When it comes to rear leg pain in dogs, it’s important to note that the leg is made up of separate parts including the hock and knee which can have their own debilitating conditions. Dogs with a rear leg disorder may have more trouble walking and standing compared to those with just a hock or knee disorder as the entire leg is affected.
An Achilles’ tendon injury is typically caused by blunt force trauma that can include lacerations or severe stretching or pulling. These are categorized as traumatic injuries while atraumatic injuries include chronic or degenerative conditions that can be caused by repetitive movements (which is largely seen in Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers). Also known as the calcaneal tendon, the Achilles’ tendon is a set of tendons from different muscles in the hind limb so when injury occurs, many dogs will be lame on that limb with a variable amount of swelling around the injury. When a complete rupture occurs, the dog may walk “flat-footed” with the toes curled downward as all pressure has been put on the superficial digital flexor instead of the full component. A physical exam is used in diagnosing and localizing the injury as well as an ultrasound or X-ray scan.
A Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear is an extremely painful yet very common injury among dogs. One of the most important stabilizers within the canine knee (stifle) joint, the middle joint of the back leg, is the cranial cruciate ligament. The CrCL is also known as the anterior cruciate ligament in humans (ACL). The meniscus is a cartilage-like organ that lies between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). It performs a variety of functions in the joint, including shock resistance, location sensing, and load-bearing, and it may be affected if the CrCL ruptures. CrCLD is most often caused by a variety of causes, including ligament degeneration, obesity, poor physical health, genetics, conformation (skeletal structure and configuration), and breed. Ligament damage in CrCLD happens as a result of progressive degeneration over months or even years, rather than as a result of severe, sudden damage to an otherwise stable ligament which is very rare.
Cervical Spondylomyelopathy is often referred to as “wobblers syndrome” and is a condition in which there is chronic instability of the vertebrae at the base of the neck and poor transmission of nerve signals between the body and the brain. It’s a condition of the spine that takes place in the neck. Affected dogs may have a variety of morphological issues with their neck bones. The intervertebral discs, which deteriorate and protrude against the spinal cord, are most commonly affected by these bone deformities. Instability of the spine in the neck area, as well as reactive alterations in the facet joints, are common complications. These modifications may cause the spinal cord to be compressed even more. Furthermore, differing neck positions may have an impact on spinal cord compression. As a result, recurrent damage to the spinal cord may occur when afflicted dogs move their necks and affected dogs may experience muscular spasms in the neck. Giant breeds such as Danes are more predisposed. The clinical signs vary based on the severity of the disease but the most common is a ‘wobbly’, uncoordinated gait with a tendency to stumble and scuff their feet, along with neck pain and could possibly progress to complete paralysis of all four limbs. If a vet suspects a dog of having Caudal Cervical Spondylomyelopathy, they will conduct an MRI
Degenerative lumbosacral stenosis (DLSS) is a common neurological disorder in dogs in which the nerves at the base of the spinal cord are compressed by tissue or a bulging disc. It resembles a slipped disc or sciatica in humans. It’s also a common cause of cauda equina syndrome but early treatment may alleviate significant morbidity. While the actual underlying cause of the degeneration and building of the discs is unclear, it may be associated with bone instability of the spine in some dogs. Larger breeds are more predisposed to DLSS than smaller breeds with German Shepherd Dogs and Border Collies being the most common breeds. Clinical signs are primarily back pain in affected dogs along with reluctance to jump or climb and difficulty standing, groaning/yelping and possibly hind limb lameness, although that is not as common. A veterinary professional would use x-rays of the spinal cord to rule out other causes but actual signs of DLSS would not show up on x-ray. MRI is usually the best method for diagnosing many spinal issues.
A tiny fragment of cartilage enters the circulatory system of the spinal cord and restricts blood flow to the spine, causing a fibrocartilaginous embolization (FCE). Incoordination and weakness/paralysis symptoms appear quickly and may worsen over the next six to twelve hours. The indications are stable to improving after the first 12 hours. It’s usually associated with middle-aged large and giant dogs and is often caused by mild trauma or vigorous exercise. It often affects the middle part of the spinal cord, affecting only the hind limbs, but it can occur in the neck affecting all four limbs. Signs of FCE in dogs include acute pain for a short period of time, nervous system deficits in one side of the body (but can occasionally affect both sides). To diagnose FCE, a vet will look at the clinical signs, consider the dog’s medical history, as well as a neurologic exam, and spinal cord imaging.
