why does my dogs back legs shake
If you have a dog, you probably know all of his little idiosyncrasies well. More than likely, one of them is kicking his leg when you scratch a certain place on his stomach. Long-time dog owners will know that almost all dogs do this. Typically it happens when you scratch them in a place known as the "saddle" region, which includes the belly, flanks and back. Some kick one leg, some kick the other, and the height and speed of the kick can vary depending on where you scratch and on the individual dog. It doesn't make much sense -- he kicks his leg even though there's no way that leg can actually reach your hand to make it stop. It's funny, but have you ever stopped to ponder why it's happening? Dogs shake or kick their legs when you scratch them because of something known as the scratch reflex. It's a completely involuntary reaction, which explains why your dog may look as puzzled as you do when it starts to happen.
When you scratch or tickle your dog's belly, it irritates him, much the same way that the wind or a bug might. It activates nerves under his skin that are connected to his spinal cord and relays a message to his leg muscles to kick in an attempt to get rid of the irritant. Of course, you're the one both providing the "itch" and "scratching" it, so it's a completely pointless act. The scratch reflex does have one purpose -- it's reliable enough that veterinarians sometimes use it to assist in diagnosing nerve damage or neurological problems. And while we've called it an irritant, you're not really irritating your dog at all. Most dogs like a scratch on their bellies, so just move to another spot. If he really doesn't like it, he'll just let you know by moving away. Think of it as similar to our knee-jerk reflex, when the doctor taps your knee and your leg kicks out. Or when you scratch a cat at the base of his tail and his rear end rises up.
It's just one of those quirks of animal anatomy.
A veterinarian explains four possible causes of sudden weakness in your dogБs back legs, and what you must do. When your dogБs hind legs suddenly go weak, there could be any number of causes, says Dr. Jules Benson, BVSc, and VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance, whom I interviewed just for this article. БSudden hind limb weakness or paralysis can be a clinical sign of several conditions, including degenerative myelopathy, in which parts of the nerves in the spinal cord responsible for hind limb mobility degenerate,Б begins Dr. Benson. Another possible cause of sudden back leg weakness in a dog is intervertebral disc disease, says Dr. Benson. He explains that this occurs when bulging discs put pressure on the dogБs spinal column. Next is vertebral instability (Бwobbler syndromeБ), in which Бthe spinal canal narrows, placing pressure on the nerves affecting hind limb motor function,Б says Dr.
Benson. An infection with the bacteria that causes botulism can also cause a dogБs hind legs to suddenly go weak, though this is rare, says Dr. Benson. Accompanying symptoms of this would be excessive drooling, slack jaw and dilated pupils. Treatments Degenerative Myelopathy While physical therapy and vitamin therapies can help maintain a better quality of life, Dr. Benson says, unfortunately thereБs no treatment or cure for the condition. Intervertebral Disc Disease and Vertebral Instability The faster these cases are caught and treated, the better the prognosis, says Dr. Benson. He adds, БMild cases of IVDD will respond well to anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers, while more severe cases will require surgery to allow the affected pet to return to normal function.
Petplan recently paid out a claim for over $3,000 for a 12-year-old German Shepherd who needed treatment for IVDD. Б Botulism Pets are treated with an anti-toxin and supportive therapy, including IV fluids. Paralysis or extreme weakness in your dogБs back legs for more than 24 hours? Dr. Benson says the prognosis here is poor. With wobbler syndrome, surgery is usually needed, in addition to anti-inflammatory drugs. БPetplan recently paid over $8,000 for a 9-year-old Standard Poodle who required advanced imaging (MRI) and surgery,Б says Dr. Benson. Other possible causes of sudden (acute) hind limb weakness in a dog: Dr. Benson explains that hip and knee problems, such as cruciate ligament injury and hip dysplasia, can present with what appears to be sudden-onset weakness in a dogБs back legs. You must contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice this kind of symptom.
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