What should you do if your senior dog suddenly can’t walk?

Recently, I ran across a post on this question on At Scout’s House: A Blog About Special Needs Dogs and Cats. Scout’s House is a physical rehabilitation therapy center for animals in Menlo Park, CA.

The answer just seems like common sense when you’re considering the question during the course of an average day. But for caregivers of senior and/or special needs dogs sometimes average or “normal” days are few and far between. When your senior dog is dealing with multiple health issues it can be difficult to clearly see the bigger picture—or recognize its timeframe.

The message of the post, “What To Do When Your Pet Suddenly Can’t Walk,” is don’t mess with sudden loss of mobility. The post is short so here it is in its entirety:

“Having started a rehab therapy center for animals, I often get calls from friends–and friends of friends–about sudden-onset health problems their pets are having. In the last month, though, I’ve had a run on those calls, all from people whose dogs suddenly couldn’t stand or walk. They all wanted to know what to do. And to be honest, I want to scream into the receiver: TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VETERINARIAN!

If your spouse or parent or child suddenly couldn’t walk, what would you do? Would you call a friend to ask what she or he thinks you should do? Would you just “wait and see” because maybe it’ll get better on its own? No, I don’t think you would. I think, at the very least, you’d call a doctor, who would probably tell you to call 911 as it would clearly be a medical emergency.

Likewise, it is a medical emergency when your dog or cat suddenly can’t stand or walk.

There are any number of reasons for sudden paralysis in pets, but I’m here to tell you, none of them are good. And for most of those issues, time is critical. If it’s a disk rupture, for example, you have a 24-hour window to have a surgery performed that may give your pet a chance to walk again. And if it’s a saddle thrombus, your pet is in excruciating pain and needs to be treated immediately.

So if your dog or cat suddenly can’t walk or use even just one of his or her legs, please call your veterinarian immediately. I guarantee you, it will save you money, time, and heartache in the long run.”

Editor’s note: I looked up saddle thrombus on PetMD. It’s a heart condition caused by a blood clot. Read more about it here.

Read more from At Scout’s House, which regularly covers topics such as arthritis, cancer, Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), Disk Disease, nutrition and physical rehabilitation therapy, here.

… Over at The Bark Magazine’s site tomorrow from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. PT Dr. Nancy Kay will be the guest for “Off Leash,” the magazine’s online weekly conversation “when Bark readers chat in real-time about whatever is on their minds with each other and Bark writers and editors.” The chat is a great opportunity to send a question to Dr. Kay, who often addresses older dog issues on her Speaking for Spot’s Blog. Find the “Off Leash” details here or here.

This entry was posted in At-Home Care, Degenerative Myelopathy, Keep it on the QL (Quality of Life), Newshound, Senior Status, Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What should you do if your senior dog suddenly can’t walk?

  1. Jana Rade says:

    This, sadly is so true. So many people don’t recognize true emergency when they see one. Instead of rushing to the hospital or a vet they go to the internet looking for home-fix. With some things you can certainly take your time to research and come up with ideas, some things however need immediate medical attention.

    • DDY says:

      Yes, it’s so important to be able to make that distinction, it could make all the difference. Thanks for your comment, Jana!


  2. Some people seeking help may not have emergency vet services available to them. It is a good 3 hours drive to get to an emergency vet in the mountains. It’s over an hour for a Human unless you get airlifted. In the winter it may not be possible to to “get there from here”. Even here it would be over an hour to 2 hours.

    Those of us who grew up before there were emergency vets, learned to deliver calves and foals and immobilize and poultice injuries that appeared serious, give our own shots and keep fresh antibiotics from the farm store. Hopefully your vet came out eventually or you hauled your suffering animal off to the closest university Vet school.

    • DDY says:

      Excellent point, Hawk. It’s so important for people to be aware of what services are going to be available to them and in turn what that will mean and what role they will have to play themselves in case of an emergency.

