Dog Knuckling: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Injured Shih Tzu with knuckling

Dogs have different conditions that may cause them to appear or behave much differently than others of their same breed. Some conditions may be genetic whereas others may develop over time due to external factors.

You may have noticed some dogs walking on top of their paws rather than with their pads on the ground. 

This condition, which is knuckling in dogs, must be treated appropriately so that the dog can lead a happy and ordinary life.

What Is Knuckling in Dogs?

Knuckling is a condition where a dog might stand or walk awkwardly with its paw folded. These dogs are known to be “knuckled over” because they are walking on the top of their paws instead of keeping them firmly on the ground.

Knuckling looks like the dog is standing with their paws flipped the other way around. It makes dogs look awkward as they do not keep the affected paw on the ground when walking and running.

Various reasons could cause knuckling in dogs. Knuckling may also vary in severity, ranging from mild to severe. It could also affect one paw or more and even all four paws.

Why Might a Dog Knuckle?

Paw knuckling may occur due to a nervous system disorder in your dog. Receptors in the joints and muscles send signals via the nerves in the leg to the brain and the spinal cord.

This input helps determine how the dog’s foot is positioned, such as sticking out to the side or being held up. 

An interruption in this signal route makes the dog not know how its limb is positioned. It can cause conditions like knuckling, dragging a foot, and an uncoordinated gait that leads to a dog that is off-balance and wobbly.

Your dog may even have normal neurological functions but still knuckle. It could be because their tendons, ligaments, or muscles are weak and cannot bear their weight.

What Are the Causes of Dog Knuckling?

There are several causes of dog knuckling, including the following:

Spinal Stroke 

Spinal stroke or Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) could be one of the leading causes of dog knuckling.

Spinal strokes in dogs occur when a piece of ruptured disc of the vertebrae enters the bloodstream and blocks one of the small vessels that supply blood to a specific part of the spinal cord.

This condition is common in large dog breeds but could also occur in small dogs like Schnauzers and Shelties.

FCE is painful only at the initial moments, after which the dog doesn’t feel much pain. X-rays and MRI scans are used to diagnose this condition in dogs. 

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

How the discs sit between the vertebrae could also cause Intervertebral Disc Disease or IVDD.

In type I IVDD, the disc acutely ruptures in the spinal cord, whereas in type II IVDD, the disc grows over time and starts to protrude.

Both of these types of IVDD puts pressure on the spinal cord and can lead to weakened or paralyzed limbs in dogs. The situation may cause pain in the neck or back and may cause your dog to knuckle or drag its feet. 

A vet can diagnose IVDD by taking an X-ray of the affected area. IVDD can be treated via medication. However, some dogs may require surgery to treat this condition.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy is a condition that occurs in the spinal cord, which can lead to progressive paralysis in dogs.

It starts off looking like your dog is having arthritis. Initially, your dog will only appear limping on one of its hind legs.

However, it could affect the other legs and cause knuckling in your dog. It could lead to conditions like paralysis and inability to control the bladder or bowels.

This condition is common in middle-aged dogs, especially in Huskies, German Shepherds, Corgis, and Retrievers. Therapy and vitamin supplements could help slow the progression of this condition in dogs.

Wobbler Syndrome

Dogs with Wobbler Syndrome have spinal cord compression and a very narrow spinal canal and intervertebral disc. This condition may pressure the nerves as they exit the spinal cord.

Wobbler Syndrome is common in dogs like Great Danes and Dobermans.

Dogs with this condition have an unsteady gait, which can be aggravated in the rear legs. These dogs may find it challenging to get up, and the pain affected may cause them to walk with their heads lowered.

These dogs need lifestyle changes and supportive care that may help them survive and work around this condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Knuckling in Dogs?

The most prominent symptom of knuckling is a dog standing or walking on the top of its paws. Dogs with this condition may appear to be lifting their paws abnormally and walking awkwardly.

If your dog is calm and has a good temperament, it will be easy to identify knuckling. Lift one of your dog’s paws when standing in an ordinary position. After that, let go of it.

