality, they are rarely lazy. Unless they have physical limitations, they want to explore, play and even just run around with no apparent goal. For this reason, when a dog doesn't want to walk, it is usually because something is wrong. Without a good reason to be tired, something is either physically or emotionally preventing them from walking. There is a distinction to be made between this happening progressively and happening all of a sudden. A dog will slow down their activity rates as they age or even if they have been previously diagnosed with a disorder. Suddenly refusing to walk is something different.
AnimalWised explains why my dog doesn't want to walk all of a sudden. We look at the possible causes of this behavior, both physiological and psychological, as well as what treatment options are available.
Spinal cord injuries
When our dog doesn't want to walk all of a sudden, we need to look at the context of the situation. One important consideration is whether they try to walk and then cannot. If we see the dog attempting to stand, but they lose balance with their back legs, it is a likely indicator of spinal cord injuries. Eventually the dog will refuse to walk because attempting to do so becomes painful.
When an animal suffers an acute injury to their spinal cord, paralysis of the back legs is common. Since the injury usually occurs further along the spine, the forelimbs are not commonly affected. The specifics of the mobility problems will depend on the nature of the injury and the part of the spine that is affected, e.g. cervical, cervicothoracic, thoracolumbar or lumbosacral.
Some acute processes that can cause my dog to suddenly not be able to walk are:
- Serious traumatic injuries: whether run over by a car, falling from height or being hit with a strong blow, the spinal cord can be damaged. These traumas can lead to vertebral dislocations, subluxations or fractures. In turn, these can lead to spinal cord compression or injury.
- Herniated discs: they occur when the intervertebral discs that separate the vertebrae move towards the spinal canal, causing compression of the spinal cord. The clinical manifestation of a herniated disc varies greatly depending on the specific type of herniation, its location and the individual's response. When the symptoms appear very acutely, the animals usually show very intense pain and a sudden inability to walk.
- Fibrocartilaginous embolism: occurs when blood vessels supplying the spinal cord become obstructed by fibrocartilaginous material, resulting in acute necrosis of the spinal cord. It is a pathology that usually affects adult animals, especially large breed dogs and Miniature Schnauzers. In this case, the clinical signs appear hyperacutely (in less than six hours).
The treatment of these spinal cord diseases will vary depending on the specific process and the severity of the spinal cord injury. For example, in the case of herniated discs, patients that are not ambulatory will likely require surgical treatment. In the case of fibrocartilaginous embolism, there is no curative treatment, only symptom management oriented towards neuroprotection and a physiotherapy routine to try to recover motor function.
Learn more about physiotherapy options for dogs with mobility problems in our article on physical therapy for dogs with arthritis.
Orthopedic issues are those which are related to bone malformation or injuries. They are another common reason for veterinary consultation. In these cases, it is important to differentiate between a dog not wanting to walk and being unable to do so. Processes which affect the musculoskeletal system can be debilitating, but their onset is not always sudden.
Some examples of orthopedic problems in dogs include:
- Bone Fractures: from traumatic injuries as explained above.
- Metabolic bone diseases: these include rickets and osteomalacia, diseases which are related to improper nutrition and subsequent poor bone development.
- Hypertrophic osteodystrophy: unfortunately not much is known about the causes of this disorder, with several theories suggesting it is related to canine distemper virus, hereditary causes and autoimmune disorders. Fortunately, it is relatively rare. Affected animals will display varying degrees of lameness, but usually the onset is not sudden.
- Ligament tears: often associated with over-exercise or traumatic events, these issues usually see the dog refusing to walk all of a sudden. The pain can be extreme, even if the dogs are good at hiding signs of pain. Not wanting to walk may be the symptom that points you in the right direction with confirmation requiring x-rays and ultrasound scans carried out by a veterinary professional.
In most of the cases, surgical intervention is required to correct the disorder. If the problem is unable to be corrected, symptom management is required. Treatment will be at the discretion of the veterinarian.
If your dog has no strength in their limbs, it doesn't necessarily mean there is a localized problem or disorder. Systemic problems can affect a dog's desire to walk. These are not directly related to lameness, but have an inability or refusal to walk as a symptom. They include:
- Poisoning: there are certain toxic substances capable of causing paralysis in dogs. Compounds found within various chemicals include insecticides (e.g. organophosphates and carbamates), rodenticides (e.g. bromethalin), plants with cyanogenic glycosides (e.g. flax, laurel and almonds), plants with andromedotoxin (e.g. azaleas) or plants that produce lathyrism (e.g. those from the genus Lathyrus). Learn more with our article on the plants that are toxic to dogs.
- Infectious diseases: there are certain microorganisms (mainly bacteria and viruses) that are also capable of producing paralysis in dogs. Some examples are botulism (produced by the Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin, which causes flaccid paralysis), tetanus (produced by the tetanospasmin toxin, generated by the Clostridium tetani bacterium) or rabies (produced by the Lyssavirus RAV-1).
