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Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 30351
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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What causes a dog's back legs to suddenly give out?

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My dog's hind legs have suddenly been giving out on her a little bit, and she stumbles. Why would that be?

She is 1 year old, female, never showed any signs like this before. She is spayed. She hurt her rear left leg one week ago--ran into a table while playing--limped for a little bit, but then seemed perfectly fine (took her home). She showed no adverse signs after that and played perfectly fine this whole past week.

She is alert, responsive. Sometimes seems disoriented a little bit when she stumbles. Still wags her tail though, drinks water, has appetite. Gums look good.

She does not appear in pain, and does not wince when we touch her hips/back legs. Other than her legs giving out on her occasionally while she is walking, she seems ok.

Stumbling and ataxia (drunken walk) are signs of nerve deficits in our geriatric dogs suffering from intervertebral disk disease, tumors and blood clots of the spinal cord, as well as muscular dystrophy-like diseases. At one year of age we don't expect such disorders but we do see congenital deformations of the vertebral column that may be pressing on her spinal cord and causing nerve conduction problems to her hind legs. Alternatively, she may be severely dysplastic - her hip joints may be poorly formed and not supporting her weight effectively. I recommend your having Stella's hips and spine X-rayed. I suspect that we'll find the answer by means of that imaging modality.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.

Could any of the conditions you listed above as possible causes occur so suddenly in such a young and healthy dog that had never shown any signs EVER of anything like this? It sounds like most of the conditions/issues you were alluding to are ones that normally take time to develop perhaps? Can the onset of something like that possibly be so acute?

Could it possibly be from a tick bite?

We were going to monitor her this night and see how she is doing in the morning. Do you think this is something that requires immediate medical assistance?

Thank you.

Yes, I would expect a congenital problem to appear gradually and worsen as my patient grew. I can't depend upon that happening, however. Dogs are remarkably stoic and may only reveal painful conditions when their high pain threshold is exceeded. There is a tick paralysis seen in Australia that begins with hind end paralysis and proceeds cranially (toward the head). It can be life-threatening. I've diagnosed tick paralysis in dogs only a handful of times in 40 years while working in California. It causes a flaccid paralysis that abates as soon as the tick is found and removed. This is not likely worthy of an ER visit. I feel that "watchful waiting" is indeed appropriate now. Please continue our conversation if you wish. You're quite welcome.
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Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Hello again. After we spoke last night--our dog Stella was sleeping--we got her up, and she walked around for a good 10 mins or so, while I was closely observing her, and, thankfully, she did not seem to stumble once at all (whereas before, she definitely would have stumbled at least a couple of times within that time frame). This morning, she woke up and seemed like her old self again, and has not shown any signs of her legs giving out at all, anymore. She's eating fine, going to the bathroom, alert, friendly, happy, etc. A couple of follow-up questions.

1) Do you still think something like X-rays would be in order? We plan to take her to our vet once we get back home (up visiting relatives), and telling her about everything that happened obviously.

2) Could it have been some sort of muscle pull or strain, or something with some tendons or ligaments? I would think a limp would be more common in that case, but I'm not a vet, lol. Could it have been some lingering effect from where she banged her leg/hip a week ago?

3) She seems fine now. Do you think it would be ok to take her to the field/dog park today and let her run around--of course, watching her closely?

Thanks so much for the help. I'm just trying to figure our what on earth happened to our young dog last night. :)
If Stella has normalized - and continues to be normal - I'd continue to "watchful wait". There's no urgency for films. In cases of strains or strains, lameness is, indeed, expected due to pain. Stumbling as you described is more of a neurological symptom due to numbness (a "lack of conscious proprioception" - knowing where one's feet or limbs are). There's no reason not to let her run and play. Perhaps she was just favoring herself after banging her leg/hip a week ago. We mustn't forget that dogs injure themselves just as we do and the result doesn't have to have a big medical name! Thanks for the nice update!