Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Back leg weakness usually affects adult dogs. Why? There is a number of reasons why back leg weakness can affect your dog. Learn causes, treatment options and more in this unique guide on back leg weakness in dogs.

True dog owners want one thing more than anything else, and thats for their dog to live as long as possible. In order for that to actually happens the dog’s health needs to be impeccable. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that it will be the case and unforeseen health problems do pop up.

One of the most common health issues in dogs is hind leg weakness. Back leg weakness in dogs is actually common in adult and older canines, but it can be seen in younger dogs in some cases and under certain circumstances.

Causes, as well as the symptoms, of this condition, may vary. Therefore, it’s often rather challenging to diagnose it on your own. If you notice even the slightest signs of weakness in your dog’s back legs, it’s time to visit the veterinarian.

Back Leg Weakness

There is a number of reasons why your dog may be affected by this condition. These reasons are different, they vary under the number of circumstances, and even more, they vary from an acute injury to something more serious. This is why it’s crucial to monitor your dog’s condition even when it’s healthy, so you can notice even the slightest change as soon as possible. (1)

Just like humans, dogs can inherit a number of specific conditions.(2) 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 often associated with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), a disease of the spinal cord. The myelin sheaths has a protective role of the nerves in the spine. (3)

However, in Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) myelin sheaths degenerate to eventually expose the nerve fibers. This disrupts the body’s communication between the spinal cord and brain, leading to progressive and strong weaknesses that can lead to total paralysis.

There is more than one theory as to why DM occurs, and just some of them are related to spinal injury, vitamin deficiencies or even as a reaction as an immune-mediated response. However, many agree that the primary reason is an inherited condition that affects mostly large breeds, specifically German Shepherds.

Although DM may be one of the most common reasons for back leg weaknesses, it’s not the only reason why your best friend might be showing signs of back leg weakness. Some of the other possible reasons for this condition may be a result of nerve damage, pain, or even muscle atrophy. Some of the other signs that can alert you are an inability to stand, lameness, or even paralysis in the legs.

Symptoms Of Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

Symptoms of back leg weakness can come suddenly. It doesn’t mean that your dog got the disease the day before. No, it simply means that this condition developed on a period of time. However, there are some signs that may indicate this condition and eventually lead to a diagnosis. The most common symptoms of the back leg weakness in dogs are:

  • Instability
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty walking
  • Slow gait
  • Difficulty standing up
  • Reluctance to be active
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Loss of ability to urinate
  • Collapse
  • Lethargy
  • Swelling

Severe Symptoms Of Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

Symptoms of weakness in your dog’s back legs may come suddenly. Your dog can even be fine today and the following day he may not be able to stand normally. This condition may appear suddenly because in most cases it’s developing slowly over a long period of time. Again, it may depend on the reason for the weakness.

Degenerative Myelopathy initially affects first the rear legs. The dog may start to drag a foot, or both, on walks. Also, foot-dragging is easily heard. In addition, two middle nails may be worn down – always on the weak paw. Eventually, a lack of coordination is seen and reflexes will slow in the back feet and legs. The next move after it would be muscle atrophy. Moreover, the tail may be limp.

As the disease progresses, the dog will have strong difficulties of standing for long periods of time and getting up. Logically, fecal and urinary incontinence will follow (affected dogs often walk and poop). The back legs will be so weak that the dog will need assistance to get up or hold a position to urinate or defecate.

As the disease becomes stronger, the front limbs will be affected as well and weaken. Eventually, this leads to very poor quality of life. But, if it’s possible to say that there is a good thing, it is seen in the non-painful condition. There is no pain. However, when front legs become weak and impeccable, that’s usually the moment when euthanization happens.

Commonly Affected Breeds

Currently, there are around 43 different dog breeds that have been found to have genes that are responsible for Degenerative Myelopathy. Top 10 the most affected dog breeds are:

  1. Siberian Husky
  2. Bernese Mountain Dog
  3. Samoyed
  4. German Shepherd
  5. Dalmatian
  6. Bernese Mountain Dog
  7. Golden Retriever
  8. American Eskimo Dog
  9. Pug
  10. Boxer
  11. Causes of Back Leg Weakness in Dogs

    Causes for this condition are many, and the reasons behind this weakness can vary. The first and most obvious reason for weakness in dog’s legs is trauma, while the other reasons may include wreak havoc on the spinal cord hormones and nerves.

    The most common causes are:

  • Injury
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Botulism infection (4)
  • Arthritis
  • Vertebral instability

Primary Causes Of Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

There are many causes that can lead to back leg weakness. Some of them are rare, while others are often seen within the canine world. Primary causes are:

1. Physical Injury

The direct cause of back leg weakness in dogs can be connected with direct spinal cord injury. If your dog has been injured and shows smaller or bigger signs of weakness in his back legs, look for veterinary help immediately

2. Arthritis

This is a common cause for elder dogs. It can contribute to back leg weakness and it usually joined with enormous pain

3. Cushing’s Disease

If your canine starts experiencing signs of hair loss and/or increased thirst and appetite, the chances are that Cushing’s Disease is to blame. (5) Contact your veterinarian for the best treatment options.

4. Degenerative Myelopathy

DM is a disease of the spinal cord or/and bone marrow. (6) This condition is possible at any age. A common occurrence for this condition is that it strikes the back legs first. It’s important to note that there is no easy fix or solution for this condition. However, there are some treatments that may ease this condition

In addition, other causes can include toxin/poison exposure, lumbosacral stenosis, and others. Because there are so many potential causes, its extremely important to seek help from your veterinarian as early as possible.

