Muscle and Limb Diseases in Dogs

muscle and limbs diseases in dogs

Healthy bones, joints and muscles keep our pets free of pain when they’re on the move. The first signs of illnesses are mainly linked to limited mobility: dogs avoid uncomfortable movements, such as climbing the stairs with spinal illnesses, or limp in order to protect the affected area. In the following article, we will offer a brief overview of possible diseases affecting the musculoskeletal system.

Prevention is better than treatment

As with humans too, diet and exercise are the two keystones of a healthy musculoskeletal system. The foundations are laid during the puppy phase: large dogs in particular can be affected as excessive energy intake can lead to them growing proportionally too fast, which interferes with skeletal formation. A balanced intake of calcium and phosphorous through the food also plays a great role here. As a preventive measure, it is therefore recommended to opt for a dog food specially for large breeds that addresses this issue. At all ages, you should prevent your canine companion from gaining excess weight by offering a balanced diet. Likewise, you should ensure that the muscles and joints aren’t overburdened by movements that are incorrect or too intensive. Jumping for heavy dogs or climbing stairs for large-breed dogs or those that have not yet reached adult age should be taboo.

Hip and elbow dysplasia

Hip dysplasia, abbreviated to “HD”, is one of the most common diseases affecting the musculoskeletal system. It results from a malformation of the hip, which worsens depending on the form (it is differentiated by the degrees of severity 1-5 or A-D) and can lead to painful movement disorders. When it comes to high-grade HD, most dogs show an unusual gait as early as the puppy phase and partly also have difficulties climbing stairs or getting up. HD often leads to wear of the joint cartilage that results in arthrosis (see below). Although hip dysplasia cannot be cured, weight loss for obese dogs can slow down the disease considerably. Food supplements that help to keep cartilage healthy are also available in specialist stores. Surgery may be necessary in severe cases.

The elbow joints are affected in the same way with elbow dysplasia, which can lead to lameness or swelling of the joints.

Luxating patella

In particular young or small-breed dogs can occasionally or frequently suffer from their kneecap slipping out, which causes pain in the affected leg. The dog consequently assumes a cautious gait. An unexpected movement or stretch can slip the kneecap back into place, which will free the dog of pain. In severe cases, the knee joint could require surgery.


Arthrosis refers to deterioration of the joint often caused by age, which can be accelerated by a deformity, excess weight or the wrong kind of stress. For many older dogs, arthrosis leads to pain, lameness and problems lying down or standing up – especially after lying down for a long period. Cold damp weather can make the problem worse. Vets can prescribe medication to alleviate the pain or reduce inflammation. In addition, certain exercises as part of physiotherapy or food supplements like green-lipped mussels can help to stop or alleviate the pain.

Cruciate ligament rupture

The cruciate ligament is a tendon on your dog’s knee that can rupture mainly with highly activity canines. Assuming a posture that tries to avoid pain in the rear leg after a long period of activity or limping could indicate a cruciate ligament rupture. Seek out a vet as soon as possible, since an untreated cruciate ligament rupture can lead to subsequent ailments such as a chronic limp or deterioration of the joint. The vet can diagnose a ruptured cruciate ligament through an X-ray examination or simply by touching it. Treatment ultimately depends on several factors, such as your dog’s age and agility. Surgery is often advisable and can alleviate your canine companion’s pain.

Other injuries

If acute symptoms such as lameness or changes to the gait as well as significant pain emerge or you spot swollen joints or even limb displacements, you should definitely seek out a vet as soon as possible in order to get your dog “back on its feet” again. Even unnoticed accidents can lead to over-stretching or small muscle or joint tears. A first aid measure to treat such strains and compressions is to cool down the affected areas.

What type of muscle issue?

If you notice that your beloved pet is reluctant to carry out further physical activity after significant exertions, feel free to give it some space to recover, because it is possibly suffering from sore muscles. Along with such harmless muscle problems, there are also more serious issues that can affect your dog’s quality of life. These include, for instance, myasthenia gravis, an auto-immune disease that manifests itself with weak muscles unrelated to physical exertion and can lead to lameness in the rear legs. Many affected dogs can be given good assistance with corresponding medical treatment.

Muscular atrophy

Muscles need regular training, otherwise they become smaller and smaller, resulting in muscle atrophy. However, a joint disease or degenerative myelopathy can lead to dogs adopting a posture to alleviate pain, which limits mobility and causes partial muscular atrophy. A lack of protein, illnesses linked to a lack of nutrients or tumours could also lead to muscular atrophy. Along with tackling the specific cause, special training, physiotherapy and massages can help to rebuild the affected muscles.

Muscle inflammation

Muscle inflammation caused by bruising, contusions or over-stretching are indicated by warm, thickened muscles that cause their owner pain. This mainly leads to visibly restricted mobility, including a stiff gait. If you don’t do anything, this could become chronic, so a vet should be consulted at an early stage.

Muscle rheumatism

Muscle rheumatism can emerge mainly in winter and after colds, resulting in painful inflammation that forces the dog to adopt a protective posture and intensifies when the affected muscles are touched. A lack of appetite and at times fever can also flare up.

Muscle cramps

When it comes to muscle cramps, the vet will focus their attention on the primary disease causing them. For instance, this could be an infection or heart disease. Smaller breeds and Scottish Terriers in particular can be affected by “Scotty cramp”. This neuromuscular movement disorder is indicated by a stiff gait caused by cramps in the legs.

Our most helpful articles
9 min

Female Dogs in Heat

Although the heat period is an entirely natural process for female dogs, irritation at stains on the new carpet, fear of an unwanted pregnancy or their pet's strange behaviour can cause many dog owners to worry. Find out here everything you need to know about your female dog's heat period and how you can both overcome this without any stress.
10 min

Leishmaniasis for Dogs

16 February 2024 | Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease transmitted by sandflies and can often prove fatal for dogs. Find out how you can protect your dog and how to recognise and treat the disease should it emerge.
8 min

Should I Get My Dog Neutered?

Neutering has traditionally been a standard veterinary practice, but is it universally recommended? What distinguishes neutering from sterilisation and what expenses should a dog owner anticipate? Here, you can discover all the essential information concerning the advantages and disadvantages of neutering your dog.