Leg Weakness in Dogs

Updated April 17, 2017

It can be quite alarming if you notice your dog displaying weakness in its legs. Often a sign of a serious issue, leg weakness can create many difficulties for the pet, including trouble with walking. As some issues that result in leg weakness are potentially treatable, it is important to contact your veterinarian at the first signs of leg weakness.


Leg weakness in a dog is usually a symptom and result of a bigger issue. While possible, it is typically unlikely that the weakness has much to do with the leg at all. Many conditions that affect the back result in leg weakness. Some of the issues are treatable, while others are managed only with therapy.


Signs that a dog feels weak in its legs include trouble walking or running. The dog may have difficulty standing up after sitting or lying down. In addition, the dog may refuse to perform tasks it had no problem doing before, such as walking up stairs or playing. The dog may be sensitive in its legs and cry or whine when they are touched.


Lumbar-sacral syndrome is one of the causes for leg weakness, states the Terrific Pets website. This debilitating issue occurs when the dog's nerve roots and spinal cord are compressed at the area that passes through the lumbar-sacral portion of the dog's spine, often causing pain and leg weakness. Dogs with degenerative myelopathy usually display weakness in their hind legs. The weakness can affect both legs or only one. Spinal cord tumours can also cause back leg weakness, suggests the Dog Channel website. Leg weakness is often a result of a tumour on the area of the spine that branches out to the back legs.


Lumbar-sacral syndrome is diagnosed through examination, radiographs and blood tests, states Terrific Pets. The vet may also suggest a CAT scan, MRI or neurologic examination. Generative myelopathy is usually diagnosed through radiograph contrast studies, in which dye is injected into the dog's spinal cord. Spinal tumours are also diagnosed with MRIs and CAT scans.


If the leg weakness is caused by lumbar-sacral syndrome, the dog may be treated in a number of ways. If the compression is caused by infection, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are often administered. If these treatments are not effective, surgery may be required. Although degenerative myelopathy cannot be cured, its symptoms are often managed with vitamins, exercise, glucocorticoids and aminocproic acid. Spinal cord tumours are often removed through surgery, states Dog Channel. In addition, dogs with these types of tumours are often given steroids and pain medication.

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