One of the most adorable traits of a growing puppy is their innate clumsiness. Many puppies will stumble over their feet as they learn how to explore their surroundings, but hind limb weakness is a different story.
A puppy with weakness in their back legs can be struggling with a severe health threat, ranging from low blood sugar to congenital abnormalities.
This symptom in our growing canine friends should always be taken seriously, as it could be their way of telling you something is very wrong.
To help you get to the bottom of your puppy’s back leg weakness, let’s discuss a list of possibilities below!
What Does Back Leg Weakness Look Like In Puppies?
Before we discuss the potential causes of your puppy’s weak back legs, we should first introduce you to what weak legs may look like in your furry friend.
It may be confusing if you have never seen it before, so let’s break down what to look for in your furry friend.
- Their back legs may tremble as they get up from a lying position
- They may stumble on their feet and appear clumsy
- Their back paws may fold under occasionally as they walk
- They may appear wobbly when they walk
- They may struggle to get up, even giving up and remaining in a lying position
- They may collapse when attempting to be active
- They may have an abnormal stance or gait
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your puppy, it is very possible that they are struggling with back leg weakness.
Why Does My Puppy Have Weak Back Legs?
Back leg weakness could point to a list of underlying complications that require our attention. To help you better determine what could be wrong with your puppy, let’s discuss the potential factors behind their symptoms.
1. They Are Too Young To Balance Properly
Balance is a skill that newborn puppies will master as each week passes. Many puppies will not gain their bearings until about 6 weeks of age, so they may appear wobbly and unsteady on their paws until then.
If your puppy is under 6 weeks of age, it is very possible that they are still learning how to orient their body. If you are concerned that their physical abilities are still abnormal for their age, we suggest having them examined by a vet to be safe.
What to do:
Most puppies will learn how to coordinate their movements as the weeks go on, so you should expect a normal and strong pup by the time they reach 6-7 weeks of age.
2. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
Hypoglycemia is a dangerous condition in puppies that can cause sudden limb weakness and disorientation. Hypoglycemia is most common in puppies due to their increased calorie needs and small stomachs, making it hard for their bodies to keep up if they are not fed multiple small meals throughout the day.
If their bodies are not receiving the surplus of calories they need each day, their blood sugar can drop to dangerous levels. While this can happen in a puppy of any size, it is most common in toy and small breed puppies. This typically occurs suddenly in an otherwise healthy pup.
Low blood sugar in puppies can lead to limb weakness, stumbling, confusion, inability to stand, muscle twitching, lethargy, and even collapse. If you think your puppy is having a hypoglycemic attack we suggest rubbing syrup or karo syrup on their gums and rushing them to your nearest vet. Hypoglycemia in puppies can be fatal if it is not corrected immediately.
What to do:
Applying karo syrup on their gums can offer an instant boost of their blood sugar, but we still suggest having them seen by a vet. In the future, you can be sure to increase the amount of meals you offer throughout the day, with most pups doing well with 3-4 small meals. You should also ask your vet about how much you should be feeding your puppy each day, as growing pups require more calories.
3. Swimmer Syndrome
Swimmer syndrome in puppies is a condition that refers to the abnormal positioning of a puppy’s back legs. Though the cause of this condition is not entirely known, it is believed to be a growing complication that occurs within the womb. The ligaments in the puppy’s legs do not tighten properly, causing the back legs to splay outward in a frog position.
Most pet parents will notice the abnormal leg positioning when the puppy begins to move around, which is typically around 4 or 5 weeks of age. This condition can be corrected when treated early, and involves at home physical therapy and leg taping.
We suggest having them assessed by a vet for a proper treatment plan, but there are many online resources that offer guidance as well.
What to do:
Once you get a diagnosis from your vet, you can begin implementing physical therapy at home. This can include strength training of their back limbs, approved leg taping methods to help improve their leg position, and making sure they are kept in an area with proper traction.
4. Shaking Puppy Syndrome
Shaking puppy syndrome is a hereditary nerve condition seen in some unlucky pups. Also referred to as hypomyelination, these dogs suffer from an abnormally thin layer of myelin covering their nerve cells.
Due to this layer not being as thick as usual, the electrical signals that travel between nerves can become confused. This causes the impulses to malfunction, leading to involuntary muscle movement and shaking.
Shaking often begins as early as 2-3 weeks of age, but some puppies may even tremor from the moment they are born. These pups typically struggle with movement such as walking or running, with their symptoms worsening with excitement. Many puppies shake more as they eat for this reason, or even when greeting their favorite person or animal.
Many dogs with shaking puppy syndrome will improve without treatment, often between 3 months to 1 year of age. Some of these puppies will need support from their pet parents until their symptoms improve, but many go on to live a normal life.
What to do:
We suggest having them assessed by a vet to make sure they are not experiencing any other complications, but most puppy’s will recover during their first year of life. Just be sure to offer your pup additional support when needed with physical activity. For example, they may need a food bowl with a rubber base to prevent the bowl from moving around as they shake.
5. Leg Injuries & Trauma
If your puppy has suddenly injured one or both of their back legs, it may appear as if their back legs are weak. These puppies may hold up their injured leg or even limp with each step, maybe even refusing to put any weight on it at all.
A puppy’s playful and curious nature makes them more prone to injuring themselves, causing anything from a soft tissue injury to an actual fractured limb. Due to the varying severity of a leg injury, we always suggest having them seen if they are showing signs of limb discomfort for more than 12 hours.
6. Neurological Disorders
Unfortunately for the growing canine companion in our home, there are a list of neurological and spine disorders that can impact their movement. These disorders include cerebellar hypoplasia, disc diseases, wobbler syndrome, infectious disease, and more.
These pups may experience hind limb weakness and other motor complications, often accompanied by other troubling symptoms as well.
This is why we always suggest having your puppy seen if they are having back leg weakness, as you can never rule out an underlying neurological disorder. Each condition has their own recommended treatment and prognosis, so we suggest asking your vet any questions about their specific situation.
What to do:
These conditions can vary so much from puppy to puppy, so having them assessed by a vet is the best option.
A puppy that has consumed something toxic may experience motor complications and sudden weakness.
Many toxicities can cause a puppy to suddenly appear drunk and disoriented, causing owners to think they are experiencing hind limb weakness. These puppies will often experience more concerning symptoms as well including vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, vocalization, confusion, seizures, and collapse.
If your puppy is experiencing any of the above symptoms, or you know they have consumed something potentially toxic, we suggest having them seen by a vet immediately. Toxicities in dogs require immediate and aggressive treatment to offer them the best chance at recovery.
What to do:
If your puppy has eaten something toxic we suggest taking them to a vet ASAP. Not all toxic items can be vomited safely, so we never recommend inducing vomiting at home. Just be sure to get them to your vet safely, and even reach out to the Pet Poison Helpline if you have a helper that can call on the way to your vet’s office.
Final Thoughts On Weak Back Legs In Puppies
If you have a puppy with weak back legs, we can understand how concerned you are about their prognosis moving forward.
Be sure to read over the possibilities we discussed above, as well as reaching out to someone on your veterinary team for guidance.
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