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Tremors in the Legs of Older Dogs

Tremors in the Legs of Older Dogs

It can happen at times that you may notice tremors in the legs of older dogs. This condition tends to primarily involve the dog's hind legs, but in some cases, all four legs may be involved. On top of noticing trembling in the legs, you may also notice weakness, but generally there are no neurological signs. You may notice the trembling when your dog is standing for extended periods of time or after after walking, or maybe at rest. In any case, your senior dog's trembling legs are something worthy mentioning to your vet.

dog hind limb

A Case of Senile Tremors

Tremors in senior dogs are not unusual; indeed, they are even given a name: "senile tremors." A tremor is simply an involuntary contraction and relaxation of the dog's muscles. Among dogs, there are two different types of tremors that may be occurring, intention tremors or postural, continuous tremors. What is the difference among the two?

Intention tremors tend to be seen when voluntary movement occurs, such as to-and-from movements. Postural or continuous tremors instead tend to be seen mostly when the dog is resting.

There are several causes of tremors in dogs and some of them are associated with temporary, yet explainable events such as fear, cold and fatigue. Yet, in some cases, the trembling does not appear to be related to any of these contexts, which makes sometimes finding the underlying cause a challenge. There are several pathological causes and non-pathological causes for trembling legs in senior dogs.

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Pathological Tremors

Pathological tremors are simply tremors that are secondary to certain diseases and medical conditions. They can be widespread affecting affecting several parts of the dog's body or localized. Usually, pathological tremors are accompanied by other symptoms.

There are several causes of pathological tremors in dogs and they may range from exposure to toxins, metabolic diseases such as abnormal levels of potassium, calcium or glucose in the blood, cerebellar diseases that may be present from birth or acquired, inflammatory conditions and possible neurological diseases. In some cases, leg trembling may also be due to cancer such as a tumor compressing the dog's spinal cord.

Tremors in the legs of senior dogs may have several causes. A common cause is arthritis, which is commonly seen in senior dogs due to wear and tear of their joints over the years. Often, affected dogs appear stiff and may be limping upon getting up. Affected dogs may move around less which leads to muscle atrophy and weakness. Arthritis in dogs may affect the dog's hips, knees, elbows and wrists.

Neurological disease, stemming from degeneration of the spinal cord, is another common finding in older dogs. Affected dogs may develop weakness and shaking, explains veterinarian Dr. Drew. 

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Finally, another possible finding is canine cognitive dysfunction, a form of brain degeneration similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. This condition may have an impact of the dog's motor control causing affected dogs to become wobbly on their four legs, explains veterinarian Dr. Edwards. 

Idiopathic Tremors

trembling legs in older dogs

Sometimes a real cause cannot be found for the tremors and when this happens, they are often referred to being "idiopathic." Idiopathic is simply a medical term meant to depict a condition of which a cause has not been found.

If the tremors do not appear to be associated with any other signs, and are not secondary to any degenerative, metabolic, inflammatory or cancerous conditions, no treatment may be needed as long as the trembling doesn't affect the dog's ability to walk, explains PetDrZ, a veterinarian with 30-plus years of experience in caring for dogs and cats.

Tremors in older dogs is one of the cases (as often seen with the shaky hands in the elderly) where finding the exact cause for a condition that doesn't seem to cause any particular problems, can turn expensive for the dog owner and non-rewarding, considering that there are chances that all the testing comes back inconclusive, yielding no results.

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However, all of this changes of course, if the dog appears to be in pain, the tremors interfere with the dog's ability to enjoy life and are likely due to an underlying condition that can be easily managed or treated. For the best approach for dealing with your dog's tremors, consult with your vet for advice.

At the Vet's Office

After inquiring about when the symptoms first started, when you notice the tremors the most and whether your dog was exposed to toxins, your vet will likely carefully examine your dog paying attention to the legs, neck and spine. Your vet may also carry out a neurological exam. He may test your dog's proprioception by flipping a hind paw so that the knuckle touches the floor and watch how long it takes for your dog to adjust the paw back in normal position.

Your vet may also decide to run blood tests to rule out metabolic disorders. X-rays may help the vet evaluate the state of the over all state of your dog's hips, muscles, or spinal areas.

Treatment of leg tremors in older dogs is based on the underlying cause. For severe cases where the tremors affect the dog's lifestyle, a low dose of the drug gabapentin, may be prescribed. For cases of arthritis, after having the dog's kidney and liver health checked by blood work, the vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs. All other conditions are treated accordingly, based on your vet's findings.

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