Hemivertebra is a condition where one or more vertebrae are deformed. This is a congenital condition with many dogs being born with fused or wedge-shaped vertebrae that lead to twisting of the spine. Depending on the location, hemivertebra may or may not cause issues. Some breeds such as the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pug, and Boston Terrier are susceptible to the condition whereas German Shorthair Pointers and German Shepherds can experience this condition as a result of inheriting an autosomal recessive trait. Symptoms of this condition include pain, weakness in the hind limbs, and urinary/fecal incontinence. Symptoms will usually worsen as the dog grows and plateau around nine months of age once the spine stops growing. If the tail is affected, there will be no clinical signs. If hemivertebra takes place along the spine, symptoms will occur due to the compression or twisting of the spinal cord. This also affects the severity of discomfort as some dogs will experience nearly zero issues while some may be significantly impacted. If hemivertebra is suspected, CT scans and MRIs will be conducted along with a myelogram to spot compression of the spine.
Hock dislocation or instability can be caused by the tearing of ligaments that hold the hock’s bones in place, a fracture at the bottom of the tibia bone, or fracture of the fibula. The hock joint is similar to the ankle joint in humans with bones and ligaments having specific roles for mobility and function. Hock instability or dislocation is usually a result of physical trauma. Clinical signs of hock injury are pain, swelling, heat at the site, as well as a sudden onset of lameness. Diagnosing a hock injury includes a physical examination where the vet tests the flexion and extension of the hock joint and twisting it from side to side to test the stability of surrounding ligaments. Radiographs can also be taken to evaluate a bone fracture.
Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is an auto-inflammatory disease that affects the bones in dogs between 3-5 months of age. HOD typically affects fast-growing puppies that belong to large or giant breeds. These breeds can include the Weimaraner, Great Dane, Mastiff, Boxer, Bull Mastiff, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, and the Saint Bernard breed. HOD decreases blood flow to the part of the bone that’s directly adjacent to the joint. This disrupts proper bone growth and leads to weaker bones in puppies. HOD can also permanently damage growth plates and affect more than one leg. Clinical signs vary depending on how severe with some puppies only experiencing a slight limp with pain. Puppies experiencing a more severe form of HOD can have a fever, discharge from the eyes or nose, increased respiratory sounds, bloody diarrhea, bumps on the skin (may have pus), an inflamed vulva/vagina, and lameness. These symptoms present themselves as episodes lasting several weeks with possible remission. HOD can be very painful and pose a risk for quality of life so monitoring is critical. Diagnosing is made through a physical examination to spot swollen soft tissue over leg bones, radiographs, and blood tests.
Iliopsoas muscle tears commonly happen when fetching a tennis ball or through extensive stretching (participating in agility training). Anatomically, the psoas muscle attaches along the underside of the backbones, and the iliacus attaches on the inner side of the pelvis. These two muscles join and form a tendon that attaches onto the femur. It’s function is to externally rotate and flex the hip joint. When an injury occurs at or near the muscle-tendon junction, many dogs experience pain when stretching the hip as well as lameness. Most dogs get injured through roughhousing with other pets, jumping from elevated surfaces, strenuous training, and slipping into a splay-legged position. Clinical exams help diagnose an Iliopsoas strain as well as ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans.
Polyarthritis is the inflammation and swelling of joints making them painful and swollen that may cause dogs difficulty walking. Immune-mediated Polyarthritis refers to arthritis that’s a direct result of abnormal immune response by the body directed at the joints. This can come from either an auto-immune disorder or infection. Signs include overall joint pain, fever, loss of appetite, swelling of multiple joints, lameness. To diagnose this, a thorough physical examination and a variety of laboratory examinations, including blood and urine tests and urine culture, are common tests used to identify a possible origin of an internal infection.
Juxta-articular fractures are fractures that occur near a joint surface and they may be intra- or extra-articular. Salter III and IV fractures, as well as humeral and femoral supracondylar fractures, are examples of intra-articular fractures. The bulk of juxta-articular fractures occur in dogs with immature skeletons. This type of fracture can cause immediate changes in joint anatomy, impacting joint cohesion, causing discomfort, and disrupting joint motion. Because of the short length of one of the bone segments, the possible small size of the bone, the relative softness of bone, and the involvement of articular surfaces close to the fracture site or involved in the fracture, these fractures are difficult to treat. Treatment goals include restoring joint flexibility and congruity, minimizing degenerative articular modifications, and maintaining joint efficiency.
