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Help, Why Does My Dog's Leg Twitch?

Dog's Leg Twitching

If you notice your dog's leg twitch, you are right to be concerned, dog legs don't twitch for no reason, and leg twitching in dogs may signal several underlying medical conditions. There is leg twitching and leg twitching though. For instance, if your dog's leg twitches when you give him a belly rub, this is normal behavior triggered by the dog's scratch reflex. On the other hand, out of control leg twitching that is quite severe may be a symptom of a neurological problem. Following are some potential reasons for leg twitching in dogs.

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Normal Dog Leg Twitching

As mentioned, in some cases, leg twitching can be normal, physiological behavior. When the dog twitches his leg upon having his tummy rubbed, this is just a reflex, which means it's an involuntary mechanism that takes place without conscious thought.

In other words, dogs cannot control it and it just has to happen, just as humans have a knee-jerk reaction when their knee is tapped with a testing hammer.

Another case where leg twitching is innocuous is when it takes place during a dog's sleep. In this case, the leg twitching is simply a sign that the dog is undergoing the REM stage of sleep.

REM stands for rapid eye movement and it's the stage of sleep where dogs are dreaming. Along with leg twitching, during this stage dogs may be seen breathing fast, wagging their tail and chomping and sometimes they may vocalize too.

At times, leg shaking may be just a temporary happening, such as a when the dog positions his leg in an uncomfortable position. The shaking subsides once the dog changes position.

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Finally, another type of pretty normal leg tremors occur when the dog is anticipating something exciting. "My own dog experiences these and they are most apparent when she is watching me cook and hoping something will fall on the floor," points our veterinarian Dr. Z. In this case, the leg twitching subsides ones the trigger event is over.

If your dog's leg twitching is happening out of the above contexts , you may want to see your vet so to rule out any underlying medical causes. It can be helpful to record the leg twitching episode as it happens and then show the recording to your vet. A recording may be worth 1,000 words!

An Orthopedic Problem

Dog bone cancer is more common in the front legs.

Dog bone cancer is more common in the front legs.

Leg shaking can often be caused by some underlying orthopedic problem. This can be an acute injury with rapid onset or a more gradual, chronic one. Your vet should be able to pinpoint the problem if an orthopedic issue is at the root of the leg shaking problem.

The age of the affected dog may provide some insights. Leg shaking in a young dog can often be attributed to pain or discomfort, possibly arising from an injury or some other orthopedic problem likely seen in growing dogs.

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It's important to evaluate whether the leg shaking takes place after exercising or if there's history of some recent traumatic injury. Also, it important to inform the vet if the leg shaking is seen when the dog is standing or lying down. Little details as such can help a lot.

If the hind legs are affected, hip dysplasia may be a culprit. Over time, hip dysplasia may cause muscle wasting and associated weakness in the dog's hind end. In an older dog instead, leg shaking of can be indicative of arthritis or any other type of joint pain, explains veterinarian Dr.Drew.

A Spinal Cord Problem

Leg shaking can also be a sign of an injury to the dog's spinal cord. An injury to the dog's spinal cord can be caused by the presence of a herniated disc or some type of tumor compressing the spinal cord. A dog with a spinal cord injury may develop shaking and weakness affecting the legs.

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A possible condition that can cause leg shaking in particular is discospondylitis in the intervertebral spaces. In this case, there is interference with the nerves that supply the dog's rear legs, causing the leg shaking, explains veterinarian Dr. Loretta. 

Other Potential Problems 

Other potential problems for a dog's leg shaking may be due to some underlying metabolic issue. The affected dog may be suffering from an electrolyte imbalance (more likely in dogs suffering from Addison's disease) or low blood sugar.

Another possibility is a heart problem such as a dog with an abnormal heart rhythm or a dog suffering from low blood pressure, explains veterinarian Dr. Drew.

In some cases, a real cause for the leg shaking cannot be found and in that case your vet will refer to it as being "idiopathic." The leg shaking may therefore be compared to the hand shaking sometimes seen in people where no exact underlying cause is found.

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At the Vet's Office 

Your vet will collect information that may help with the diagnosis such as when you first noticed the leg shaking, if your dog sustained any injuries or other relevant information. If you have a recording of the leg shaking episode, your vet will want to take a look at it, which comes helpful if the leg shaking only occurs certain times.

If your vet suspects an orthopedic problem, he may want to do some x-rays. If a spinal cord problem is suspected, he will manipulate the vertebrae of your dog's back to look for signs of pain. Your vet may also conduct a brief neurological exam checking all of the nerve reflexes, and may listen to your dog's heart and lungs.

Based on your vet's findings, your vet may suggest to do nothing about the leg shaking or he or she may suggest a treatment based on his findings. For orthopedic problems or a back injury, your vet may suggest a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

If the the leg shaking is particularly bothersome, the vet may suggest further in depth-testing or in some cases may provide a prescription for Gabapentin, given at a low dose, further add Dr. Z.

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