There are many different reasons why back leg weakness can affect your dog. These reasons may vary, ranging from an acute injury to something more serious that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian. This is why it is essential to monitor your dog to best determine what course of action you should take as a caring dog parent! One possible reason your dog might be showing signs of back leg weakness is due to an inherited condition. In this case, back leg weakness is a term that is often used to refer to Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), a disease of the spinal cord. In DM, the myelin sheaths that surround and protect the nerves in the spine degenerate to eventually expose the nerve fibers. This degradation of the myelin sheath disrupts the body’s communication between the spinal cord and brain, leading to a progressive weakness that can result in total paralysis.
Symptoms of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs:
Symptoms of a weakness in your dog’s back legs may come on suddenly or develop slowly over a long period of time, depending on the reason for the weakness. Often, there are other signs that can help lead to a diagnosis, so take note of any physical or behavioral changes that occur. Symptoms of back leg weakness can include: Lameness Lack of coordination Loss of balance Instability Wobbly or staggering when walking Difficulty walking Abnormal gait Slow gait Difficulty standing up Reluctance to move, jump, or be active Pain Partial or complete paralysis Incontinence Loss of ability to urinate Swelling Licking joints Weight gain Loss of muscle mass Lethargy Collapse
Some possible causes include but are not limited to:
Lumbosacral stenosis http://www.vetstreet.com/care/lumbosacral-stenosis-in-dogs
Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_fibrocartilaginous_embolic_myelopathy
Hip Dysplasia https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_dg_hip_dysplasia
Cruciate knee problems https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_dg_cranial_cruciate_ligament
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) https://www.degenerative-myelopathy.com/dm-in-dogs/
Injury from trauma https://www.vetinfo.com/causes-dog-trauma.html
Disc rupture https://www.petcoach.co/article/intervertebral-disc-ruptured-disc-disease-in-dogs/
Panosteitis (Pano) https://www.vetinfo.com/dencyclopedia/depano.html
Injury to spinal cord https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_myelomalacia
Cushing’s Disease https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/cushings-syndrome-dogs#1
Myasthenia Gravis (MG) https://www.vetinfo.com/dmyasthenia.html
Injury to back https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_intervertebral_disc_disease
Intervertebral Disc Disease https://www.petcoach.co/article/intervertebral-disc-ruptured-disc-disease-in-dogs/
Vertebral Instability (Wobbler’s Syndrome) https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_wobbler_syndrome
Toxic poisoning https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/toxicity/c_multi_poisoning
Diagnosis of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs:
If you have noticed signs of weakness in your dog’s back legs, take him into the clinic to be checked as many of the causes can be progressive. Relay all symptoms you have noticed in your dog, including changes in appetite and behavior and the history of the weakness. Your vet may also ask if your dog has been exposed to any toxins or infectious diseases, such as those found in an animal carcass. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam to see if there are any discerning neurological or physical abnormalities. This can also reveal the possible presence of an enlarged liver, a sign of diabetes, or a tumor. A urinalysis and bloodwork will be performed next to determine your dog’s overall health. This will detect toxins and infections, high levels of glucose or liver enzymes, and electrolyte abnormalities. Results of these tests can point to poisonings, botulism, diabetes, or even Cushing’s disease. Imaging techniques such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds can be used to find tumors, reveal any structural weakness in bones, joints, and tissues, determine the size and state of the adrenal glands, kidneys, and liver, and visualize the state of the spinal cord. Additional testing can include a spinal tap, aspiration of joint fluids, or hormone testing.
Treatment of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs:
Treatments can vary considerably, and will be prescribed appropriately after the diagnosis. Any injuries will be treated according to the severity of the trauma. Surgery can be recommended for many conditions, such as degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease, wobbler syndrome, cancer, or Cushing’s disease. Wobbler syndrome can also be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs. Many conditions will need rest, either before or after surgery, which may require cage confinement. Pain medications are often prescribed for many spinal diseases and arthritis. Cancer often uses a variety of treatments to remove or reduce the tumor along with surgery, such as radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Cushing’s disease can also be managed through the use of hormone drugs to balance levels in the body, and steroids are discontinued if they have been implicated in the condition. Diabetes will need lifelong management through special diets and exercise plans, blood glucose monitoring, and daily insulin injections. Arthritic animals can also benefit from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and glycosaminoglycan supplementation, as well as changes in your dog’s environment to aid in rest and ease of movement. Various alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy can help as well. Botulism is treated mainly through supportive care, including fluid and electrolyte therapy. Any infected wounds are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and medication can be prescribed if symptoms worsen, such as in the case of seizures. Therapies for other types of poisonings, such as from chemicals or plants, can include administering activated charcoal or mineral oil to reduce toxin absorption in the stomach, various medications to treat specific symptoms, and supportive treatments.
Recovery of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs:
Recovery is dependent on the cause of the weakness, the severity of the condition, and how soon treatment is begun. For poisonings, the quickness of treatment can be essential, as some toxins can be fatal. Many conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and degenerative myelopathy, can be managed through an appropriate diet and exercise plan that can keep your dog’s weight under control and aid muscle movement. Intervertebral disc disease can be treated to return your dog to normal function, or it can progress into complete paralysis. Cushing’s disease and cancer can be treated successfully, but they can also carry a guarded to poor prognosis, depending on the extent of the disease and other factors. With lifelong treatments, diabetes and arthritis can be successfully managed.