My Dog's Front Legs Are Giving Out Suddenly
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Lameness or trouble walking can occur on any of a dog's limbs. Although traumatic injuries can occur anywhere, limb paralysis more commonly occurs on the hindlimbs. This is due to the location of the spine, since injuries or pathologies affecting the spine often occur further along. When the dog's forelimbs give out while walking, the location of the lameness can help us to determine the cause. Paresis (muscle weakness) or orthopedic abnormalities may be the root cause, but we will now know until we take them to a veterinarian for assessment.
At AnimalWised, we find out what happens when my dog's front legs are giving out suddenly. We see what possible causes might lead to this problem, as well as their respective treatment options.
Spinal cord diseases
A dog's spinal cord houses a column of nerve tissue which is essential for the dog's central nervous system. It allows the dog to walk via locomotion, as well as sense through touch and pain. Injuries can occur due to trauma, but there are also pathological causes which can result in damage to the spinal cord. Some of the diseases which can affect a dog's spinal cord and cause their front legs to give out include:
- Herniated discs
- Severe spinal trauma (traffic collision, fall, etc.)
- Vertebral fractures or vertebral dislocations
- Infections (e.g. discospondylitis)
- Neurodegenerative processes
When a dg's spinal cord is injured associated neurological symptoms can appear. Their severity depends on different factors, including the location of the injury. Minor injuries can produce pain on palpation of the spinal musculature, but are not usually accompanied by neurological problems.
When the spinal cord injury affects the cervical segment or the cervico-thoracic segment of the spinal cord, the paresis (muscles weakness) can affect the forelimbs. It is for this reason the dog's front legs can give out all of a sudden, even if their back legs do not seem to be affected. In more severe or advanced cases, it is common for the paresis or weakness to evolve towards total paralysis of the extremities.
In the specific case of puppies, a differential diagnosis is particularly important when their front legs give out. This is because it may be the result of a viral infection such as canine distemper virus. This infection can result in paresis of the limbs, the reason why you may see that a puppy's front legs give out all of a sudden. Puppies have a still-developing immune system, making them more vulnerable to infection.
The treatment of the spinal cord problem will depend on its cause. Medical treatment will need to be sought in any case since small infections can spread and cause irreparable damage. This is of particular concern in puppies since their weakened immune system can more easily result in death.
For physical trauma, the treatment is based on managing the symptoms and helping the body to repair itself where possible. This includes maintaining systemic blood pressure, decompressing the spinal cord and other forms of stabilization. For infections, the administration of antibiotics, analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs is required. In some cases, surgical intervention may be required.
Learn more about how a dog's limbs are affected by injury with our article on why a dog can't walk on their back legs all of a sudden.
Neuromuscular diseases are another of the problems which can affect the dog's front legs. Neuromuscular diseases are pathologies that affect the peripheral nervous system. Specifically, they can affect peripheral nerves, muscles and/or the junction between them (neuromuscular junction).
There are many neuromuscular diseases that can affect dogs. Some of them are hereditary and affect specific breeds. This is seen in axonal neuropathy which is a common disease of the German Shepherd or progressive axonopathy common to the Boxer breed. Others are acquired diseases, such as myasthenia gravis. It is also common for neuropathies to appear secondary to other alterations, such as:
- Organophosphate or vincristine poisoning
- Tumors (e.g. insulinoma)
- Endocrine diseases (e.g. canine diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism)
- Immune-mediated diseases (e.g. lupus erythematosus)
What characterizes these diseases is weakness or paresis in the extremities, causing the dog's front legs to give out. It is usually accompanied by other clinical signs such as lack of spinal reflexes and decreased muscle tone. These dogs usually have a gait with short steps and a posture with over-flexion of the joints, since it is difficult for them to carry their weight.
Regarding treatment, some neuromuscular diseases such as acute idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis or myasthenia gravis in dogs are self-limiting processes. This means they resolve in a matter of weeks or months with the help of supportive therapy.
In the case of neuropathies that appear secondary to other pathologies, it is essential to establish a specific treatment against the primary cause to try to resolve the neuropathy. Unfortunately, the desired response is not always obtained.
Sometimes it appears a dog's front legs are giving out, but they are actually suffering from muscle problems. Learn more with our article on why a dog has leg cramps.
Another cause that can cause a dog's front legs to fail are orthopedic diseases that affect the front third of their body. Among these diseases are:
- Developmental diseases: such as elbow dysplasia, metaphyseal osteopathy or panosteitis.
- Bone fractures: often the result of trauma, but can be exacerbated by bone diseases.
- Dislocations or subluxations: also from trauma or over-exercise.
- Tendon or ligament injuries: can be a comorbidity of dislocations.
- Joint diseases: arthritis, osteoarthritis, bursitis, etc.
Most of these diseases usually cause pain in the front legs of dogs As a consequence of the pain, it is common for an associated limp to appear and for the range of motion of the affected limb to be reduced. In addition, when the animals are lying down and get up, it is common for their front legs to fail. We can see the dog try to get up, but can't stand or walk properly.
As in the previous cases, the treatment of these orthopedic diseases will vary depending on their cause and severity. Depending on the case, a medical treatment or a surgical intervention should be chosen. In most cases, the primary treatment should be complemented by appropriate rehabilitation therapy.
For all of the above, if your dog's front legs are giving out suddenly, they cannot walk or they generate a limp, do not hesitate to go to a veterinary center as soon as possible. Where treatment is possible, early intervention is the key to a speedy recovery.
Sometimes a dog lifting their front paw can be normal if it is related to certain behaviors, sometimes it can be a sign of a health problem. Learn more with our video below:
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's Front Legs Are Giving Out Suddenly, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
1. Olby, N. (2010). The pathogenesis and treatment of acute spinal cord injuries in dogs. The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice, 40(5), 791–807.