If you’ve noticed that your dog’s back legs are shaking or trembling, it’s natural to be worried. While the shaking could be a sign that your dog is tired after an intense exercise session, it may also be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
Read on to learn potential reasons that your dog’s rear legs are shaking, common symptoms, and treatment options.
Electrolytes are ionized minerals that support many of your dog’s primary body functions, like regulating the amount of fluid in their body, helping their blood to clot, supporting strong muscles, and more.
Your dog needs a variety of electrolytes to stay healthy, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Certain illnesses, however, can lead to electrolyte imbalances, affecting the way your dog’s body functions including weakness and lameness in their legs. Kidney illnesses, hypothyroidism, and Addison’s disease are common causes of electrolyte imbalances.
The symptoms of electrolyte imbalances can differ based on the disease that’s responsible, but common symptoms include:
● Shaking legs
● Muscle weakness
● Rapid breathing
● Irregular heartbeat
● Hemolytic anemia
● Red or dark-colored urine
● Mental depression
The treatment options will differ depending on the cause of the electrolyte imbalance. If your dog has hypothyroidism, for example, they’ll likely need to be treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the remainder of their life to help manage their symptoms.
In addition to treatments for the cause, your dog is likely to need intravenous fluid to supplement the missing electrolytes until the levels return to normal, as well as monitoring of their condition.
Degenerative Joint Issues
Shaky legs can be a sign of pain, typically related to joint aches. As your dog ages, the tissues that line their joints can deteriorate, leading to Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), also known as arthritis or osteoarthritis.
When the tissues in your dog’s joints deteriorate, they have no protection to absorb the shock of your dog’s movements. This means that activities like walking or simply standing can be painful. Arthritis is more common as your dog ages, as well as in dogs who are overweight.
Common symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease include:
● Leg tremors
● Weakened leg muscles
● Signs of discomfort when touched
● Accidents in the house
● Carrying the head or tail lower than normal
● Reluctance to go upstairs or jump
● Sitting with hind legs stretched out
While many of the effects of DJD are irreversible, there are many methods to minimize your dog’s pain, make them more comfortable, and delay the progression of the disease. Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain-relief medications to help control your dog’s discomfort.
You can also make many changes to your home to make the environment more comfortable for your dog, such as adding ramps in places they would commonly jump, as well as adding non-slip materials to any slippery surfaces in your home.
In addition, there are a variety of nutritional supplements that have been shown to improve your dog’s joint health. Always talk to your vet before adding new supplements into your dog’s diet.
Injury or Accident
If your dog’s legs are suddenly shaking, it’s possible that they’ve had an injury or an accident that’s damaged the muscles in their legs.
Muscle sprains can be painful for your pup, and put added strain on their muscles, causing it to shake. Injuries to their brain and spinal cord can also result in weak hind legs that shake and tremble. Overexertion during exercise can also leave your dog feeling weak, leading to shaking back legs.
Signs that your dog may have suffered an injury to their leg or spine include:
● Pain when being picked up
● Inability to bend when eating or drinking
● Not being able to exercise or play
● Arched back
● Dragging of the rear legs
● Loss of control in their back end
The treatment options will depend on what type of injury your dog has sustained. Your vet may prescribe pain relief medicine while the injury naturally heals, or they may recommend surgery or massage therapy for more serious injuries.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) happens when an intervertebral disc in your dog’s back ruptures or is displaced. When this happens, they will swell, leading to damage to the spinal cord.
Minor spinal cord damage affects your dog’s mobility, and they’ll likely experience pain while walking, as well as hind leg weakness.
IVDD is more common in older dogs, and species like Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, and Beagles are more likely to be affected.
Symptoms of IVDD will differ from dog to dog, but common symptoms include:
● Imbalance or dragging of feet
● Complete loss of front or hind limb function
● Intense back or neck pain
● Loss of the ability to urinate
● Loss of pain perception
If your dog has mild IVDD, the vet will likely recommend crate rest for four weeks, as well as prescribe anti-inflammatory medications while your dog heals.
If your dog has more severe IVDD, they may need surgical intervention. The most common surgery is removing the bone over the spinal canal to decompress the spine.
Diabetes is a metabolism disorder that happens when your dog’s glucose-insulin connection isn’t working as it should. In most cases, your dog’s pancreas is damaged, and their body isn’t producing enough insulin.
In older, obese dogs, their pancreas may be working, but their body doesn’t utilize the insulin properly, resulting in insulin-resistant diabetes.
If your dog has diabetes and their back legs shake, this is an indication of poor diet.
Common symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:
● Excessive thirst
● Increased urination
● Weight loss
● Increased appetite
● Loss of appetite (in more advanced diabetes)
● Lack of energy
While there’s no cure for diabetes, there are ways to help manage your dog’s symptoms and help them continue to live a happy, healthy life.
Your vet will likely recommend a new diet that features fiber and complex carbohydrates, as well as a moderate, consistent exercise routine.
Many dogs with diabetes will also need daily shots of insulin, as well as monitoring of their glucose levels.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a neurological disorder that affects your dog’s spinal cord, causing hind limb weakness and progressive paralysis. In dogs with DM, the white matter around their spinal cord slowly breaks down.
DM is a hereditary disease that’s more common in larger dog breeds, like German Shepherds.
Common clinical signs of Degenerative Myelopathy include:
● Hind legs appear to sway when standing still
● Hind paws turn under
● Hind feet seem to scrape the ground when walking
● Difficulty getting up from a lying position
There is currently no effective treatment for DM, but there are treatment options for typical concurrent issues like arthritis, as well as pain management options.
Many vets will recommend a diet and exercise routine, as well as physical therapy to help preserve your dog’s muscle mass.
They may also recommend a combination of vitamins and supplements like epsilon-aminocaproic acid (EACA) and vitamins B, C, and E.
Are Your Dog’s Back Legs Shaking?
If you notice a change in your dog’s behavior, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Shaking back legs can be a symptom of a serious health issue, some of which I’ve discussed in this post.
Other potential causes of weak back legs include hip dysplasia, cancer, and other underlying medical conditions. That’s why it’s so important to contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice shaky legs or other symptoms.
The sooner your vet can diagnose your dog, the sooner you can start treatment. And, with the right care, your furry friend can continue to enjoy a happy and healthy life.