Did you know that approximately 44% of all households in the U.S. own a dog? That factors out to be around 78 million dogs living in homes across the U.S. In a survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, it was found that the majority of dog owners view their pets as family members, yet they do not take their dog in for a vet appointment until their pet is ill or injured. The need for preventative care cannot be overstated, sadly, most people wait until their pet is critically injured before seeking veterinary assistance. By knowing some common warning signs of injury and illness can save you time, money, and heartache. By bringing in your furry friend for care as soon as symptoms present themselves you could be saving a life.

Today, we at Animal Ortho Care have chosen to focus on some of the lesser known signs of waning mobility in dogs. Our pets can start to lose their mobility for a multitude of reasons, and a loss of mobility can happen to dogs both young and old. Below are four lesser-known signs of weakening mobility, but be sure that you are still on the lookout for more apparent signs of declining mobility in your dog, including:

  • Limping
  • Trouble getting up or laying down
  • Trouble going up or down stairs
  • Stiffness
  • Paralysis
  • Dragging a limb
  • Refusing to eat or drink

1. Tilting The Head To One Side

A dog tilting its head to one side when it’s been asked a question is entirely normal, and adorable, but sometimes a dog can suddenly start tilting their heads to one side and leaving it there. Tilting the head to one side and leaving it there is often a symptom of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, also known as “Old Dog Disease” or “Old Rolling Dog Syndrome.”  

Idiopathic means “arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause.” Old Dog Disease can affect any breed of dog of an advanced age. The symptoms of Old Dog Disease will come on suddenly and usually include the following:

  • Slight or extreme head tilt
  • Acting dizzy or “drunk”
  • Nausea
  • Turning in circles
  • Difficulty standing and walking

Head tilting can be a sign of pain or discomfort as well. If your dog is tilting its head excessively while walking or laying, he or she may be trying to tell you that they are experience joint pain. It is important to take your pet to the vet if they are tilting their head so that the vet can determine if that head tilt is a symptom of a larger issue, such as Ataxia, which is discussed further below. In the case of Old Dog Disease, home treatment is usually prescribed with the following instructions.

  • Watch your pet to ensure that they are eating and drinking enough
  • Do not allow your pet to get on the furniture or walk up the stairs. Old Dog Disease can drastically affect a dog’s balance, so by keeping your pet on the ground, you mitigate the risk of broken bones by falling.
  • Use a harness or a few towels to assist your dog when walking to go to the bathroom. Keeping your pet from falling while suffering from Old Dog Disease is imperative.

2. Clumsiness Or Tripping Over The Feet

If your pet has started falling over their own feet something greater than clumsiness might be at work. We recommend bringing your pup to the vet if they suddenly start tripping over their own feet or swaying while walking or standing still. One common cause for a loss of balance in dogs is Ataxia. Ataxia can come in three forms: sensory, vestibular, and cerebellar. All three types of Ataxia can result in clumsiness, whereas only Vestibular and Cerebellar ataxia results in changes in head and neck movement, such as the head tilting mentioned above.

Sensory Ataxia occurs when the spinal cord is being slowly compressed. Misplacing the feet when walking, followed by progressive weakness are the two most common symptoms of Sensory Ataxia.

Vestibular Ataxia occurs primarily when damage has been done to the vestibulocochlear nerve. The vestibulocochlear nerve is responsible for carrying information concerning balance from the inner ear to the brain. Some additional symptoms of Vestibular Ataxia include:

  • Leaning
  • Tipping
  • Falling
  • Rolling over
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Stupor

Cerebellar Ataxia occurs when the area of the brain the controls movement and coordination, the Cerebellum, is damaged. Cerebellar Ataxia can result in a loss of coordination, balance, and motor function. While not always the case, Cerebellar Ataxia is typically a congenital or hereditary defect. The signs of Cerebellar Ataxia can take years or months to appear, and usually begin to develop after a dog’s second birthday.

The best course of action for battling any form of Ataxia is to take your dog in to see a vet where they can receive a custom treatment or management plan. Ataxia comes in varying degrees and can affect each dog differently. In some cases, a spinal brace may be used to help with Vestibular Ataxia.

3. Excessive Panting

Panting, it is a normal behavior for most dogs. But when does this usual behavior turn into an unusual warning sign of a bigger issue? Excessive panting can be an indicator of joint pain due to arthritis or osteoarthritis, among other things.  

Arthritis, specifically known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a general term for any abnormal changes to a dog’s joints. RA is recognized as the most crippling or disabling type of arthritis.  Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis.  Whether RA or OA, the condition results in a lack of motion, a lesser interest in playing, or by heavy panting.   Look for subtle signs of change in your dog such as:

  • Your dog is less excited to greet you when you come home
  • Your dog isn’t as interested in playing anymore
  • Your dog can’t seem to get comfortable or won’t lay down
  • Your dog takes longer getting up the stairs

Hip Dysplasia is a common condition especially affecting larger dogs.  Accompanying symptoms include OA.  Animal OrthoCare is proud to offer the Caerus P.A.W. - PEMF Active Wrap - for Hip Dysplasia.

If you feel that your dog’s panting has crossed the line from usual to unusual, we recommend you take him or her to a vet to be treated immediately.

4. Tremors

You may have seen your dog have minor twitches or tremors while he or she is sleeping. A tremor is an involuntary, rhythmic and repetitive muscle movement that alternates between contracting and relaxing. Tremors can be quick and twitchy, or they can be more slowing and of a rolling nature. Some dogs can experience tremor syndrome; this affliction primarily affects white colored dogs or any of the breeds listed below.

  • Chow Chows
  • Springer Spaniels
  • Samoyeds
  • Weimaraners
  • Dalmatians
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • English Bulldogs
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Chihuahua

While some dogs, known affectionately as “shakers,” are predisposed to tremors, tremors can be a warning sign of greater mobility issues including inflammation or severe weakness or pain. If your dog is experiencing tremors, we recommend you take him or her to the vet right away so that together you and your vet can begin to help your dog get on the road to recovery.

Keeping Your Dog Mobile

If your pup experiences any of the symptoms listed above, we urge you to consult your vet. At Animal OrthoCare we have been caring for animals for years and were one of the first companies to make orthotics and prosthetics specifically for animals. At Animal OrthoCare we believe that a dog’s loss of mobility doesn’t need to signify the end of their journey. That’s why every day we’re working harder to get animals back on their feet with our custom braces and prosthetics.