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What causes sudden hind leg weakness in dogs?

Keeping dogs strong and active as they age helps them maintain comfortable mobility well into old age, but if your old dog is showing signs of hind-end weakness there are things you can do to help. Here are some tips from our Morton vets on how to strengthen your old dog's hind legs.

Maintaining a Dog's Mobility as They Age

Strong and healthy hind legs are essential for maintaining good, pain-free mobility throughout your dog's senior years. But injuries, illness, and general wear and tear of your dog's hind legs can lead to pain and a reduced quality of life. To help you keep your pup's legs strong and healthy try following the helpful tips below from our Morton vets.

Signs That Your Dog's Hind Legs May Be Weak

If your dog is experiencing weakness in their hind legs, they will likely exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty or reluctance to stand or walk
  • Struggling to rise from a lying or sitting position
  • Noticeable limp or favoring of one leg over the other
  • Reduced mobility and stamina
  • Tire more easily
  • Reluctance to engage in activities they once enjoyed
  • Loss of balance and coordination (unsteady movements, frequent stumbling, or even falling down)
  • Decrease in muscle mass in your dog's hind legs, thinner appearance, or sagging leg muscles
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Reluctance to go up/down stairs
  • Struggling to jump onto furniture or into the car
  • Dog's back legs slipping out

Causes of Sudden Hind Leg Weakness in Senior Dogs

If you have noticed any of the symptoms listed above, it is essential to make an appointment to have your senior dog examined by a veterinarian. Some of the most common causes of both sudden hind leg weakness in dogs and gradual onset hind leg weakness include:

  • Aging and degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis or degenerative myelopathy
  • Trauma or injury affecting the spine, hips, or hind legs
  • Neurological disorders including intervertebral disc disease, spinal tumors, or strokes can lead to your dog's back legs not working as they should
  • Infections and diseases such as tick-borne diseases or bacterial infections
  • Inadequate nutrition or imbalances in essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D

If your dog's leg is giving out, it could be a sign of a serious injury such as a cranial cruciate tear or a broken bone. Urgent veterinary care is required since both of these conditions will be very painful for your four-legged friend.

Treatment For Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs

Treatment for your dog's hind leg weakness will depend upon the cause of the problem. 

  • In cases of degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis or degenerative myelopathy, treatment may involve medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications such as weight management.
  • If the weakness is due to an injury or trauma, your dog's treatment could include rest, immobilization, or surgical intervention, depending on the severity.
  • The treatment of neurological disorders may involve medications, surgery, or specialized treatments to address the specific condition.
Many conditions can benefit from supportive therapies such as laser therapy, acupuncture or hydrotherapy. Your veterinarian may recommend physical rehabilitation (physio for dogs) as a way to help improve your dog's range of motion and reduce pain in the hind legs and hips.

How to Strengthen Old Dog's Hind Legs

Although there are aspects of aging that cannot be avoided, in many cases it is possible to minimize the effects of the aging process and help your dog maintain pain-free mobility.

Feed Your Dog a Nutritionally Balanced Diet

  • Providing your dog with a nutritionally balanced diet throughout their lifetime can go a long way to helping them maintain hind leg strength and mobility as they age. Feed your dog a diet that is rich in high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals, to help maintain healthy bones and muscles. Consult your veterinarian to find out what the most suitable diet for your dog is. Your veterinarian may also recommend feeding your pup a specially formulated diet to treat or mitigate any developing health concerns.

Ensure That Your Dog Gets Adequate Exercise Throughout Their Lifetime

  • Regular physical activity helps promote strong muscles and bones, as well as overall fitness. Engage in activities appropriate for your dog's age, breed, and health condition, such as walks, playtime, and supervised swimming. But take care not to overdo exercise in your dog's early years. Strenuous exercise that your pup's body isn't strong enough to cope with can lead to injuries and promote conditions such as hip dysplasia. If you are unsure how much exercise (and what kind of exercise) is right for your dog, ask your veterinarian for guidance or speak to a reputable breeder.

Help Your Dog Maintain a Healthy Weight

  • Helping your pet maintain a healthy weight is essential when it comes to protecting your dog's joints. Obesity puts excess strain on a dog's joints and can contribute to weak hind legs. Ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight through proper portion control and regular exercise. Your vet can provide valuable guidance if you are trying to help your pup lose weight to improve their health. Your vet can examine your dog and provide you with an estimate of the number of calories to feed your dog at each meal based on your pup's overall health, breed, and lifestyle.

Consider Giving Your Dog Health Supplements

  • Incorporating joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, into your dog's diet may help to reduce the pain and swelling associated with conditions such as osteoarthritis, and improve your pup's mobility and overall quality of life.

Take Your Dog In For Regularly Scheduled Health Checkups

  • Routine veterinary examinations play a key role in keeping your pet healthy as they age.  These once or twice-yearly checkups provide your veterinarian with an opportunity to spot developing conditions in the earliest possible stages when they are most effectively treated. During a routine exam, your vet will assess your dog's overall health, provide guidance on preventative care, and discuss any concerns regarding hind leg weakness with you.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our team of Morton veterinarians has experience caring for the needs of older dogs.  Contact Stoney Creek Veterinary Hospital today to book an examination for your senior pet.

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