Why is My Dog Losing Control of Their Back Legs?
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You don't necessarily notice a problem in your dog's back legs immediately. It could be that a dog doesn't start losing control of their back legs suddenly. Instead, they may develop weak back legs over a long period of time, gradually losing control. If your dog is starting to lose control over their legs, then it is a possibility they are developing paralysis. Paralysis in dogs usually begins at the back legs, but can also affect the front.
If you are asking yourself why is my dog losing control of their back legs?, you will want to know the possible causes of paralysis in dogs. AnimalWised details these different potential reasons. Before we do, we want to stress how important it is to take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as you see loss of control in their legs.
Tick paralysis in dogs
Ticks are an external parasite of the arachnid family. They attach themselves to the skin of the animal and feed off their blood. This action means that ticks are the vectors of different diseases as they can pass pathogens into the blood stream. Such diseases include lyme disease and babesiosis. While these diseases have their own symptoms, paralysis can occur for another reason.
After attachment, the tick has a “latent period of 3-6 days during which time the tick engorges and salivary glands enlarge producing a neurotoxin”. This neurotoxin is one of the causes of paralysis in dogs, even if researchers have found that the “functional significance of why ticks produce toxins are still unclear”.
Tick paralysis sets in slowly, usually taking between 2 to 7 days to exhibit symptoms. The first symptoms are weakness in the legs which incrementally increase, usually from the back legs spreading to the front. While weakness occurs at the beginning, the dog will start to lose control over their legs and eventually paralysis sets in. The paralysis can extend to other parts of the body and respiratory problems are relatively common.
It is possible to miss seeing the tick, so you will need to take the dog to a vet to get an accurate diagnosis. The vet will also be able to suggest treatment and provide a prognosis. Sometimes, the paralysis can be reversed by removing the tick and eliminating the neurotoxin. The severity of tick paralysis will depend on many factors such as how log the tick was attached and geographical location. In Australia “tick paralysis is a potentially fatal illness of importance to both human and veterinary medicine”.
There are other parasitic organisms such as Neospora caninum which can lead to paralysis in dogs. This occurs in a similar ascending manner, causing back legs to lose control and then spreading throughout the entire body. Bites from other animals such as snakes and spiders. These creatures can inject neurotoxins into the skin which can also lead to respiratory problems and even death. Dogs can in turn be a vector for other animals which is why the “presence of dogs in farms is considered a risk factor for production animals”.
Prevention is much better than cure. We should keep our dog wormed, keep them on a leash in places with high tick rates and examine them after every walk in such an area.
Trauma induced paralysis in dogs
In other occasions, paralysis in dogs can be caused by a strong blow. This will not be as gradual as a tick infestation. You may not see the blow occur, but a dog will suddenly lose control over their legs. There is a difference between paralysis in a dog's leg and limping due to a break of the leg bone. If a dog's leg is broken, they will likely limp on the leg, but it might be healed with a cast.
If a dog loses control over their back legs due to trauma, the injury will be in their spine. This is because a spinal injury can damage the spinal cord. This may be due to a car accident, falling from height or even being beaten. The nerves are affected and the dog is unable to control the legs properly. It occurs more in the back legs since there is greater chance of damaging this large section of spinal column.
You may see cases of dogs losing control over not only their back legs, but their bladder and sphincter as well. This is because the problems affecting legs caused by the spinal injury also affect their ability to urinate and/or defecate. Each individual case must be assessed by a qualified vet. Early diagnosis is essential and the dog may need to be restrained to prevent further damage. Corticosteroids have been implemented for acute spinal cord injury in dogs, but there are some potential new drug therapies which might be implemented in the future. Some of these drugs were passed over in human medicine, but are still being considered in veterinary medicine.
Once an accurate diagnosis has been carried out, the vet will be able to give a prognosis. It is possible for some dogs to recover their ability to walk after a spinal cord injury. Some may remain paralyzed forever. In these cases, the dog's mobility might be aided with the use of wheelchairs and rehabilitation. It is important for the dog not to maintain the ame position for too long, otherwise it increases the risk of ulcers. If paralysis affects only one leg, amputation is often considered the best course of treatment.
Paralysis in dogs caused by poisoning
Paralysis in dogs can also be caused after the ingestion of toxic products. With mild poisoning, a dog may be subject to gastrointestinal issues which alleviate relatively quickly. However, some toxic products can cause damage to the central nervous system. These are often from industrial chemicals found in herbicides and insecticides which can be very fast acting. Ingestion of such a substance is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention, The clinical picture will depend on the substance, the quantity ingested and the health of the dog before ingestion.
If we identify the poison, we need to inform the vet of what it is. in addition to paralysis, you may observe hypersalivation, vomiting, incoordination (due to losing control over their legs), abdominal pain and/or diarrhea. The treatment will depend on the product ingested, but it often involves pumping the dogs stomach. Drugs to control the symptoms will likely be administered, as will an antidote if available. The prognosis will depend on a case by case basis.
Paralysis in dogs due to canine distemper
Younger dogs, especially those before the age of three months, are most affected by canine distemper. This is a serious viral disease which has many different symptoms, partial paralysis being one of them. However, canine distemper occurs in progressive stages. A dog may start to gradually lose control over their back legs and then find the paralysis spreads across their body as the viral infection intensifies. Other stages include negative effects on the digestive system such as vomiting and diarrhea or seizures due to damage to the central nervous system. Myoclonus is the uncontrollable twitching or movement of muscles which can become very severe in dogs with canine distemper.
Canine is very contagious, but the “outcome of the infection may vary greatly among species and depend on several factors, such as strain virulence, host age and host immune status”. If we suspect distemper, we need to seek immediate veterinary assistance. The dog will usually require hospital admission, fluid therapy and the administration of intravenous drugs. These treatments are for the symptoms as no known cure exists. The viral infection can be reversed, although there is a high mortality rate. Some lasting signs may occur and the dog may deteriorate over time, losing control over their legs as their motor skills are affected.
Other factors concerning paralysis in dogs
Since the immune system of a dog is an important factor when they are affected by any of the above issues, age is important. An old dog losing control of their back legs is more common due to degenerative issues such as a loss of bone density and general wear and tear.
A dog's breed will also be a factor. Shorter and longer dogs such as the Corgi and the Dachshund are more likely to develop spinal injuries due to the prevalence of congenital deformities. Dogs such as the Boxer or the Pug dog also have more likelihood of losing control of their back legs thanks to genetic tendencies towards conditions like hip dysplasia.
One particular disease which is known to affect certain breeds of short legged dogs is canine degenerative myelopathy. Where a spinal cord injury is caused by trauma, canine degenerative myelopathy is a disease which causes progressive damage to the spine. It is believed to have genetic risk factors, but its exact cause is not known. Paralysis is a symptom of this disease, starting with the back legs. The animal will likely start to drag their hind quarters and then progressively see the paralysis spread. Canine degenerative myelopathy may eventually affect the cranial nerve and/or respiratory system, often prompting euthanasia.
The German Shepherd is also prone to canine degenerative myelopathy, especially in breeds with sloped back legs. It happens more commonly in elderly dogs and the prognosis depends on a case by case basis.
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.
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