Older Dogs Back Legs Giving Out
When dogs are in their later years, their bodies naturally tend to get weaker. But when your senior dog’s hind legs give out and they struggle to get back up this is an indication of a potentially more serious condition–especially if you see their back legs collapse & they fall unexpectedly!
Advanced age may be one explanation for an old dog back legs collapsing, but there are many other reasons for the loss of hind leg strength that can cause an older dog back legs to collapse.
Old Dog Back Legs Collapsing
The six most common causes for an older dog’s hind leg weakness are:
1. Arthritis / Osteoarthritis
Arthritis in senior dogs is a common cause of hind leg weakness, with the hip and knee joints being the most frequently affected.
Approximately one in five dogs over the age of eight has arthritis. Arthritis can develop when a normal joint has abnormal forces on it, for example from overuse, obesity or joint dysplasia from a prior injury.
When arthritis develops, the joint fluid, joint cartilage and underlying bone degenerates, leading to an inflamed joint that does not glide properly. Since the joints are uncomfortable, the leg is not exercised normally, and the muscles weaken. This can cause the back legs to slip out and collapse.
Large breed dogs tend to get osteoarthritis earlier in life than small breeds. There are certain breeds with a higher likelihood of inheriting orthopedic abnormalities like hip dysplasia. These breeds include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Mastiffs.
Arthritis is painful, which can be evident due to symptoms such as your dog panting, walking slower, reluctance to climb stairs or exercise and lying down more often.
2. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
IVDD occurs when the disc “cushion” between the bones in the spine breaks down and puts pressure on the spinal nerves. The most common areas for IVDD in dogs are the neck region and mid-to-lower back (thoracolumbar area).
In the most severe cases of IVDD, a dog can lose all mobility in the hind legs and not be able to stand or walk.
3. Lumbosacral Instability
Also known as Cauda Equina Syndrome, this condition affects the space between the last spinal vertebrae and the sacrum.
Lumbosacral instability leads to abnormal movement of the bones and ‘pinched nerves’.
Symptoms can vary depending on which nerves are affected. Some dogs have weakness and shaking in their back legs from pain; while others will show limping and collapse due to lack of feeling and sensation in their tail end.
Dogs with LS tend to whine, whimper or flinch when touched on their low back, tail and hind legs.
4. Degenerative Myelopathy
Degenerative myelopathy is an inherited disease affecting the spinal cord that results in a slow, non-painful progression of hind leg weakness and paralysis.
Degenerative myelopathy tends to affect dogs over the age of eight years old. The exact cause is unknown although it is thought to be a genetic mutation. Puppies inherit a gene mutation from their parents that that puts them at risk for developing the disease.
Symptoms of the disease include wobbling, stumbling, weakness (such as shaking) and collapse. These are the same symptoms as any other spinal condition, which makes it hard to diagnose.
Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment, but providing pain relief and addressing concurrent conditions, such as obesity or arthritis, will help improve the severity of the disease.
5. Spinal Conditions (Spondylosis)
Spinal conditions, such as spondylosis, are common reasons for hind leg weakness, because the nerves that tell the legs to work are damaged. As a result, your dog might drag their toes or not pick up their feet properly, affecting their gate & balance, leading to muscle loss from lack of appropriate use of the legs, which in itself is a vicious cycle.
Hind leg weakness and collapse is usually a slowly progressive condition, where they gradually get worse over the course of many months.
However, some spinal conditions, such as a slipped disc, can suddenly happen and cause a considerable amount of pain. Therefore, hind legs collapse should always be considered potentially serious!
6. Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a chronic condition caused by the hip joint ball and socket rubbing together due to a malformation.
Over time, the rubbing together causes significant cartilage loss and can develop into osteoarthritis. Older dogs with hip dysplasia may experience back leg collapse, but also look for joint stiffness (lack of range-of-motion), grating sounds in the joint, and obvious signs of pain.
Can Cushing’s Disease Cause Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs?
All the aforementioned problems can lead to older dog back legs collapsing–but there can be many other reasons that can cause older dog back legs collapsing.
These can include Cushing’s Disease where muscle weakness is a symptom from too much Cortisol being produced by the adrenal glands. Cushing’s disease in dogs might cause hind quarter collapse but is also associated with other symptoms of muscle weakness like a dog not wanting to move or exercise…preferring to lay down instead.