Diagnosis Of Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

Back leg weakness in dogs is one of those conditions that can appear suddenly, but they are built for a period of time. Therefore, regardless of how experienced pet owner you are you cant diagnose this condition without going to the vet. The veterinarian is the only person that can do a proper diagnose.

The important thing about visiting the veterinarian, in this case, is to speak openly about every and each symptom that you have noticed. Following the usual practice, the veterinarian will check for a glass of swelling, weakness in the back limbs, pain, and inflammation.

Also, the veterinarian will probably run some additional tests looking for any discerning neurological or physical abnormalities. The good thing about this move is that it can reveal the possible presence of a tumor, diabetes or even enlarged liver.

Usual diagnostic tests that are performed normally are blood work and spinal X-rays. Other tests may include MRI or CT, an electromyogram (EMG), spinal tap or myelogram. Usually, there should be a mandatory urinary test and a blood sample if your veterinarian is suspicious about Degenerative Myelopathy.

Treatment Of Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

Next logical step after diagnosing would be setting the right treatment. The treatment of your furry friend will depend on the root cause of the issue. In more severe causes veterinarian will recommend surgery. In less severe cases, the veterinarian will probably suggest pain killers and moderate exercises.

However, it’s important to know that medications can, and therefore will, help with the pain and inflammation, but won’t help with reversing the problem entirely.

The proper treatment will also depend on the age and health of the dog. For example, if your puppy is suffering from back leg weakness the treatment will be more agressive – simply because your puppy has a long life ahead. On the other hand, if we are talking about an adult dog affected with this condition, medications will be the first option. Surgery may be suggested, but not necessary.

Occasionally, a veterinarian may suggest the use of tools and devices that can provide support for dogs with weak back legs, like dog braces. Dog braces can improve mobility for your pet and keep them active. They work by reducing pressure on the affected area.

Lately, there are some successful alternative therapies that include acupuncture, massage, and hydrotherapy. You can see in the following video what are some of the ways to help your feline friend.

Recovery Of The Back Leg Weakness

The recovery of Back leg weakness depends on the cause of the weakness, how difficult the condition is and in what phase the treatment began. For example, if the cause is poisoning the quick treatment is crucial. Simply said, there are some toxins that can be fatal.

On the other hand, conditions like arthritis, diabetes or degenerative myelopathy can be managed through an adequate diet and continuous exercise plan that can keep your dogs weight under control. (7)

Furthermore, intervertebral disc disease can be treated to return your dog to normal function. Otherwise, it can lead to complete paralysis. Also, cancer and Cushing’s disease can lead to poor prognosis, depending on the extent of the disease and many other factors. (8)

Overall, diagnose is responsible for the final prognosis and long-term outlook of the condition. Sadly but truly, a number of the root causes of back leg weakness are progressive. Progressive means that they only will get worse as time goes on, and there isn’t much to do.

The best thing that you can do for your canine friend is to seek veterinary care immediately or as soon as possible and trust in their inputs and recommendations. Bear in mind that only a licensed vet can give you the truly customized advice that’s necessary to address this complicated and undesirable health condition.

Good to know: Diabetes and arthritis can be well-handled with lifelong treatments.


There are some things that you can do in order to avoid or minimalize the chances of numerous chances of many health concerns in your dog. Some of the good actions include:

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Custom exercise plan accordign to your dog age
  3. High quality and balanced diet
  4. Tracking your dog’s weight and other health signs
  5. Maintaing regular vet check-ups

Conclusion On Back Leg Weakness In Dogs

Back leg weakness in dogs is a common condition that can appear suddenly. Although you may think that your dog got seek yesterday, usually – thats not the case. The truth is, that condition was probably active for a period of time, and you just weren’t aware of it. Therefore, it’s crucial to track your pet’s health all the time, even when he is not officially sick so you can spot the difference easily.

If you just think that your dog acts differently or that he pulls his back leg you should contact your veterinarian as early as possible.

Also, there is a number of different treatments and even alternative solutions to help your dog strengthen his back legs. The best solution will depend on the cause. However, the safest way to actually help your canine is to follow veterinarians guidelines.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Dogs Lose Control Of Their Back Legs?

One of the most common reasons that may lead to weakness in dog’s hind legs is mostly because they are suffering from a disease known as Degenerative myelopathy. This disease leads to degradation of the spinal cord, that causes weakness or/and total paralysis of the hind legs.

What Causes Back Leg Weakness In Dogs?

Degenerative myelopathy affects the back legs directly and causes muscle weakness and lack, or entire loss, of coordination. This condition can lead to extensive paralysis of the back legs.

How Can I Help My Dog With Weak Back Legs?

  • Regular exercise
  • Custom exercise plan to your dog needs and age
  • Healhty diet
  • Monitor dog’s weight
  • Have regular vet visits
  • Is There A Cure For Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs?

    This is a common condition that affects primarily purebred dogs, mostly Doberman Pinscher. (9) There is no cure or current treatment for this condition. But, there are some things that you can do as an owner to delay the progression of this disease and improve the overall dog’s quality of life.

    Is Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs Painful?

    Degenerative Myelopathy is NOT painful. (10) On the other hand, if your dog is in pain he is probably experiencing a condition that’s not only DM. Make sure that your veterinarian examines your dogs for other spine-related conditions.