Skip to main content

Are your dear old dog’s back legs collapsing? Here’s what to do

Caring for an older dog with weak back legs

Dogs are considered our best friends for a reason, and we adore pups of any age. That being said, we’re not ashamed to say that our oldest fur babies are our dearest companions. Our senior dog family members have been with us through all of life's ups and downs, and we've spent years bonding with them. As our fur babies get older, health issues can arise, including your old dog's back legs collapsing.

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

30 minutes

While watching your dog's back legs collapse is terrifying to experience, it's important to remain calm. Panicking will only upset your dog, and there may be a perfectly normal explanation for this collapse. We’ll elaborate on some of the most common reasons older dogs lose strength in their back legs and share a few ways you can help your dog cope. Here’s what you should know.

A man in a beige jacket holding an older pug with a graying muzzle.
winterseitler/Pixabay

Why do older dogs’ back legs give out?

Just like humans, dogs tend to slow down as they age. From gray hair to age-related health issues, dogs and humans have much in common. As frightening as it is to watch your old dog’s legs collapse, it’s relatively common in older dogs, especially large breeds. Here are some of the most typical reasons it may be happening to your fur baby:

Osteoarthritis

Healthy joints have several layers of cartilage for protection and lubrication. Cartilage erodes over time, causing pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis may be due to age-related wear and tear, but it could also stem from a prior injury or a hereditary condition, such as hip dysplasia.

Degenerative myelopathy (DM)

While degenerative myelopathy — the canine equivalent of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease — isn’t as common a cause of hind leg collapse as arthritis, it’s worth noting that DM may impact corgis, German shepherds, and golden retrievers. Fortunately, this neuromuscular disease is considered painless, so despite his mobility issues, your pup will continue to enjoy the same quality of life as he did before his diagnosis.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

Unlike limping and degenerative myelopathy, which are characterized by a progression of symptoms, intervertebral disc disease often causes a sudden onset of weakness and collapse. While it’s more common in small breeds, IVDD can also happen in large breeds. IVDD causes discs to herniate or shift, applying pressure to the spinal cord. In some cases, it causes your dog’s back legs to collapse, but it can also cause paralysis. Surgery is usually required to correct the condition.

An old Bordeaux dog lying on a red fleece blanket.
mieke59/Pixabay

Symptoms to look out for

Other causes of hind leg collapse include hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, shock, injury, and diabetic neuropathy caused by diabetes mellitus. Early treatment usually leads to a more favorable result, whatever the cause of your old dog’s hind leg collapse. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Difficulty standing
  • Trembling in the legs
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Signs of pain, such as whimpering, limping, panting, loss of appetite, hiding, and behavioral changes.

If your dog shows any of these symptoms, we recommend taking him to the vet as soon as possible for a checkup.

An old black dog with a graying muzzle lying on a porch
medienluemmel/PIxabay

How to strengthen an old dog’s hind legs

You should consult your vet before beginning an exercise program if your old dog’s back legs show weakness. Your vet may recommend physical therapy for your dog, depending on the cause of his issues. However, we have a few suggestions if your veterinarian gives the green light to help strengthen your pup’s legs at home.

Step 1: Start off slowly.

If your fur baby is in pain, the last thing you want to do is exacerbate it with too much activity. Try gently stretching your pup’s hind legs to prevent muscle cramps and help rebuild strength and range of motion.

Step 2: Introduce low-impact activities.

Take short walks with your pup, keeping the pace slow and relaxed, to help slowly rebuild muscles.

Swimming is another low-impact activity that’s especially helpful for weak hind legs. Water supports your dog’s weight, allowing him to move more freely than he can on dry land.

Step 3: Feed age-appropriate food.

Excess weight can cause many health problems for any canine, but it’s even more important for an older dog to maintain his ideal weight. In addition to reducing excess pressure on joints and bones, maintaining a healthy weight reduces your dog’s risk of various health problems.

An old brown dog lying on a comfortable bed
Cavan-Images/Shutterstock

How can I help my old dog with weak back legs?

Try not to worry if a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet and regular (vet-approved) exercise aren’t enough to improve your dog’s condition as much as you’d hoped.

Discuss treatment options with your vet, who may recommend physical therapy, corrective surgery, orthopedic braces, or possibly a mobility aid like a wheelchair. Depending on the cause of your pup’s condition, your vet may also recommend certain supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, or prescription medication to help alleviate his symptoms.

Seeing your older dog’s hind legs collapse can be heart-wrenching, but there’s no reason to panic. Take your pup to the vet to determine the cause of your dog’s weakness and follow your vet’s advice, providing the best possible chance at recovery. Aging is a part of life, but with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and the support of a devoted family, your dog can remain happy and young at heart.

Editors' Recommendations

Mary Johnson
Contributor
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
6 summer bandanas for your dog to liven up the season in style
Will your dog go for the tropical palm tree bandana or prefer to stick to a muted solid?
Four Australian shepherd dogs sitting while wearing bandanas

You and your dog can rock out with just a simple accessory: bandanas for dogs. Because these only go around their necks like a collar, most pups don't mind, and it can even be fun for both of you. This summer, go all out by choosing a themed style for your animal (or take it another step further and match your outfits).
Beach
Hitting up the shore this summer? Your dog can look the part, too. Dress your pup up with a tropical-themed bandana for an easy way to get beach chic. This outfit can also be functional since you may want to protect them from the sun. Try out a slightly larger size and block a few rays.
Travel
If your little bud comes with you on vacation, get extra into your adventures by decking them out in the style of your destination. Perhaps you've decided to hit up "The Big Apple" and can dress them in an "I Love NY" bandana or you want to give them a Disney princess-themed scarf for a trip to sunny Florida.
America
Just in time for the Fourth of July, stock up on your America-inspired outfits. Flag code states that you should never wear the symbol but you can instead look for a red, white, and blue design. Alternatively, find other ways to celebrate the country by using patriotic images, such as national parks or historic monuments.