Cushing’s disease is not always simple to diagnose, as many of the symptoms are similar to other conditions. However, blood tests can lead to a diagnosis.
The sooner you look into why your dog has back-leg-weakness or is collapsing, the better the chances of quicker recovery–so a visit to your vet is imperative to find out the underlying cause.
Best Treatments for Older Dog Back Legs Collapsing
Every type of K9 problem requires a different treatment plan. Depending on your dog’s diagnosis, treatment options vary with the emphasis being on addressing the root cause and severity of the issue.
Particularly for older dogs, surgery is often not an option, so dog owners are opting for alternative ways to treat their older dogs back legs collapsing issue.
- Medications – Caring for your aging dog with medications (OTC or prescription NSAIDS), or nutritional supplements like glucosamine can prevent any further joint deterioration and relieve unnecessary pain. Natural plant-based oils containing CBD from hemp oil have also been shown to be helpful in managing the underlying condition causing pain and inflammation.
- Exercise / Water Therapy – There are many techniques you can use to make your dog’s golden years more bearable. Regular, gentle walks and swimming in controlled water tanks can provide necessary aerobic exercise, which is helpful when needing to strengthen weak legs in older dogs. Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain, improves memory and muscle performance, all of which are great for improving your senior dog’s health.
- Massage / Physical Rehabilitation – Massages help ease pain and keep circulation up. And light physical ‘range-of-motion’ exercises help with stiffness, pain and prevent your dog’s muscles from atrophying. Daily scheduled massage time is also a great way to stay emotionally connected with your dog if other activities are now limited.
- Joint Support Braces – Orthopedic braces can provide additional support for older dogs that may be experiencing collapsing in their hind legs. Braces designed specifically to help dogs with arthritis and hip dysplasia can provide support and stability that minimizes pressure on joints. Additionally, the hip brace may reduce pain during exercise and potentially save your dog from future injuries.
- Maintain Ideal Weight – Dogs, like people, may experience weight gain as they get older. If weight gain is the cause of back leg collapse in your older dog, you’re in luck – it’s the easiest to remedy. Be sure your older dog has a healthy, balanced diet to maintain ideal weight. Older dogs do not require as much food as younger dogs. A diet with plenty of omega oils will improve joint health, mental health and naturally decrease any inflammatory processes.
How You Can Help an Old Dog with Hind Leg Weakness
One of the most basic things you can do to help a dog with hind leg collapsing is to make access & getting around easier for them. With your old dog’s back legs collapsing, even getting around in a limited space can be really painful and exhausting.
In these situations, you can make things easier for your dog by doing things like:
- Placing dog ramps and special doggie stairs in ingress and egress pathways,
- Add a dog-lifting-aid or other mobility carriers help support your dog’s abdominal and hip areas while moving around,
- Install inexpensive carpet ‘runner’s (and use non-slick soft socks or doggie booties) to reduce the chances of slipping and sliding on the floor. Make sure to place them wherever your dog frequently walks inside as well as outdoor patios.
- Try a special dog orthopedic bed to ease the stress & strain on joints while sitting or lying down,
- In more severe cases, a dog wheelchair may be a necessary support for your dog’s back legs to keep them mobile and moving around easier.
With these lifestyle changes, a healthy diet, regularly monitored exercise, support from orthopedic braces & the addition of natural herbal supplements to relieve pain and inflammation, your older dog may have many happy and healthy years ahead–free of back leg collapse.
Talk to your holistic vet and ask what other home therapies and treatment modalities are available to alleviate your older dog’s hind leg weakness.
Curtis has been passionate about the health and welfare of animals since his first dog rescue.
After studying Sports Medicine & Biology at the University of Oregon, Curtis went on to excel in a career of Clinical Nutrition, later owning a health care supplement company serving private-practice physicians.
Known for his expansive knowledge of natural health and alternative medicine, Curtis believes that natural plant-based therapies can be applied to veterinary animal care which led him to study the science of Cannabinoid Medicine. His expertise in Functional Medicine led him to formulate a unique hemp-based canine care product, Canine Support Formula, fulfilling a dream to combine natural pet-care strategies with the new therapeutic potential of medical cannabis.
In reverence for his own dog, Parker, Curtis has dedicated his company–K9 Medibles–to improving the health and longevity of all dogs.
To learn more about Curtis and how K9 Medibles can help your dog, click HERE.