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Tips on How to Strengthen an Old Dog's Hind Legs

Tips on How to Strengthen an Old Dog's Hind Legs

Is your dog experiencing weakness in their hind legs? Our Astoria vets offer insight into what causes sudden hind leg weakness in older dogs and provide guidance and how to maintain or improve their leg strength. 

What Causes Sudden Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs?

Senior dogs often experience weakness in their hind legs, which can occur due to many factors. We'll explore some of these causes further below:


Arthritis can affect dogs, just like it can with people. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that can impact a dog's hind legs, in particular. This occurs when their joints lack sufficient lubrication, leading to moving becoming painful. If your four-legged companion experiences any of these symptoms, we recommend taking them to the vet for an examination:

  • Bunny hopping while moving 
  • Development of large front-leg muscles and weakening of rear-leg muscles 
  • Difficulty walking or climbing stairs


Ataxia is incoordination with the nervous system. Abnormal movement can occur in the head, legs, torso, or all three. This condition can take several different forms, depending on where in the nervous system the abnormality happens. You may notice your dog's back legs slipping out from underneath him. 

Regardless of the cause, common other signs of ataxia include: 

  • Anormal gait causing your dog to be unsteady on his feet 
  • Toes dragging on the ground when your dog walks 
  • Standing with the feet wide apart in an attempt to stay upright
  • Exaggerated "goose-stepping" gait, called hypermetria

Hip Dysplasia 

If you notice that your dog's hip joints seem looser than usual, this could point to hip dysplasia, a condition that can cause problems with balance, and, in more severe cases, osteoarthritis. It is more commonly diagnosed in larger breed dogs, including: 

  • German Shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Labrador Retrievers 
  • St. Bernards

Though hip dysplasia is primarily caused by genetics, other factors such as a dog's weight, size, and overusing their hind legs may also contribute to this condition. 

Canine Degenerative Myelopathy 

When the protective covering of a dog's nerves degenerates, this can lead to improper functioning of nerves, also known as degenerative myelopathy. Watch for these symptoms: 

  • Hind legs coming together while your dog is standing 
  • Feet positioned at unusual angles 
  • Quivering hind legs 

Several breeds of dogs are susceptible to developing spinal conditions, but certain breeds are more vulnerable. These include:

  • Boxers
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgis
  • German Shepherds
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks 


Did you know diabetes can cause weakness in your pet's hind leg joints? If your dog's body does not produce enough insulin, this can lead to abnormal blood sugar levels, which can trigger weakness in your pup's limbs. 

Check for signs such as increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, and incontinence. If you see these symptoms in your dog, it's best to consult your vet for advice and have blood testing done in our diagnostic lab to confirm the diagnosis. 

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism 

This condition occurs when a small piece of cartilage blocks a dog's bloodstream, leading to spinal swelling. A fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) can lead to temporary restriction of movement and pain in your dog's hind legs. FCEs are especially common in larger dog breeds, such as Irish Wolfhounds and German Shepherds. 

Limited Mobility

If your pet needs surgical intervention such as tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), it can help restore their leg movement. However, as advised by the surgeon, your pet may need to limit their physical activities during post-surgery recovery. While this restriction may cause temporary disability, it is necessary for a full and successful recovery.

What are the main signs and symptoms dog's back legs not working?

Identifying the underlying problem without medical assistance can be challenging due to the similarity of symptoms among the conditions listed below. Therefore, it is crucial to seek advice from a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you notice any of the following behaviors in your dog, taking action promptly is important:

  • Hind leg tremors
  • Swaying of the hind end
  • Trouble transitioning from lying or sitting to a standing position
  • Difficulty walking or complete inability to walk
  • Inability to climb stairs
  • Sudden reluctance to go for walks or play
  • Stumbling and lack of coordination
  • Muscle mass loss
  • Decreased walking speed in general
  • Collapsing

Tips on How to Strengthen an Old Dog's Hind Legs 

Once you have pinpointed the reason for your pet's distress and have received treatment suggestions, there are non-medical actions you can take to assist in their recovery and assist them in regaining their vitality.

  • Taking your furry companion for brief yet consistent walks daily is recommended. This will aid in gradually restoring their hind-leg muscles.
  • Let your dog swim in a safe place. Swimming provides a low-friction way to work their muscles and benefits their overall strength.
  • As dogs age, their metabolism slows down, and excess weight can strain weakening legs. To prevent this, ensure your pet enjoys a healthy diet with lean, protein-rich foods. 
  • One way to support your pet's joint health and mobility is by giving them supplements that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements can help reduce inflammation and provide extra nutritional support for aging joints.
  • Inflammation-reducing treatments such as acupuncture and regenerative therapy can greatly address limited mobility and reduce pain.

Alternative Ways to Alleviate Discomfort

If your dog can no longer benefit from strengthening exercises or their back legs are not working at all, it might be time to explore other options that can improve their comfort and overall well-being.

You can consider using mobility aids like a wheelchair, rear lifting harness, or hip brace. These aids will give your dog a certain level of freedom, enabling them to enjoy an active lifestyle during the longer, warmer summer months. 

As pets get older, they need regular preventive veterinary care and early detection of any health issues to ensure a good quality of life. 

Our veterinarians in Astoria  specialize in helping older pets maintain optimal health. They identify and treat emerging health problems at an early stage and provide proactive treatment while it's still manageable and convenient.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Are you concerned that your dog may be experiencing weakness in their hind legs? Contact our Astoria vets immediately to book an appointment.

New Patients Welcome

At Steinway Court Veterinarian, we are always accepting new patients. Our vets are dedicated to keeping pets healthy and happy in our Astoria clinic. Contact us today to book your first appointment.

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