A dog with no issues will keep its paw back on the ground. If your dog doesn’t put its paw back on the ground and the paw appears to be upside down, knuckling could be the cause.

Other symptoms include your dog being weak in the limbs, reluctant to move, and crying out in pain.

Veterinarian doctor checking a dogs paw

How Do You Diagnose Dog Knuckling?

Diagnosing dog knuckling starts with your vet doing a comprehensive physical examination of your dog. The neurological exam results will tell much about your dog’s conscious proprioception, which is its limb sensation and movement.

Your vet will be able to identify if the cause is due to an injury or physical impact on the functioning of your dog’s limbs. 

After that, several tests may be required to determine the condition. It includes a complete blood count, urinalysis, and serum biochemistry profile to isolate the cause of your dog’s illness.

Based on the results of these tests, the vet will recommend further tests and procedures like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.

These examinations will help the vet identify the cause of your dog’s knuckling and recommend a suitable treatment plan.

What Are the Treatments Available for Knuckling in Dogs?

The treatment for dog knuckling is directly linked to the cause of it. The most common cause of knuckling in dogs is IVDD. 

In some cases, dogs respond well to traditional treatments like anti-inflammatory medication and cage rest. 

However, sometimes, when the case is more serious, the vet will determine how to treat your dog for knuckling based on the tests’ results.

How Can You Prevent Dog Knuckling?

There is no definite way of preventing dog knuckling. The reason for this is that there could be many different causes of knuckling in dogs.

The most common cause of knuckling is IVDD. Therefore, you should monitor high-risk breeds and limit rough play and jumping.

Ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight to prevent obesity, which makes your dog vulnerable to knuckling.

Ensure to give your dog a healthy diet and a good environment. Ensure it has regular access to secure footing. Avoid slippery surfaces that may open your dog to knuckling and other joint-related issues.

How Can You Help a Dog Who Is Knuckling?

Based on the cause of knuckling, your dog may require supportive care or sometimes even surgery. Sometimes, knuckling in dogs may never completely go away.

However, the good news is that knuckling in dogs may improve between one and three weeks of diagnosis.

Here are a few ways you can help a dog who is knuckling:

  • Reduce inflammation and pain by giving appropriate medication.
  • Help your dog get up and walk with the aid of dog prosthetics.
  • Take your dog to a rehabilitation and physical therapy center in your area.

It’s also vital to ensure that you continue with training sessions to ensure you have an obedient and well-trained dog. Using the correct training devices will help you achieve this quite easily. 

Click here to learn more about training devices that can help you make dog training more effective.

Ensure to take things slow, as much as your dog can bear. These dogs may not be able to do training at the same pace as other dogs. However, it’s essential to do some training without skipping it altogether.

Dog Prosthetics

Dog prosthetics help provide support to your dog that requires mobility aids. Bionic Pets dog prosthetics ensure the following:

  • Improved mobility and support
  • A comfortable fit
  • Improved quality of life for your dog
  • A long-term solution for dog knuckling
  • An affordable solution for dog knuckling

Custom Canine Carpal Braces help support the front legs and are ideal to use as support for knuckling in dogs.

It can also be used for injury prevention, post-operative recovery, and dog rehabilitative treatment. 

Final Thoughts

Dog knuckling can be caused for multiple reasons, the most common being IVDD. Knuckling dogs need to be treated appropriately.

The vet will perform various tests to identify the cause of knuckling in your dog and then determine an appropriate treatment method.

Dog prosthetics help support dog knuckling to continue with its daily routine without significant issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can You Get a Dog to Stop Knuckling?

Customized foot braces and appropriate support and care can help dog knuckling.

Can Dog Knuckling Be Cured?

Dog knuckling can be managed but not completely cured. Dog knuckling can sometimes be treated with supportive care, while it may require surgery at other times.

What Is the Most Common Cause for Knuckling in Dogs?

The most common cause of knuckling in dogs is Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), which affects the nerves that travel from a dog’s brain to its limbs. It can impact a dog’s ability to sense the location of paws and position them accordingly.

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