My Dog's Front Paw is Curling Under - Knuckling in Dogs
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If you see your dog's paw curling under itself, it is understandable to grow concerned. Since our dogs are usually so active and eager to explore, limitation of their movement results in a serious decrease in their quality of life. We may not even notice our dog's paw folding under at first. As the process is often gradual, being observant for symptoms is imperative. Early detection means diagnosis and treatment can be carried out and improve the prognosis. A dog's paw curling under is known as knuckling. The causes of knuckling in dogs are varied, but all require our attention.
If you notice that your dog's front paw is curling under, AnimalWised looks at the possible reasons this may occur. We also look at the treatment options available so that we can do our best to prevent permanent damage.
What is knuckling in dogs?
When you notice your dog's front paw curl over, you are witnessing a process known as knuckling. While dogs don't actually have knuckles, the way the paw folds over on itself looks as if it were walking on knuckles rather than their toes. Dogs are what is known as digitigrade animals. This means they walk on their digits, in this case their toes, rather than the flat pad of their paws.
Digitigrade animals have relatively long carpal and tarsal bones. This helps them maintain purchase on the ground, as well as allow for speed and agility. Digitigrade animals generally move faster than animals which walk on their foot pads.
Knuckling occurs when the dog no longer walks on their toes, but the top of their paw curls under itself and severely impairs their mobility. The dog's paw will likely sustain further damage from the inappropriate walking. Early intervention is important, so take your dog to the veterinarian after the first signs of knuckling in dogs.
Causes of knuckling in dogs
Since knuckling in dogs is a physical symptom, it is understandable you might think the root cause is also physical. While this is possible, it is actually more common for a neurological disorder to lead to this phenomenon. Also, there may be a genetic predisposition due to certain health problems being passed on through generations. The major causes of knuckling in dogs are:
- Trauma: if the dog is in an accident, it is possible their paw will become damaged to the point they cannot walk on it properly. Whether in a road accident, getting caught in a trap or other possible injuries, this can lead to knuckling.
- Degenerative myelopathy: this is a genetically inherited disease which is most common in short-legged dogs. Paralysis is the first symptom which starts at the back legs, but can progress to the front. This gives the dog an awkward gait and can result in knuckling.
- Intervertebral disc disease: common to certain breeds such as the Doberman, this is a degenerative disease which causes compression of the spinal cord and results in knuckling.
- Neurological disorders: when the brain is damaged, either by age, trauma or disease, the neurons don't function and the dog is unable to send the proper signals to their extremities. Neurological disorders often affect senior dogs due to the deteriorating effects of age.
- Fibrocartilaginous embolism: injury to the spine such as this type of embolism can cause problems with the legs and paws.
Some of these problems are temporary, others progressive. Even with temporary problems such as trauma, if the problem with a dog's folding paws is not addressed promptly, permanent damage be be incurred. A sharp object in the dog's paw is one of the most treatable reasons a dog may be knuckling, but if the object is not removed in time and the wound treated, the paw may be damaged permanently.
Some dogs have more sensitive paw pads than others. In these cases, they may be more likely for their paws to curl under, especially if they have other mobility issues.
Proprioception in dogs
Proprioception, also known as kinesthesia, is the body's ability to sense its body position and movement. It is sometimes known as the dog's ‘sixth sense’. When this sense does not work properly, it may mean there is proprioceptive deficit (CP deficit). This means the dog is no longer able to innately recognize when their paws are being utilized correctly. This may mean the dog is knuckling without even being aware of it.
If the dog has a neurological disorder, a spinal injury or another problem affecting their central nervous system, then knuckling may occur. To regain proprioception, the dog will have to have the underlying cause treated first before looking at the paw specifically. This may stop the dog paws folding over, but prolong CP deficit can cause irreprable damage.
Treatment of knuckling in dogs
As we stated above, we can treat knuckling in dogs by first addressing the underlying cause. With trauma or if there is a foreign object embedded in the paw, we need to treat them with first aid. For foreign objects, we need to remove the object, disinfect the wound and then cover it up. For a trauma, the dog will need to be taken to a veterinarian to see if any bones or ligaments are broken. They will usually do this using an x-ray. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the vet can set the bone and continue any specific treatment.
For genetic disorders, we need to take the dog to the vet as soon as we observe any problems. There may not be anything they can do to cure the problem, but there are ways we can manage the symptoms and try to prevent it progressing. Depending on the problem, this will be a mixture of medications and practical care. This may include special paw braces for dogs to prevent curling, something we explore in the next section.
For neurological problems, we need to address each specific problem separately. For example, canine cognitive dysfunction (also known as Alzheimer's in dogs) may require the drug Anipryl to slow down the progress of brain deterioration. Surgery may be helpful, depending on the cause. While we may not be able to stop neural degeneration completely, we can manage the symptoms and better ensure the dog's quality of life.
Depending on the specific reason for dog paws curling under, knuckling prevention may be difficult. For example, a trauma may have been unavoidable. However, since knuckling is related to so many other conditions, ensuring your dog has a good quality of life will go a long way to prevent its occurrence.
Ensure the dog has a balanced diet with complete nutrition. Walk the dog regularly and be alert to any injuries they may sustain when exercising. Intelligence games and cognitive training for your dog can help to keep their brain sharp and is ideal to prevent degeneration. Keeping their nails properly trimmed is also very useful in preventing knuckling since overgrown nails can cause serious damage to their paws.
While there are many reasons a dog may develop knuckling, we need to be very careful. Take your dog to the veterinarian when you see something out of the ordinary and perform regular checkups.
Foot brace for dogs
If a dog is recovering from an injury which leads to knuckling, then there are certain practical ways you can help them regain their footing. A foot brace or training socks allow the dog's paw to be set correctly which will help them walk again. They are used as a part of physical rehabilitation in dogs. The animal will need to move slowly and regain their strength. Once this happens, the foot brace is usually removed. However, some dogs may need to regularly use the sock, depending on the amount of damage incurred.
Another part of rehab for dogs utilizes the swimming pool. A dog can exercise and move their paws without putting any weight on it due to their buoyancy in water. This is very beneficial for knuckling, but is not available to everyone and can be cost prohibitive. Learn more with our article on physical therapy for dogs.
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 Paw is Curling Under - Knuckling in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Degenerative diseases category.
1. Miao, H., et al. (2017). How Does the Canine Paw Pad Attenuate Ground Impacts? A Multi-Layer Cushion System. Biology Open, 6(12), 1889-1896.