Having a senior dog can be a fulfilling experience, especially if you saw your pet grow up with you. Yet, it can also be challenging, especially for the family dog. Over time, older dogs will become more lethargic, moving and walking slower as their muscles grow weaker. As they age, their legs become more susceptible to injury.
The fact that they grew old while with you is a testament to why dogs are man's best friend. Helping them navigate their senior years is a joy and comes with a responsibility. Here, we will discuss how hind leg weakness can affect senior dogs and what measures you can take to help avoid or manage their effects on our pets.
5 Causes of Hind Leg Weakness in Senior Dogs
Weakness in your dog's hind legs can be due to numerous factors all related to aging. We've listed down a few common reasons if you notice their legs are starting to give out:
Canine arthritis is when inflammation sets into the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and discomfort. The cartilage in the affected joint becomes less smooth as it wears down. Eventually, the joints will rub against each other and cause different complications such as:
- Joint instability
- Permanent damage to the cartilage and nerves
- Physical trauma to the bone
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
DM, or chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), affects the spinal cord of dogs. The effect on the back legs becomes more apparent as the white matter of the spinal cord weakens over time.
While veterinarians have yet to discover the exact cause of DM, some physicians associate spinal injuries or conditions such as lumbosacral stenosis with this disorder.
Like humans, dogs also produce insulin to help their bodies store energy from food and move glucose (sugar from consumed carbohydrates) into their cells. If they make little to no insulin or trigger an unusual response to the hormone, your pet may have diabetes.
Symptoms of canine diabetes can range from excessive thirst to vomiting. Left untreated, this condition can cause more severe problems like urinary tract infections and seizures.
Miniature poodles, Bichon Frises, pugs, and beagles are some breeds with an increased risk for diabetes.
Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE)
FCE occurs when a piece of fibrous cartilage blocks blood flow to the spinal cord. The cartilage may come from the nucleus of an intervertebral disc.
Your canine may experience FCE while jumping or running. In this case, your pet may bark aggressively or act as if it's in pain. They might also refrain from using their back legs and have one half of their body looking weaker than the other.
Other Spinal Conditions
Certain spinal-related conditions can also cause hind leg weakness in senior dogs. They include:
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) - IVDD can refer to a ruptured, slipped, bulging, or herniated disc in your dog's spinal cord. Beagles, Dachshunds, Pekingese dogs, basset hounds, and American cocker spaniels are some breeds more prone to getting this condition.
- Wobbler syndrome - Wobbler syndrome is a common neck condition of large dog breeds like Doberman pinschers and Great Danes. The pain in their neck will cause these canines typically have a "wobbly" stride in their back legs.
- Lumbosacral stenosis - This spine-related condition happens when the spinal canal connecting the lower back and tailbone narrows. This constricts the bundle of nerve roots that run down the canal and will end up weakening their hind legs.
The Warning Signs of Weakening Back Legs
Symptoms of hind leg weakness in senior dogs can vary, as they can show obvious signs right away or gradually develop over time. Some warning signs can help veterinarians determine whether your pet has unstable back legs. Therefore, looking out for any physical or behavioral changes is vital.
Your pet may experience lameness, lose coordination, and go off-balance with weakening hind legs. Other symptoms can include instability, difficulty walking, pain, swelling, or even weight loss from losing muscle mass.
6 Ways to Strengthen Your Pet’s Back Legs
If you want to ensure your elderly dog maintains strong hind legs despite their age, the tips below may help.
Perform Low-Impact Activities
Low-impact exercises require less effort to strengthen your canine's joints and muscles. You can start with multiple daily walks that are slow and short.
Swimming is a great low-impact activity that can help your pet strengthen its hind legs. 15 to 30 minutes in the water will do for your furry friend. If your dog is one of those canines that love to spend time in the water, you can extend their swimming sessions up to 60 minutes.
Your pet can also perform simple exercises such as:
- Sit to stand - Have your canine sit and stand 10 to 15 times per session. Try doing this exercise several times a day.
- Passive range of motion (PROM) exercises - Raise your pet's leg and hold it in the air for 30 seconds. Do three to five repetitions per leg to keep the legs even.
Put Your Pet on a Healthier Diet
A healthy diet is one of the best preventative steps to offset pelvic limb weakness in senior dogs. Make sure your pet consumes food rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants daily. Consider including foods containing Vitamins D, K, C, and E and magnesium in your canine's daily meals.
Additionally, your dog should still eat enough fat and protein. A protein-rich diet will help your dog increase muscle mass and keep its joints healthy.
When shopping for dog food, look at the nutrients it provides. High-quality dog foods contain enough protein, calcium, and phosphorus for strong bones, fats, and other vital nutrients. Also, the food you're considering should meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) 's nutritional guidelines.
Ensure Your Canine is at a Healthy Weight
If a dog is overweight, its joints and muscles will be under extra pressure. This strain can cause pain and weaken the limbs. Because of this, senior dogs should maintain a stable, healthy weight to prevent their joints from wearing out faster.
Sufficient exercise and a balanced diet are keys to maintaining your pet's ideal weight. More importantly, discuss how your canine should weigh with a veterinarian and plan its exercise routine and diet.
Get Joint Supplements for Your Pet
Canine joint supplements contain essential nutrients for maintaining healthy joints. They help reduce inflammation and pain and protect the joints from additional damage. You can get canine joint supplements in the form of chewable tablets, soft chews, or liquid supplements.
The best joint supplements for dogs contain glucosamine, a naturally occurring compound in cartilage. Additionally, they're rich in chondroitin. Chondroitin, like glucosamine, is found in cartilage. It lowers inflammation in canine joints.
Other ingredients in canine joint supplements include collagen and fish oils. Collagen ensures optimal joint health for your pet, while fish oils contain Omega-3 to control inflammation and improve mobility.
Talk to a Veterinarian
If you notice your canine's back legs becoming wobbly, take them to a veterinarian immediately. They'll help you know why your furry friend is experiencing hind leg weakness and how you can start to manage it. Some veterinarians may recommend canine physical therapy to help mitigate the weakening hind legs of your senior dog.
Keep Your Furry Friend's Bones Healthy
Canines can get wobbly hind legs as they age, causing pain and increasing their risk for accidents. Back leg weakness in senior dogs stems from various causes, with symptoms that can develop abruptly or gradually. But there is still a lot you can do to prevent these conditions. Consider now how you can strengthen your pet's hind legs and bones through methods like low-impact exercises, healthy dieting, and giving them joint supplements.
Are you after optimal canine health? Find more helpful tips and resources on the Lick Sleeve blog today.
Back to Dog Health Advice & Tips for Pet Owners