Lumbosacral stenosis (also referred to as sacral stenosis) is a disease that directly affects the structures of the spinal cord in the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine. Lumbosacral stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal which then imposes compression on the spinal nerve roots (the nerves that directly exit the spine). This compression can be caused by intervertebral disc herniation, congenital malformation, arthritis, or a spinal tumor. More commonly, this condition is caused by arthritis or an intervertebral disc herniation. Signs of lumbosacral stenosis include pain in the hind end, unable to rise or wag their tail, difficulty rising after sitting or lying down, gnawing on paws or tail, or urinary/fecal incontinence. These signs indicate inflammation of nerves and muscles to the aggravated spinal cord and the affected area. As the disease progresses, the disc located between the last lumbar vertebrae and sacrum may erupt, causing uncoordinated movement or paralysis of the rear legs. X-rays can indicate arthritic changes but diagnosing the condition consists of a myelogram (injection of contrast to highlight any pressure put on the spinal cord) or MRI and CT scans.
A luxated patella is a very painful condition for dogs in which the knee cap moves out of its normal position. Small and toy breed dogs are more susceptible to this condition and more likely to have a genetic predisposition for a luxating patella. A dog owner may see their dog suddenly skip while walking or see them run on three legs and then the dog is completely back to normal. Patellar luxation can be classified into many degrees or classes, ranging from mild luxation, in which the kneecap only luxates when stress is applied directly to it, to moderate luxation, in which the kneecap sticks out regularly, to extreme luxation, in which the kneecap has dislocated the rest of the time. One or both kneecaps can luxate in affected dogs, often to varying degrees. Some dogs can live their entire life with this condition and not be affected long term while it can cause permanent, painful issues later on for other dogs because the inner side of the groove in the femur may wear down. Dogs with luxating patellas are also predisposed to other injuries such as torn cruciate ligaments and possibly arthritis on the supporting limbs. There are four grades of a luxated patella to take into account:
Lyme disease is not directly a joint-related disease but causes pain. Lyme disease is the most common disease transmitted from ticks although it only shows symptoms in 5-10% of infected dogs. The most notable signs of Lyme disease are recurrent lameness from inflammation of the joints, general discomfortness, and a fever. Lameness from Lyme disease usually only lasts about 3-4 days but often recurs in the same legs or other legs days or even weeks later. Only your veterinarian can diagnose Lyme disease through blood tests, urinalysis, fecal examination, complete blood cell count, x-rays, and possibly fluid drawn from the joints.
Myotonia Congenita is a rare disease that affects the muscles by causing muscle fibers to contract continuously which causes dogs to experience abnormal muscle stiffness and difficulty getting up. The disease is painful and is a result of chloride channel malformations in dogs. Clinical signs to look out for include muscle stiffness, an enlarged tongue which makes it difficult to swallow, craniofacial structure anomalies, furrowing on several muscles when they are struck, muscle stiffness, and a gait that resembles a bunny hop. Symptoms usually present themselves when dogs are a few weeks old. Diagnosis is done through genetic testing, clinical signs, EMG, and muscle biopsies.
Osteoarthritis, also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), affects both dogs and humans alike and is the most common form of arthritis affecting nearly a quarter of a million dogs worldwide at any given time. It is a progressive, chronic joint condition marked by the weakening of joint cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule, and the forming of new bone around the joint (osteophytosis), both of which contribute to pain and limb dysfunction. The majority of OA in dogs is caused by developmental orthopedic diseases including cranial cruciate ligament disease, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, OCD, and patella (knee cap) dislocation. In a small percentage of dogs, OA develops for no apparent reason and is linked to genetics and age. Bodyweight, obesity, exercise, and diet are all factors that contribute to osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, the damage caused by OA is irreversible but treatment plans help reduce pain and improve quality of life.
Osteochondrosis is a disorder that affects the development of cartilage and bones in both medium and large-sized dogs that grow quickly. The premature joint cartilage fractures and splits from the underlying bone in this state in which cysts will develop under the cartilage if fluid occupies the room. Cartilage fragments may come loose from the end of a bone and float about in the joint cavity which causes inflammation in the infected joint and may progress to arthritis and cartilage breakdown, restricting joint motion. Signs that a dog may be suffering osteochondrosis include lameness, fluid buildup within the joint, and joint stiffness. To determine the extent of the damage, a veterinarian might take an x-ray but endoscope surgery can also be done to further identify the damage. Another option is a CT scan.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta is also known as brittle bone disease. Osteogenesis Imperfecta is essentially the inability of the body to produce the collagen protein which provides elasticity to the bones. Because of this, affected dogs’ bones lack the ability to withstand impact and pressure causing them to easily break and fracture. Signs of Osteogenesis Imperfecta have reduced bone density, severe joint pain as well as bone and teeth fractures as affected dogs don’t have the Type 1 collagen needed. Other symptoms include difficulty walking, loose joints, stunted growth, weak tendons and muscles, and malformation of bones. They also present joint pain. There’s, unfortunately, no treatment for this condition but vets may prescribe pain medication to help. The occurrence of multiple bone breaks as well as x-rays can give a definitive diagnosis of osteogenesis imperfecta. Blood tests may also be run to see if the levels of vitamin D, phosphorus, calcium, and parathormone are abnormal.
