Is your puppy walking or standing on the top of their feet instead of their paws? If so, they may be knuckling. Here, our Natick vets talk about the causes of knuckling in puppies and the treatments available.
Knuckling in Puppies
Knuckling is when a dog walks on the top of its feet instead of its paws. Pups can knuckle on just one leg or all four of them, and they may not do this with every step they take. Your puppy may be knuckling under, on a front paw, or back paw. This condition can be caused for many different reasons that could be minor or severe such as neurological disorders, nerve damage, and sore paws. If you notice your puppy knuckling you should call your vet because the reason for it could be a serious condition.
When your puppy knuckles, they tuck their feet under and drag them on the ground, this can cause physical injury to any part of their foot, making it imperative to contact your vet as fast as possible if your pup is knuckling.
How To Recognize Knuckling in Puppies
You can tell if your puppy is knuckling by watching for an uneven gait or unsteadiness when they are walking to you and away from you. Then have your puppy stand. Lift one paw up at a time and put it down with the knuckle under. If your dog doesn't correct the position of their paw and leaves their knuckle tucked under, they are probably knuckling.
If your canine companion is knuckling, call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment so they can diagnose and treat the underlying cause.
The Causes of Knuckling in Puppies
While the cause of knuckling is not known, we have listed some potential causes of knuckling in puppies:
- Inappropriate nutrition
- Sore or Injured Paws
- Poor footing (slippery surfaces)
- Improper exercise
- Weakness between the flexor and extensor muscle groups
- Carpal Flexural Deformity
- Unbalanced growth
- Poor muscle tone
- Intervertebral Disc Disease
- Muscles, tendons, or ligaments can't support the pup's weight
Some breeds, like Dobermans and Shar Peis, seem to be predisposed to this issue. Because they grow rapidly, male puppies may be affected more. This condition usually shows itself when a puppy is between 6 and 16 weeks. While all breeds can be impacted, large breeds tend to be more susceptible to knuckling than smaller breeds. If a puppy has come into care suffering from malnutrition, this condition may be an issue, since receiving quality nutrition can lead to rapid growth, which could cause knuckling.
Therefore, we don't recommend overfeeding rescue pups because overfeeding could make them gain too much weight. Knuckling is sometimes unavoidable in malnourished puppies as the processes have already started when they come into care.
Treating Knuckling in Puppies & Dogs
The treatments used for your pup's knuckling will be determined by the underlying cause. Some dogs may be treated with supportive care or diet, other causes may require surgery, and some can't be treated at all and can only be managed.
If your dog is knuckling as a result of an injury or sore paw they can be helped by cleaning, bandaging, and treating the wound. However, if your pup has an injured paw you should call your vet so they can treat the wound or inform you of which steps you should take.
Other causes of knuckling may require one or more of the following management or treatment methods:
- A Foot Brace (designed for knuckling dogs)
- Toe Grips
- Anti-inflammatory Medications
- Physical Therapy
- Avoiding walks or physical play
- Keeping your Puppy in a Warm Environment (cold weather can worsen the condition)
- Mobility Aids
- Cage Rest
- Laser Therapy
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
- Avoiding putting your puppy on slippery surfaces such as floorboards (stay on surfaces such as grass, rubber mats, and carpet)
While it may seem like a good idea to crate or pen your puppy when they are struggling to walk, it's generally recommended that puppies still move around on the surfaces recommended above. Always remember to follow your vet's advice when it comes to caring for your puppy.
There is no cure for degenerative myelopathy in dogs. However, treating symptoms as they progress can help your dog maintain a good quality of life. While recovering, puppies should rest on a soft bed and be rotated every few hours. In some cases, a puppy that's recovered from knuckling will be able to walk in 2 to 6 weeks.
If your puppy is knuckling the best thing you can do is contact your vet to have them diagnose the underlying cause and provide your furry friend with the best possible treatment plan.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.