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Dog Health Advice & Tips for Pet Owners

Avoiding Hind Leg Weakness in Senior Dogs

Having a senior dog can be a fulfilling experience, especially if your pet grew up with you. However, 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 weaken. Their legs also become more susceptible to injury. The fact that your canine grew old with you is a testament to why dogs are man's best friend. Helping your pet navigate their senior years is a joy and comes with a responsibility. Here, we’ll discuss why a canine’s back legs weaken and give you some important steps in avoiding hind leg weakness in senior dogs. 6 Causes of Hind Leg Weakness in Senior Dogs Weakness in your dog's hind legs can be due to numerous factors related to aging or genetics. We've listed a few common reasons for your pet’s back legs collapsing or giving out. Arthritis 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 Hip Dysplasia As a young dog ages, its hip joint might not develop properly. This condition is called hip dysplasia, which is most prevalent in Labrador retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards, and other large-breed dogs.   Hip dysplasia loosens your pet’s hip joint, stretching its supporting ligaments, joint capsule, and surrounding muscles. As a result, joint instability, pain, and damage occur.   If your canine is diagnosed with the condition, its back legs may go limp, and it may experience pain and muscle atrophy. Other common symptoms include post-exercise lameness, running with a “bunny-hopping” gait, and reduced activity. Although these signs are often seen in 6 to 12-month-old puppies, some canines won’t exhibit such symptoms until they’re older. Canine 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.   Early on, DM’s symptoms are similar to those of canine osteoarthritis, which develops after hip dysplasia in large-breed dogs. As the condition progresses, it becomes a more distinct disorder, with affected canines experiencing gradual hind leg weakness, wobbling, and stumbling.   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. Diabetes Dogs must 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.   The 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 The 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. Even just 15 to 30 minutes in the water will do wonders for your pet. If your dog is one of those canines that loves to spend time in the water, you can extend their swimming sessions to 60 minutes.   Additionally, your pet can 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. The “two paws up” exercise - If you have an elevated platform with a non-slip surface, encourage your canine to slowly put its front legs on and off the platform. Do two to three repetitions per session. Lateral walking - With you and your pet facing each other on your left (and with some treats!), turn your body 90 degrees to approach your dog’s shoulder. Take a small step into your canine — this should get them to move a paw sideways. 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. Ensure 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.   Generally, older canines must undergo more frequent wellness examinations at your veterinarian’s office. These procedures may require visits every six months and involve weight checks to detect significant changes, such as excess weight and other issues. What to Expect During a Senior Pet’s Wellness Check When determining the ideal weight for dogs, veterinarians use the Body Condition Score (BCS) system. A score of 5 or 6 out of 9 points means your canine has a healthy weight. However, if your pet’s BCS is a 7 or higher, they’re more likely to experience obesity-related health issues.   Regarding exercise, your veterinarian may conduct a physical examination and blood tests on your canine during its appointment. Both are essential for your pet’s ability to perform specific exercises, as serious health conditions may limit its physical activity. Your veterinarian will use the findings from these tests to recommend the best exercise program and diet for your senior dog. Give Your Pet Joint Supplements 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 oil. Collagen ensures optimal joint health for your pet, while fish oils contain Omega-3 to control inflammation and improve mobility. Keep Your Canine Hydrated Water is as vital as nutrition to your pet’s health. It supports important functions and parts of the canine body in various ways, including lubricating joints. To keep senior pets active with water, their daily intake should be approximately 1 ounce of water (⅛ of a cup) per pound of body weight. This number can change depending on specific factors, but it’s important to give your dog enough water every day. Talk to a Veterinarian If you notice your canine's back legs becoming wobbly, take it to a veterinarian immediately. They'll explain why your pet is experiencing hind leg weakness and suggest ways to manage it.   Some veterinarians may recommend canine physical therapy to help address your senior dog’s weakening hind legs, usually involving manual therapy or therapeutic exercise.   Manual therapy covers methods aimed at restoring movement in your canine’s joints, muscles, and other soft tissues. Examples include cold therapy or cryotherapy, heat therapy, and PROM techniques. Therapeutic exercises are forms of planned physical activity. They include hydrotherapy, where your pet uses its muscles to perform water-based exercises like swimming. Keep Your Pet's Bones Healthy Canines can develop wobbly hind legs as they age, causing pain and increasing their risk for accidents. Back leg weakness in senior dogs can have various causes, with symptoms that can develop abruptly or gradually.    Still, there’s 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.   Find more helpful tips and resources to help you ensure your pet’s optimal health on the Lick Sleeve blog today.

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