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Dog’s Back Legs Weak and Shaking: Causes and Treatments

Weakness and shaking in a dog’s back legs can be a sign or symptom of an injury, disease, or chronic illness. Tremors and quivers in a dog’s legs are a common sight, however, and in many cases, a dog’s trembling legs can simply indicate tiredness after a long day of exercise!

Prolonged and consistent tremors in dogs’ hind legs can be a sure sign of weak back legs. If the problem persists, then it’s important to monitor your dog’s behavior and seek out veterinary advice. 

To help you to better understand what might be the cause of your dog’s hind legs shaking, we’ve put together this article explaining the most common reasons behind tremors and weakness. 

Why does my dog’s leg shake?

Shaking in a dog’s back leg is a common sight in all breeds of pet dogs, but the underlying reasons behind the issue can be difficult to determine, purely because there is a large range of potential possibilities. 

Shaking, quivering, or tremoring typically occurs in the rear legs, and is usually a sign of hind leg weakness in dogs. The legs shake as the muscles spasm or contract abnormally, and this can be caused by nerve disorders, degenerative diseases, infections, injuries, and more.

Generally, this condition is known as back leg weakness until the root cause can be determined and diagnosed. 

Symptoms of rear leg weakness in dogs

Symptoms of back leg weakness aren’t just confined to shaking, however, but to a wider lack of coordination, or to apathy. There are several other important symptoms that might indicate a dog’s leg weakness, so it’s important to watch closely for any of the following signs if you’re concerned about shaking:

  • Apathy or indifference to exercise 
  • Change in character
  • Severe lack of coordination and balance
  • Staggering into furniture
  • Inability to walk long distances
  • Limping 
  • Inability to support body weight
  • Clear difficulty standing up
  • Whining or barking when back legs are touched 
  • Marked weight loss
  • Collapsing 
  • Paralysis 

Symptoms can clearly vary in severity, but if your dog does have a chronic condition, then, in an old dog, hind leg weakness can get progressively worse. 

Remember, though, that your dog might also begin trembling when it’s delighted to see you, when it’s scared, or when it’s happy! 

For this reason, it’s important to monitor your dog over time for signs and symptoms of illness, injury, or disease. If shaking occurs frequently and clearly isn’t a sign of happiness, then you need to contact your vet for a detailed check-up. 

Causes of weakness in a dog’s back legs

There are multiple different reasons for a dog’s rear legs to be weak and shaky. The most common causes of your dog’s leg shaking are the following reasons and syndromes:

Injury or accident

The simplest (but often the most obvious) cause of a dog’s sudden hind leg weakness could be injury or accident. Your dog can sprain or strain muscles just like humans, and it could be that they have overexerted themselves and become injured.

More seriously, your dog could have been involved in a collision, fall, or other accident. This can cause fractures, or traumas, which can be the cause of your dog's leg shaking. In both cases, you need to see a vet if your dog’s back legs are suddenly weak and shaking. Treatments vary, but can range from massage therapy to surgery. 

Degenerative Myelopathy

One of the most common chronic causes of your dog’s back legs shaking and becoming weak is Degenerative Myelopathy (or DM). This can cause uncontrollable quivering in your dog’s back legs, as it affects the spinal cord. Protective sheaths that surround the spinal cord are degraded and worn down over time, causing the nerves to essentially become exposed. This makes communication between the brain, spinal cord, and rear legs difficult, causing weakness and shaking. 

DM is usually inherited and is common in larger breeds of dogs such as German Shepherds. As it’s degenerative, it often appears as the dog ages. The best way to treat DM is prevention, which includes pain relief for weakness and shaking, a good diet, and an exercise plan that keeps your dog’s muscles strong. 

Intervertebral disc disease

Intervertebral disc disease (or IVDD) occurs when the discs in the spinal column slip or rupture. This can occur in any breed, although dogs with long backs are more prone. The risk and severity of IVDD increase with age.

Symptoms can be mild at first (including shaking or your dog’s back legs slipping out uncontrollably), but can eventually lead to serious paralysis if left untreated. Treatment involves anti-inflammatories, steroids, and in severe cases, surgery.  

Arthritis 

Arthritis occurs in dogs, just as it can occur in humans. Similarly, it’s a problem that comes on with age, and weakness in a dog’s back legs is a common symptom of this degenerative disease. 

It’s important to have arthritis diagnosed in older dogs, as it can lead to pain and immobility. The disease can be prevented and slowed down through the use of steroids and other medication, as well as a good diet and exercise plan.  

Diabetes

Yes, dogs can also suffer from diabetes. This can also be the reason for shaking and weak hind legs, especially if your dog has an unhealthy diet. 

The primary reasons behind diabetes are lack of exercise and bad eating habits, and these are both easily remedied by the owner. 

Other causes of a dog having weak and shaking back legs

There are several other reasons, too, that could lead to shaking and weakness in the back legs. These symptoms can be the first signs of cancer, of Cushing’s Disease, of vertebral instability, a snake bite, poisoning, or simply a bad diet. 

Treatments and recovery for weak back legs

As there are so many different reasons behind weakness and shaking in the back legs, treatments can vary drastically from one dog to the next. 

If you’re concerned that your dog’s symptoms are the sign of illness, injury, or disease, then you need to take them to the vet for a check-up. The vet will run a series of procedures, which could involve an x-ray or blood test to determine the cause. 

Serious injuries and conditions can require surgery, while many chronic conditions (such as IVDD, DM, and arthritis) can be slowed down through medication. Owners can also consider other therapies to speed up recovery. Massage or hydrotherapy treatment can help alleviate pain and rebuild strength, while a bed ramp for dogs can help your pet to get around the house easier! 

Importantly, it’s often prevention rather than treatment that is effective in stopping many of the causes of weak back legs and shaking. A healthy diet and regular exercise are fundamental for a healthy doggie lifestyle, and these are the number one recommendations for dog hind leg weakness treatment. 

Owners need to monitor their dog’s general levels of activity, mood, and behavior too. Get to know your dog, its habits, and its personalities, and you could end up saving their life. Catching a change in attitude and visiting the vet early on can help to prevent prolonged pain or injury as your dog ages.  

Weakness and shaking in a dog’s back legs: the last word

When your dog’s back legs become weak and start to shake it can be a common symptom of other underlying medical conditions or injuries. If you suspect that your pet dog might be suffering, then don’t hesitate to take them for a check-up. 

Knowing the signs and symptoms of these illnesses and diseases can help you to provide your pet with a higher quality of life (and a longer, happier life). Remember, though, that prevention is always preferable to treatment. 

Why not bookmark our guide to dog rear leg weakness and shaking, for the next time you suspect that your pet dog could be in pain?

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