Canine Symptoms of Failing Back Legs

Updated May 25, 2017

As your dog ages, you come to expect signs of him slowing down because of inevitable joint stiffness and arthritic changes. Discovering that his back legs may be failing can lead you through a veterinary maze, looking for a cause of this disability. Once your veterinarian ventures a diagnosis, treatment depends on the severity and length of your pet's disease.


If your dog suddenly loses the use of his back legs after an accident or exercise injury, your veterinarian may diagnose a fibrocartilaginous embolism. An FCE happens when the arterial fluids in the animal's spinal cord become obstructed with pieces of nucleus pulposus--the material that makes up a dog's spinal discs. Once the embolism becomes embedded in the spinal cord, that area of the cord will die.

"There are many theories of how disc material might gain access to the arterial blood supply, but no one really knows how this happens," according to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.

The typical FCE dog, a young giant breed dog like an Irish wolfhound, may need medication and/or surgery to relieve spinal pressure and restore his ability to walk. All FCE patients require at least some physiotherapy.

Disc Disease

Itervertebral disc disease occurs when a piece of your dog's spinal disc--the cartilaginous padding between the vertebrae--degenerates and protrudes against the spinal cord. Common in longer-backed dogs such as the dachshund, beagle and Pekingese, disk disease shows in neck or back pain, stumbling, difficulty walking and/or paralysis of the back limbs. Affected dogs may lose sensation in their back legs and feet.

In "Common Diseases of Companion Animals," Dr. Alleice Summers recommends strict cage rest for a minimum of two weeks for sick dogs, and injections of corticosteroids for several days to relieve inflammation. She advocates surgery for paralysed dogs and possibly extensive home care during recovery. Still, 40 per cent of treated pets have recurrences.


A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain becomes disrupted, either due to a blocked artery or because a blood vessel bursts causing the brain to bleed internally. Stroke symptoms in your dog can include walking in a circle, tilting of the head, loss of balance in both front and back legs, blindness, seizures and sudden loss of bowel and bladder control.

If the type of stroke can be determined, your veterinarian will treat the underlying cause, using corticosteroids to control brain swelling and anticonvulsants to prevent seizures states, according to The Dog Health Guide, a website devoted to the health and care of dogs.


A disease most commonly found in senior female dogs, spondylosis deformans might not show until the condition is advanced and your dog's spinal column becomes rounded and deformed. Your pet may present with lameness in her back legs, atrophy around the hip and quadriceps muscles, and severe lower back pain.

Caused by bony spurs that form along the dog's vertebrae, treatment includes the administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, and surgery to remove the spurs if your dog's spinal cord becomes compressed.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author