- Very painful processes: some pathologies (such as intestinal obstructions, pancreatitis, pyometra or cystitis) can cause a picture of very intense abdominal pain. In these cases, it is common to observe the animals remain immobile and unable to walk due to their intense pain in the abdomen.
As you can see form the previous sections, not all of the reasons why a dog refuses to walk occur all of a sudden. Sometimes the problem can be due to a chronic disorder which occurs over time. However, even if the disease is a chronic condition, the symptoms can happen all of a sudden. One moment they are active and behaving characteristically, then they may stop wanting to walk.
In other cases, the symptoms are more progressive. They may show signs of lameness such as limping or general weakness, eventually evolving to the point they cannot walk at all. Some chronic conditions include::
- Degenerative myelopathy: a degenerative disease that affects the spinal cord. Its etiology is not completely understood, although it seems that immune, nutritional, metabolic and genetic factors are involved. We can initially observe loss of balance, incoordination, muscle atrophy and a refusal to walk. Eventually it will result in tetraplegia. There is no curative treatment, although physiotherapy has been shown to extend the life expectancy of affected animals.
- Discospondylitis: an infection of the vertebrae and intervertebral discs that can be caused either by blood infection traveling to the vertebrae or by a direct infection of the spinal column. The latter may be due to wounds, foreign bodies, surgical complications, etc. They produce symptoms that are very similar to herniated discs, but in these cases the symptoms are usually more chronic and progressive. Treatment requires the establishment of antibiotic therapy, complete rest and analgesia.
- Osteoarthritis: also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). It consists of a degenerative process of the joints in which the articular cartilage wears away until the underlying bone is exposed. When this happens, there is intense pain in the affected joint, which causes lameness and stiffness. Over time, the symptoms can worsen until they completely compromise the mobility of the animal.
- Hip dysplasia: consists of an abnormal development of the hip joint, which ends up producing a dislocation or subluxation of the joint and an incongruity in it. It is a very common hereditary pathology in large and giant dogs. As the dysplasia progresses, the lameness and pain worsen, until the animal is prostrate. Its resolution is surgical and, as we can see, it is another of the reasons why the dog loses balance on their hind legs.
Learn more with our article on dog breeds which are most prone to hip dysplasia.
- Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease: also known as avascular necrosis of the femoral head, it is a developmental disease that affects young dogs, especially small breeds. There is an interruption of the blood supply to the head and neck of the femur, which results in bone necrosis. Initially, it does not produce clinical symptoms but, over time, signs such as lameness and intense pain occur. If it is not operated on, the signs worsen until causing the complete immobility of the animal.
As you have seen, there are many causes that can cause a dog to suddenly stop walking. Most of them are serious processes that require fast and forceful veterinary action. Therefore, if at any time you detect that your dog loses its balance and trembles , in addition to showing difficulty walking or cannot move, do not hesitate to go to your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible. In most cases, acting quickly will be crucial to the animal's prognosis.
Psychological reasons a dog refuses to walk
A dog's refusal to walk is most likely due to one of the physical processes explained in the sections above. However, there are some psychological reasons a dog does not want to walk all of a sudden. They include:
- Stress: dogs can be sensitive animals and prolonged periods of stress can have a debilitating effect. Even acute periods of stress can result in symptoms such as not wanting to walk. Changes in routine, a new family member or various environmental factors can cause stress in your dog. When they are sufficiently anxious, they can even stop doing the things they enjoy such as going for a walk and exercising.
- Fear: prolonged stress can cause a dog to become insecure over time. When faced with a fearful situation, an insecure dog can have various reactions. These can include excessive vocalization or aggression, but they can also retreat into themselves and refuse to walk. Learn more with our article on why a dog is scared of everything all of a sudden.
- Depression: although they do not have the same psychology as humans, dogs can suffer from depression. The causes of depression in dogs are often similar to stress, including changes in the home or even getting in a dight with another dog. Whether the dog is more stressed or depressed usually depends on the individual, although there is often a mixture of both. Events such as a loss of a guardian can also lead to depression and the dog being unwilling to walk all of a sudden.
Regardless of whether a dog's reasons for not wanting to walk all of a sudden are of a physiological or psychological origin, we need to take them to a veterinarian. They will first assess the dog's physical wellbeing. If they determine the problem is pathological, they can recommend the most appropriate course of treatment. In cases of psychological issues, they will likely recommend a canine educator or ethologist to assess their mental wellbeing and implement behavior modification training.
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 Doesn't Want to Walk All of a Sudden, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
1. Dittmer, K. E., & Thompson, K. G. (2011). Vitamin D metabolism and rickets in domestic animals: a review. Veterinary pathology, 48(2), 389–407.
2. Selman, J., & Towle Millard, H. (2022). Hypertrophic osteodystrophy in dogs. The Journal of small animal practice, 63(1), 3–9.