Osteosarcoma is a bone tumor that is malignant and resembles human pediatric osteosarcoma. Limbs are the most often affected but it can still affect other bones like the jaw, hips, pelvis, ribcage, and skull. It's even possible for it to arise in non-bony tissue like mammary glands and muscles. It’s more often found in large and giant breed dogs such as Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Irish wolfhounds. This disease can be quite painful in the joints and lameness is often presented in affected dogs. Pain medication may be given to help with joints and lameness but may only work for about one to two weeks. Swelling of the bone at the tumor site can be observed at this point and is sometimes sore, swollen, and hot to the touch. Amputation is often the recommended treatment to prevent cancer from spreading but seeing an oncologist is recommended since it can still spread.
The peripheral nerves are located outside the brain and spinal cord and peripheral nerve sheath tumors are comprised of Schwann cells that are found in the cover (myelin) that surrounds and insulates the nerve. The tumors grow on the nerve but don’t spread to other parts of the body. The tumors are firm nodules that attach to the peripheral and central nerve tissue. Signs a dog may have a peripheral nerve sheath tumor include atrophy (muscle weakness), ataxia (lack of muscle control), trouble walking, limb weakness, swelling, overall pain or Horner’s Syndrome. But overall, the actual signs are dependent on the nerve affected. As the tumor grows, the affected area becomes progressively worse as the dog might start with weakness in a leg but may eventually be unable to use that leg. These tumors can even affect the face and head (as to why Horner’s Syndrome is a symptom). If it affects the head and face, they may have trouble chewing due to the facial muscles being affected or trouble blinking. If a vet suspects this, x-rays and lab tests are conducted but even if the tests are normal, it still may be suspected if the symptoms continue to worsen despite medication intervention. They often do a neurological examination as well to determine weakness. A final diagnosis will be made through biopsy of the tumor.
Prostatomegaly, which is an enlarged prostate, is a disorder reserved for male dogs and is more common in dogs that are not neutered and more so over the age of 8. The prostate gland sits between the bladder and rectum and produces prostatic fluid which is regulated by the dog’s testosterone. A dog who has an enlarged prostate will spend more time than usual urinating and only produce a thin stream of urine, which occasionally may have blood in it. Other signs a dog may have an enlarged prostate include pain while walking, pain while urinating or defecating, ribbon-like stools, constipation, and just general signs of pain. It’s often benign but can easily increase in severity and become life-threatening without veterinary intervention. To determine whether your dog has an enlarged prostate, a vet will palpate the prostate through the abdominal wall or via rectal exam in an attempt to physically feel if it’s enlarged. An x-ray or ultrasound may also be necessary. There are also many other tests to determine the cause of the prostate enlargement as there are numerous diseases that can cause it. There are three main causes of an enlarged prostate:
Treatment is dependent on the underlying disorder or disease causing the enlarged prostate.
Rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is very similar to that in humans and the diagnosis criteria is very similar, just adapted for dogs. It’s an immune-related arthritis targeting the cartilage in the joints. Multiple joints are often affected at once and dog pain presents lameness from the pain. Symptoms may include recurrent UTIs, lameness, joint swelling, fever limb atrophy, joint pain, tonsillitis, and inability to walk. The causes of Rheumatoid arthritis aren’t exact but since it’s immune-related, some possible causes could be a genetic predisposition, digestive disease, or cancer. Because Rheumatoid arthritis is not common for dogs and the symptoms can vary greatly, it can be difficult to diagnose. The most common symptoms, such as lameness, is a common symptom in many other disorders and they can come and go. Radiographs are usually the most effective way to determine a diagnosis to see the swelling and trouble in the joints. The vet may also opt to do a biopsy of the tissue to test for inflammation.
