Gretel and I have a couple of big plans this summer. We are planning to hike a 72-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail near the end of August. To help us get shape for it, we started training for a dog friendly 5k near Seattle. However, a couple of weeks ago our plan came to a halt.
One of the days that we were out running, I noticed that Gretel was skipping a step on her right back leg. It didn’t seem to bother her, and she finished the run fine, but I was concerned. I gave her a week off but she was still doing it when we tried again. I thought maybe she needed more rest but then I saw her do it once or twice while we were out for a walk.
It’s really hard to take a good video of your dog running when you are also running but I gave it a try. I wanted to have something to show my vet if I decided to take her in so I uploaded it to YouTube and slowed it down. If you look close, you’ll only see her right leg one or one-and-a-half times for every two times you see her left leg.
When your dog hops or skips a leg when walking or running, what does it mean?
Well, I’m not a vet. However, I just dealt with this issue and this is what I learned about it.
The first thing to do is ask yourself questions such as:
- Is this skipping or hopping new? If your dog has been doing it for years, it might not be an issue. However, if there is a sudden change in your dog’s gait, it could signal an injury.
- Other than the skipping, are there any other signs that your dog might be in pain? There might be something really wrong if your dog is moping around the house, their eating habits have changed, they are hesitating to walk or run, or they otherwise look uncomfortable. If there aren’t accompanying signs, it may something minor that will go away.
- Can you pinpoint anything that might have caused it? The first thing to do is check your dog’s foot or leg for visible injury, thorns, rocks, toenails that are too long and are pressing into the foot pads, etc. Then think back – did your dog twist a leg, jump off anything high, etc.?
- Has there been a previous injury that might be related? For example, do you know your dog is developing arthritis? Do they have a bad knee?
In our case, Gretel’s skipping came on suddenly. I hadn’t ever seen her do it before and it was an obvious skip. There were no other signs that she was uncomfortable though – she was acting like her normal self in all other ways. There was nothing wrong with her foot or leg when I checked it. However, we had recently stayed in a dog friendly hotel with a high bed. Gretel had jumped from the bed before we could catch her once. She didn’t yelp, limp, or otherwise act like anything was wrong after she jumped but I suspected she might have strained a muscle or tendon.
In the end, I normally wouldn’t have been concerned. However, we had plans. Going ahead with those plans meant we were not going to be taking a break and, because of that, could make an underlying issue worse.
What should you do?
I certainly can’t, and won’t, tell you what you should do. These are your primary options though:
- Do nothing – Yes, that is a legitimate option. If you’ve only seen your dog skip a leg a few times, and there are no other signs that something may be wrong, you can keep and eye on it and decide what to do if it keeps happening or gets worse.
- Rest them for a week or so and see what happens – It might just be a sore muscle or a minor abrasion on the bottom of their foot you can’t see. It could be possible that, after a week of limited activity, the issue will resolve itself.
- Visit a veterinarian – If you suspect there might be something up, I would definitely go with this option. Sometimes the vet can tell what is going on from an exam. Sometimes x-rays are needed to get a look inside to see what is going on.
I decided to take Gretel to the vet. I can’t release a lot of details at this point, but our hike will be set up to be a fundraiser. This will take months to plan and build. I couldn’t risk going forward like nothing was wrong and having Gretel sidelined half, or most, of the way into the process. I decided that being proactive was better.
We visited our regular vet. She didn’t see anything wonky but said I should take her to a specialist, who may take x-rays, to be sure. We made an appointment with a specialist and I fasted Gretel for 12 hours in anticipation of the doctor sedating her for x-rays.
What could be causing it?
This is not an exhaustive list but these are the most likely causes:
- Hip Dysplasia – Hip dysplasia in dogs is a disease of the hip in which the ball and socket joint is malformed. This malformation means that the ball portion and its socket don’t properly meet one another, resulting in a joint that rubs and grinds instead of sliding smoothly. Hip dysplasia is one of the most common skeletal diseases seen in dogs and certain breeds are more prone to it than others – specifically the larger breeds such as bulldogs, mastiffs, retrievers, and Rottweilers. However, dogs of all breeds and all sizes are susceptible to this inherited condition. Besides “bunny-hopping,” or a swaying gait, symptoms include difficulty rising and narrow stance in the hind limbs.
- Luxating Patella – A luxating patella is one of the most common problems to affect dachshunds. This condition is basically an unstable kneecap that slips out-of-place, causing a twinge of pain as the knee cap slides across the bony ridges of the femur. It’s caused when the cartilage holding a dog’s kneecap in position becomes damaged. It’s one of the most common problems to affect Dachshunds. Other breeds prone to this condition are toy and miniature dog breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Pekingese, Chihuahua, and Boston Terrier. Typically, a dog with a dislocated kneecap will exhibit prolonged abnormal hindlimb movement, walk with one back leg in the air or run with it’s back legs together.
- Torn or ruptured ACL – ACL is short for anterior cruciate ligament. Sometimes it’s also referred to as CCL, which stands for cranial cruciate ligament. If the ACL ruptures, the tibia/shinbone can slide forward and away from its normal orientation with the femur/thighbone. That causes pain, joint instability, and it can lead to arthritis in the long-term. If your dog has injured his ACL, he will be hesitant to bear weight on the affected leg or he may not put that foot down at all. Any dog can be affected by ACL injuries. Check out Dawg Business for more ACL info and an explanation and treatment options.
- Back Pain. If your dog is a Pug, Puggle, Chihuahua, Beagle, Basset Hound, Pekignese, Shih Tzus, Jack Russel Terrier, Mini Poodle, Mini Pincher, Bichon, Cocker Spaniel, and ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE A DACHSHUND, there is a good chance that back pain could be caused by a genetic disease called Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Back pain could also be caused by an accute injury brought on by a specific event like falling down stairs.
We saw a very nice specialist at the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle. He talked with me about Gretel’s skipping and gave her a thorough exam. I was expecting to spend hours, and hundreds of dollars, there getting x-rays. After taking a look at her, he said he didn’t think x-rays were necessary. He tried to make Gretel’s kneecap slide out-of-place but found they moved very little. He felt her hips and stretched her legs. He didn’t find any indication that her skipping might be caused by hip dysplasia, luxating patella, or an ACL issue.
He explained to me that sometimes dogs, especially small ones, develop a skip in their gait and it can’t be explained. Many dogs have gone on that way with no issues surfacing or it affecting their quality of life. He said I should just “let her be a dog”. I explained about our lofty plans to run a 5k and hike 72 miles and he didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t.
So we’re picking ourselves up and getting back on track. I plan to keep a keen eye on her to make sure the situation doesn’t change. I am also going to up her supplements to help protect her joints and reduce inflammation.
Does your dog skip a leg or hop when they walk?
UPDATE: GRETEL WENT A MONTH WITH NO PROBLEMS BUT THEN SUDDENLY STARTED SHOWING SIGNS OF IVDD. WE VISITED THE EMERGENCY VET WHERE SHE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE II IVDD. PLEASE READ ABOUT THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS THAT LEAD US TO THE ER HERE. IT’S CRUCIAL TO IDENTIFY IVDD EARLY. A DOG HAS A GOOD CHANCE OF FULL RECOVERY IF IT IS.