      Along those lines, I just signed up for a free upcoming pet first aid course offered in my area. It’s just a beginner course but it’s a first step towards being prepared for an emergency.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!
      Hope you have a great weekend!

  3. sisko says:

    Love the post! Friends like these deserve the best and fastest care we can give them. I look at my guy and if suddenly they couldn’t walk I would not hesitate and question, just load and go.

  4. Joanne says:

    Why do you assume they haven’t taken their pet to a vet? My dog suddenly had this issue last night. I took her to an emergency Vet clinic was there within 30 minutes as I was afraid it might be a stroke and the Vet said “let her rest for a few weeks and if she doesn’t get better bring her back..”. so I am supposed to just let her DRAG herself around for 2 weeks and not DO anything??? So I am being proactive to see if there is anything on the internet that can help me. Don’t assume people are so stupid. Maybe they have done that and they are trying to get other ideas because the Vet told them they had no idea. Thanks.

    [the vet listened to her heart said it was normal, did a reflex test on her knees, said it was normal. did a manipulation of her legs said they felt nothing out of the ordinary, she never made a peep and they said they felt nothing out of the ordinary and wasn’t a broken leg or spine. They tested her feeling and she has feeling in her legs. when they tried toeing under her feet she immediately corrected so they said didn’t seem to be spinal because she corrected and had feeling.. she just has no strength in her legs to hold herself up and her legs collapse under her when she tries to stand. Vet said it might be a ligament strain or tear to take her home for 2 weeks and see how it goes. I want to check to see if there are some other causes for this]

    • DDY says:

      Hi Joanne,
      Thanks for your comments. I took the “suddenly” part of the post I shared to mean the very first occurrence of the mobility issue, whatever it might be – pretty much the exact type of situation your dog experience last night. I’m sorry to hear that your dog is having this issue and I applaud your proactive response. I know it’s hard to believe but there are some people who would choose to let the issue continue for two weeks without attempting to diagnose. I wish your dog and you all the best. -Chandra

    • Anne says:

      thank you for posting this. I took my dog to the vet on Tuesday for this same condition – hips and/or legs collapse, can’t get up a step. It is Saturday and he is much worse. The vet said blood work was fine; spine x rays looked good. she put him on anti inflammatories and pain killer. I had my chiropractor read the x rays and he saw a mass in the lower left side groin area. So, I don’t go to the internet for advice at first. But when a vet can’t read an x ray, an owner has to go somewhere!

  5. Stephanie says:

    I’m trying to find some clue as to why my 11yr old Shepard/ lab dog fell, then couldn’t get up at all. She tried crawling on her belly then just laid on her side. She didn’t bark or yelp or anything, just looked at me with scared eyes. She had diabetes, that’s it. Immediately took her to the vet, her sugar was 70. He couldn’t say exactly what was wrong, but said he seen it before, he said it was time to put her down. So reluctantly , that is what we did. 40 minutes or so went by before this, and she couldn’t get up, just laid on her side. She did wag her tail a little at vet. Just looking for a clue ? She was our baby girl. Thanks Stephanie T

  6. We are dealing with the same issue. Sudden onset of not being able to use her back legs. We called vet half a block from us. Was told tomorrow at 8 am….no emergency vets here in the Upper Peninsula. I’m so upset. She’s been such a sweetheart for 12 years and sitting here knowing there’s nothing we can do til morning is awful. Sad part is I called vet at 4..they close at 5 they would not see her. This is who has seen her in the past. All I can do is keep her comfy.

    • Herman van Egten says:

      Would like to know how you got on . My little whippet cross has the same problem. Went to see the vet, who told me it is a bulged disc. She had a wobbly back and couldn’t walk properl. Now I need to hold her upright when she wants to walk and can’t stand up by herself :-( Just read about acupuncture which can be beneficial, so will look for a vet that is familiar with this and give it a try :-)

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