Septic arthritis is a painful disorder caused by the introduction of bacteria or another infectious agent into one or more joints, resulting in debilitating inflammation. Male, large, and giant breed dogs are the most frequently affected, and although septic arthritis may affect dogs of any age, it is most commonly seen in dogs aged 3 to 11 years. Pressure, swelling, and discomfort in one or more joints are all symptoms of septic arthritis. Reduced range of motion in the affected joint(s), as well as fever, lethargy, and a loss of appetite often accompany those prior symptoms. To diagnose, a vet will look at the dog’s complete medical history as well as any injuries that could have caused wounds leading to septic arthritis. They will do a blood test, a physical examination, urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile. Imaging is also used to diagnose septic arthritis in dogs and the vet will test for bacterial infection by taking fluid from a joint which is the most important test during this process
Depending on the type of snake, snakebites in dogs carry different treatments and care. If the dog is bitten by a non-venomous snake, swelling and bruising around the bite will usually occur. Swelling typically resolves within 48 hours and should be treated to decrease discomfort and possible infection. If bitten by a venomous snake, the dog will experience severe swelling that will quickly spread along with bleeding or bloody discharge at the site. Common venomous snakes include the coral snake that contains neurotoxic components that result in neuromuscular damage, the pit viper snake whose venom causes low blood pressure and a disturbance of pH in the blood, as well as cottonmouths and rattlesnakes whose bite affects organ damage. Snakebites are very painful so it’s advised that owners muzzle their pets in case they bite out of discomfort. If a bite is detected, carry the dog and have the bite site at or below the heart to reduce blood flow. Diagnosing varies on the snake.
Spinal tumors are often uncommon in dogs but when they occur, can be debilitating depending on the location of the tumor. They are often slow-growing and 90% of spinal tumors occur in large dogs. They can progress over a span of weeks or months. Spinal tumors may either affect the bones of the vertebral column or come about from the neural tissue in the spine. If a dog is suspected to have a spinal tumor, veterinary intervention is critical to avoid irreversible progression. It can be difficult to suspect if your dog has a spinal tumor as some dogs don’t even display any symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms of a spinal tumor in dogs in general pain, changes in their activity level and how they act during activity, lethargy, reluctance to eat or drink, difficulty standing or laying down, weak limbs, neurological changes such as depression, trouble urinating/defecating or even sudden paralysis. If a vet thinks that your dog may have a spinal tumor, diagnosis often includes x-rays of the chest, a biopsy of the tumor, urinalysis, ultrasound, bloodwork, and/or CT Scan and/or MRI.
Synovial Sarcoma, also known as Joint Cancer, causes painful swelling of the affected limb eventually making it difficult to walk. Joint cancer is a connective tissue and joint condition that is seldom observed. It is often hard to diagnose since cancer symptoms can vary but you can often feel a bump where the tumor is located. Since this type of cancer is aggressive and spreads rapidly, timely care is critical for your dog's health. Joint cancer is another type of cancer found in large and giant breeds but the reason for this is unknown. Signs to look for include lameness, limping, swelling, joint pain, fever, ulcerated sore of the affected area, loss of appetite/losing weight, and possibly difficult breathing if the cancer spreads to the lungs. Amputation is often the recommended treatment to prevent the cancer from spreading but seeing an oncologist is recommended since it can still spread.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an immune-mediated disease in which a dog’s immune system begins to attack its own tissue. Essentially, the dog’s body produces antibodies to antigens that are found in its body systems and tissues. Some breeds have a greater predisposition to SLE such as medium to large dogs that are over five years of age. This includes the Shetland sheepdog, Old English sheepdog, Beagle, German shepherd, Irish setter, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, Poodle, Collie, and Afghan hound. Signs of SLE can peak and slow over a period of time, with signs increasing as the disease progresses. These include lameness that moves from limb to limb, lethargy, fever, enlarged spleen, enlarged lymph nodes, ulcers at mucocutaneous joints (lips), muscle pain (or atrophy), skin abnormalities (such as thinning or loss of hair, ulcers, redness). Factors such as genetic, physiologic, and environmental elements can increase SLE development.
The talus bone is one of the many bones that are held in place by strong ligaments in dogs’ paws and when one of these ligaments tear, it can result in a dislocation of the talus bone. Unfortunately, one of the most common causes of this dislocation is from a human stepping on the paw along with being hit by a car, getting the paw caught in a chain-linked fence or even getting the paw caught in a hole in the ground when running. Depending on the severity, the skin over the wound may become an open wound which could result in infection.