If a dog loses use of back legs temporarily, it can be incredibly disconcerting for the owner! Unless you’re an experienced dog handler or a trained veterinarian, you may not know how to help your pet or diagnose how serious the condition is.
Let’s be clear: Any form of sudden paralysis in dogs (no matter how short-lasting) needs further attention. Sudden paralysis, even when temporary, can be a symptom of a much more serious disease or chronic illness, and it could lead to permanent immobility if left untreated.
There are multiple types of dog leg paralysis, as well as multiple causes of paralysis in dogs. In this article, we’ll examine what actions an owner needs to take if their dog loses use of their back legs temporarily.
What is Dog Paralysis?
Dog paralysis occurs when a dog loses feeling or movement in its legs. This can happen because of a breakdown in sensory communication between the dog’s brain and its legs.
Dog temporary paralysis can occur in either the front or rear legs, and there are different causes for paralysis in either set of legs. Front leg paralysis is an indication that damage has been sustained to a dog’s shoulders or neck, while dog hind leg paralysis (sudden or temporary) is an indication that the tailbone or the lower back has been injured.
Of course, spinal or nerve damage can also be cause for paralysis in both front or rear legs, so any paralysis should always be treated seriously.
There are three major types of paralysis that are found across all breeds of dog:
- Tetraplegia - paralysis in all four of a dog’s legs.
- Paraplegia - paralysis in the back legs (dog sudden paralysis back legs).
- Paresis - partial paralysis (there is some movement in either front or back legs or intermittent movement).
Sudden paralysis is often only temporary, but of course, it can be frightening for the dog and for the owner. Always seek veterinary help if you have a temporarily paralyzed dog.
Symptoms of Paralysis in Dogs
Your dog can’t communicate with you as well as you’d like, so it’s important to be able to spot the symptoms of dog paralysis early on. This sounds obvious, but temporary paralysis may go unnoticed yet still be recurring, and can lead to other symptoms and problems other than simply not being able to walk.
Dog back leg weakness – or if your dog can’t stand up or walk as well as it used to – is a common sign of temporary paralysis. All breeds of dogs and all ages of dogs can be affected; however, older dogs are more prone to chronic diseases that cause paralysis.
Here are the most common symptoms of paralysis:
- Visible paralysis in one or all of the legs.
- Dog back legs slipping out when they try to walk or stand.
- Dog is unable to stand up straight and hold its own weight.
- Dog is in obvious pain or whining or barking more than usual.
- Apathy or lack of enthusiasm for exercise or activity.
- Uncontrolled bowel movements.
- Uncontrolled drooling.
- Drags legs behind it when walking.
- General weakness and loss of weight.
- Drooping eyes or uncontrolled eye movements.
- Difficulty breathing.
Significant Causes of Paralysis in Dogs
Sudden paralysis in dogs can be caused by obvious events, such as accidents, collisions, injuries, and trauma that cause physical damage to the legs, spine, or nerves. However, when symptoms are subtle, such as an older dog back legs giving out or consistent weakness in legs becomes apparent over time, then it’s often an indication that your dog has an underlying medical condition.
There are several major underlying conditions that can be inherited or brought on by age or disease. These usually affect the spinal cord or cause nerve damage and include the likes of disc disease or even rabies.
Here are the major causes of paralysis in dogs:
1. Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
Degenerative Myelopathy (or DM) is an all too common cause of dog back legs weakness and sudden paralysis in dogs. This inherited syndrome often leads to dog temporary paralysis (hind legs and front legs) due to the fact that the protective sheath that covers the spinal cord is being worn down (degenerating).
As this sheath degenerates, the spinal cord is exposed and can be damaged. This stops communication between the brain and the legs. Eventually, DM can lead to total paralysis if it’s not seen to. This condition gets worse with age but only starts with mild symptoms (rarely full paralysis).
If caught early on and diagnosed, then DM can be effectively treated with steroids and other medications. If an advanced form of DM has occurred, then surgery might be necessary.
2. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
Another common underlying condition is intervertebral disc disease (or IVDD), which can be found in all breeds of dogs. It tends to make an appearance later in life, however, and can cause leg weakness and sudden paralysis in its early stages. If left untreated, disc disease can lead to total paralysis and other serious conditions.
IVDD occurs when the discs in the spinal column begin to degenerate. They might rub together or can pop out of place and herniate. This can cause prolonged pain to your dog, as well as back leg weakness and paralysis. IVDD can be prevented in the long term through weight control (a good diet and exercise) and can be treated with steroids and medication. If ignored, however, IVDD can result in a need for surgery.
3. Tick Paralysis (dog can’t move its legs because of a tick bite)
Ticks are a serious problem (for dogs and humans), as their bites can cause lingering illnesses that are difficult to shake off. Ticks release a toxin into the body as they feed, and this toxin can cause leg weakness or total (yet temporary) paralysis.
In dogs, sudden paralysis can occur up to 6 days after a tick bite. If your dog has been bitten, then keep an eye on them for the next week. Ticks need to be removed, and the toxin can be treated with medication by your vet.
Viruses can be a major cause of sudden paralysis, but they can also lead to many other problems as well and must be treated.
Viruses affect dogs in different ways and can be picked up in all kinds of manners (tick-borne viruses are a real threat to dogs). Major viruses that can cause paralysis include the likes of rabies and distemper.
5. Neurological Conditions
Dogs can be affected by neurological conditions that cause temporary or permanent paralysis of the legs.
Neurological conditions can make communication between the brain and the legs difficult, leading to paralysis.
These conditions are rare and will likely become obvious early on in your dog’s life, although they can be caused by trauma or injury too.
Dogs can suffer from cancers, particularly as they begin to age later in life. Cancerous tumors may form in the brain, or they can affect the spinal column, effectively disrupting communication with the legs and leading to paralysis.
Cancers are incredibly serious, but there are different forms of treatment and surgery available, particularly if it’s caught early on.
Thromboembolism is a type of blood clot that severely affects the circulation of blood to the leg. One of the first symptoms of this type of clot is weakness, then paralysis of the legs.
Thromboembolism is a cause for serious concern, as it’s often the result of a heart condition. Blood clots can cause permanent damage if left untreated.
How to Manage Dog Paralysis at Home
If your dog is noticeably paralyzed and cannot move, even if it’s only temporary, then immediately visit your vet for a check-up and diagnosis. As we’ve already mentioned, sudden paralysis can be a symptom of many other major diseases or degenerative illnesses, which can have serious consequences if left unchecked.
The treatment recommended by a vet will depend on the cause of the paralysis and the severity of the condition itself. Vets will often need to take x-ray scans and run blood tests for full results, as the actual cause of the paralysis can be anything from cancer to inherited degenerative disease.
In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary, but most conditions can be treated with steroids or other medications. Owners can help their pets in recovery by providing massage therapy or by attending hydrotherapy sessions. Making the home more accessible by setting up an indoor ramp, for instance, can also help to alleviate pain and promote recovery in your furry friend.
Owners can also work towards preventing many of the major causes of sudden paralysis by providing their pet with a healthy lifestyle. Many of these conditions are exacerbated by obesity, diabetes, or arthritis, which can all be offset with a healthy diet and regular exercise plan.
If a Dog Loses Use of Back Legs Temporarily, You Can Help!
If your dog loses use of back legs temporarily, then it’s important that you seek out qualified veterinary advice, as it could be a serious symptom of a dangerous condition.
Why not bookmark our guide to sudden dog paralysis, so you can help your dog if you ever need to?