National Pet Month
The month of May is a time to celebrate pets. Take this opportunity to highlight your favorite cause like National Dog Mom Day (May 14) or National Rescue Dog Day (May 20). Another idea is to get your pet's name embroidered on a bandana of your choice to make it unique to them.
Animals
Instead of putting the spotlight on pets, try finding another animal to adorn your furry friend. They might look cute in a cat-themed bandana or perhaps one covered in unicorns. No matter what you decide, your fur baby will love being able to support their fave species (after dogs, of course).
Colors
Bandanas feature bright colors and patterns, but you can also stick with more muted pastels or neutrals to match your animal's coat. For example, a bright yellow could look especially boss on a black Lab for contrast or a beige might blend in nicely on a Shiba Inu. Don't forget to try rainbow and tie die, which is a reliable staple.

Read more
7 Japanese dog breeds that could be your perfect pet
Getting to know Japanese dog breeds: Shiba Inu, Akita, and more
A black and white Japanese Chin stands outside in the grass raising one paw

If you were to ask someone to name a Japanese dog breed, we'd be willing to bet that they'd mention Shiba Inu dogs first. And for a good reason! Shiba dogs are becoming increasingly popular around the world, especially after one lucky "doge" went viral in 2013. But they're not the only breed worth mentioning.
There are more than seven Japanese dog breeds out there, of course, but we chose these seven so you can compare and contrast these pups' unique qualities. From gentle giants to teacup cuties and everything in between, there just might be your perfect fit right here on this list!
Here are seven Japanese dog breeds we know and love.

Shiba Inu dogs are quite possibly the most famous Japanese breed, thanks to a meme
Whether you knew it at the time or not, you've probably seen a picture of the famous "doge" internet meme which features a Shiba Inu giving some major side-eye. And as it turns out, this infamous sass can be common in this self-assured breed!

Read more
Does your pet need to visit the dentist? Here’s how a dog teeth cleaning works
It seems scary but they won't feel or remember a thing
Doctor cleaning dog's teeth with toothbrush indoors

In theory, we all go to the dentist every six months to get our teeth cleaned, which helps keep the pearly whites in check and also contributes to overall health. Surprisingly, our pets also benefit from annual (or biennial) dental treatments. While these cleanings do wonders for your dog's teeth, they can make owners nervous and burn a hole in their wallets to boot. Here's why you should schedule regular cleanings for your pup.
How do I know if my dog's teeth need cleaning?
Unless it's a really severe case, you probably can't tell just by looking. Instead, your vet will take a peek in your animal's mouth during their yearly checkup. Your pet's doctor may give your furry friend a dental grade between 0 and 4, with 0 being reserved for puppies that have perfect teeth and 4 meaning Fido will likely require more advanced care, including extractions. Once you have the assessment, you can better determine if your pup needs a cleaning, but it's frequently recommended.
What happens during a dental cleaning
Some of that depends on the grade and your specific beast, but the gist of it stays the same. The main thing is not to worry too much because your little guy will be well cared for, and even though there's always some risk to anesthesia, this is a routine procedure.
Getting your pup ready
Before you even begin, you should get pre-op blood work done to make sure they can handle being under anesthesia. Have your vet discuss any outside-of-range findings and figure out the best way forward. Some older dogs develop kidney and liver problems, and your dog doc might decide that a cleaning isn't worth the risk.
Prepping for the cleaning
Your little guy will likely fast leading up to treatment (just as you would if you were going in for surgery). When you arrive, your vet will go over the schedule and almost certainly give them a once-over to confirm they're ready. Then they will get a sedative in preparation to go under. Figure out what time you need to pick them up and then try to distract yourself for a few hours.
During the procedure
Most vets will take X-rays, clean the teeth, and perform extractions as necessary. Don't worry — your pet will be fully asleep and will not remember or feel a thing. If they do need any teeth pulled, they might get additional shots during the visit (again, just as you would get Novocaine while getting your mouth done). Your vet may also take this opportunity to clip their nails (since they are asleep), if necessary.
Aftercare
If your dog had to have any work above a cleaning, you'll have a couple of meds to administer, such as pain medication and antibiotics. Follow the dosage carefully, especially if you're dealing with strong meds like codeine. In some circumstances, they may have to wear the cone of shame to prevent scratching at their mouth.
How else can you help your dog's oral hygiene?
There's a lot you can do as the pet parent in between cleanings. Consider brushing their teeth, giving doggie dental chews, putting an additive in their water, or putting them on prescription food if the issues are really severe.

The most important thing is to stay on top of your furry friend's oral health, just like you would with any other issues. That often means not feeding them human food, which can cause decay, and providing dry dog food or even dog bones to chew. As long as you stick with the routine, hopefully, you won't need too much extra detail care.

Read more