Ask a Vet: Why Are My Dog’s Legs Giving Out?


Dear Dr Barchas,

I have an 8 month old Labrador/Dalmatian cross and two weeks ago he fell off a wall. we noticed that as he was running after this his back legs would go from under him. He always had a funny way of running however his legs had never failed him before this.


When he tries to jump up or get in the car he struggles to get his back legs up. However last Friday we decided to take him to the vets and he informed us after x rays that he had no signs of a fall, he felt it was more likely that he has a brain or spinal disorder. He also said that he felt it was more likely to be the brain and that it is progressive and has no cure.

As you can imagine we are devastated and would just like your opinion also.

Louise, Limerick County, Ireland

I am sorry to hear this harrowing tale. Without examining your dog I cannot offer a definitive opinion on this matter. But I have some thoughts.

Any sort of trauma or stress can unmask an underlying neurological condition. And neurological conditions absolutely can cause the symptoms you describe. But so can many other problems. From the information you’ve provided, I’m not convinced of a neurological problem, and I’m especially not convinced of a brain disorder.

Brain disorders certainly can cause the sorts of symptoms you describe. But brain disorders often (but not always) also cause other issues, such as disorientation, walking in circles, getting stuck in corners, excessive vocalization, or possibly seizures. If any of these symptoms is present, then your dog almost certainly does have a brain disorder. But if you aren’t seeing these problems, then a conclusive diagnosis of a brain disorder cannot be made.

Spinal cord disorders such as spinal trauma or a problem called wobbler syndrome can cause hind limb weakness. Spinal cord disorders often also cause specific deficits (called deficits of conscious proprioception) on veterinary neurological evaluations. Did your vet perform a full neurological evaluation on your dog?

Many non-neurological problems also can cause the rear legs to give out. Examples include panosteitis (growing pains) and non-radiographically evident hip dysplasia.

I recommend that you continue to work to find out exactly what is causing your dog’s problems. That is the only way to know whether the problem can be treated. The next step, since a neurological issue is suspected, is to visit a specialist in veterinary neurology. You may be able to find a vet certified by the European College of Veterinary Neurology in Cork or Dublin.

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