My Dog Has Leg Cramps - Causes and Treatment
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Cramps can be difficult to detect in a dog's muscles. This is especially the case if the dog has long hair. In cases were the cramping is continuous, it is possible to see the dog's muscles twitch under the skin. Often, the dog experiences painful muscles spasms without their guardians being able to see. Not only are the symptoms of muscles cramps difficult to determine, dogs are good at hiding their pain. Particularly if our dog is involved in canine sports or is simply a very active dog, we need to be sensitive to any possibility of cramping.
At AnimalWised, we look at why my dog has leg cramps. We look at the causes of muscle spasms in a dog's legs, as well as the symptoms, treatment and possible prevention options.
What are leg cramps in dogs?
Cramping is a term used to refer to sudden muscle spasm, i.e. a sudden involuntary contraction of certain muscles. In theory, any muscle in the dog could be affected by cramps. However, they tend to mainly affect the muscles of the legs and paws.
Although there are types of painless involuntary spasms, cramps in dogs are usually quite painful. Although we may not be able to see the effects on the dog, they may be unable to move for up to several minutes.
Symptoms of leg cramps in dogs
The intensity and duration of the symptoms that a dog presents when cramping will depend on the severity of the cramps. The most characteristic symptoms of cramps in dogs are:
- Muscular stiffness
- Muscle pain
- Inability to move
In the most severe cases, the dog can collapse and have seizures. These episodes are rare, infrequent and may be related to other concurrent conditions from which a dog suffers.
Learn more with our guide to why your dog is having seizures.
Causes of leg cramps in dogs
As stated above, the main cause of your dog's leg cramps is related to excessive exercise or inadequate performance of some physical activity. When a muscle is overexerted, it is subject to excessive or exaggerated tension which can lead to involuntary spasms. For this reason, dogs involved in canine sports or dogs that carry out a particularly demanding training routine can be more easily affected by these muscular problems.
However, it is often not exercise alone which can cause a dog's leg to cramp up. There are certain factors which can increase the likelihood of leg cramps. There are also some health conditions which can have muscle spasms as a symptom. Here we look at the most common causes of leg cramps in dogs:
- Dehydration:, especially common in dogs that are not adequately hydrated during an exercise routine. The dog may have enough water to be at rest, but are dehydrated after exerting themselves.
- Injuries: leg or spinal injuries, resulting from accidents, trauma, collisions, fights, etc.
- Brain damage: brain tumors and neurological disorders can lead to a partial or total loss of nerve function.
- Seizures: there are various causes of seizures in dogs as it is a symptom itself, rather than a disease. Leg cramps can accompany seizures which are caused by canine distemper, certain cancers, metabolic disorders (such as canine hypoglycemia) or congenital diseases.
- Chronic stress: usually causes excessive and permanent muscle stiffness, facilitating the appearance of spasms and cramps in dogs.
- Muscle weakness: may be associated with an underlying disease, congenital malformations, poor nutrition, insufficient physical activity or as a result of the aging process. Senior dogs suffer from cumulative degeneration of bone and muscle tissues which can make cramping more likely.
- Circulation problems: can impair the oxygenation of the muscles and promote the development of cramps. Also related to advanced age in dogs.
- Degenerative diseases that affect the bones or muscles: these disease can lead to a long period of immobilization or the inability to move. They include such diseases as osteoarthritis in dogs.
Treatment of dog leg cramps
Treatment for cramps in dogs will also depend on various factors. These include the intensity and frequency of the spasms, their specific cause and the underlying health status of the dog. You may see a short cramp after a heavy workout which resolves on its own. You will need to go to a veterinarian if you observe recurrent muscle problems, such as spasms and involuntary contractions in dogs.
If your dog is healthy, well-trained, and has had a mild cramp after a long session of physical exercise, their symptoms will most likely last only a few minutes. In these cases, it is important to immediately stop the activity, keep your dog well hydrated and you can also give them some very gentle massages on their legs to promote tissue oxygenation, relieve muscle stiffness and help them regain movement.
If you notice your dog is showing signs of dehydration, you can make a homemade serum for dehydrated dogs to help balance his fluid and electrolyte levels. This is only to be used in emergencies when it will take you time to go to a veterinary clinic.
Although emergency veterinary attention is not necessary in cases of mild cramps, we recommend that you consult a professional to verify the state of your dog's health. They can also rule out the possibility of an injury due to overexertion or an underlying medical problem. A veterinarian can also help you establish a more appropriate exercise routine for the age and physical condition of your dog to avoid the appearance of cramps.
If you notice the symptoms persist, your dog shows signs of muscle pain or is unable to walk properly, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible. These signs may indicate a more severe cramp or muscle injury. In these cases, your dog may need to undergo rehabilitation with physical therapy (physiotherapy) to regain their mobility.
If you notice your dog has frequent cramping, shows symptoms of muscle weakness, is limping on the affected leg or avoids putting a paw on the ground, it will be essential to take them immediately to the veterinary clinic. As muscle spasms and contractions can appear as a symptom of underlying diseases, they must receive adequate treatment according to the needs and the organism of each animal.
Cramps in older dogs can also be quite frequent, due to the progressive degeneration of their muscle and bone tissues. In these cases, the treatment will prioritize improving the quality of life of each dog. This may include using canine physiotherapy to regain or maintain strength. We may even learn how to give relaxing massages to avoid sudden contractions.
It will also be essential that the dog has a comfortable and accessible environment. We need to ensure they do not need to make great efforts to move around the home and enjoy the company of their relatives. Learn more with our complete senior dog care guide.
How to prevent leg cramps in dogs
To prevent sudden cramps and spasms in dogs, we need to follow some basic guidelines. These are designed to make exercise safe and to protect dogs which may already be prone to leg cramps. They include:
- Adjust your dog's physical activity according to their age, physical build, temperament and health status.
- Always keep your dog well hydrated, especially during walks and training sessions.
- Offer the dog a complete and balanced diet. This includes amending their diet to meet the nutritional requirements at each stage of their life.
- It is preferable to exercise a dog during the hours that have the most pleasant temperatures, when it is not so hot or so cold.
- Adopt a stretching routine before and after their physical training sessions.
- Know how to respect the life stage of your dog, providing essential care for elderly dogs when they become an advanced age.
- Provide adequate preventive medicine to your dog throughout their life. These include making visits to the veterinarian every 6-12 months, respecting their vaccination schedule and providing periodic deworming.
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 Has Leg Cramps - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.