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Puppy Knuckling

Puppy Knuckling

Have you noticed your puppy is walking or standing on the tops of its feet instead of its paws? This condition is referred to as knuckling and can point to various health issues. Today, our Vancouver vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of puppy knuckling.

What Knuckling in Pets Is

When a puppy is knuckling, it's walking on the top of its feet instead of its paws. Pooches can knuckle on a singular leg or all of them, and they may not do this with every step they take. Your puppy's front legs could be knuckling over. The same could also be happening on a back paw. The condition can have many different causes that may be minor or severe, from sore paws to nerve damage or neurological disorders. If you notice your puppy knuckling, you should contact your vet because the underlying condition may be fatal. 

If your puppy tucks their feet under and drags them on the ground, this can cause physical injury to any part of the foot, making it important to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible. 

Signs a Puppy Is Knuckling

You can tell if knuckling is an issue for your puppy if you notice an unsteadiness or uneven gait when they are walking toward you or away from you. Have your dog stand. Lift one paw at a time and put it down with the knuckle under. If your puppy doesn't correct their paw's position and leaves their knuckle tucked under, they are likely knuckling. 

If your puppy is knuckling, call your vet immediately to book an appointment for an exam.

Causes of Puppy Knuckling

While the cause of knuckling is not known, it may be related to:

  • Sore or injured paws
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Weakness between the flexor and extensor muscle groups
  • Improper exercise and/or nutrition
  • Poor footing (slippery surfaces)
  • Genetics
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Carpal flexural deformity
  • Unbalanced growth
  • Muscles, tendons, or ligaments can't support the puppy's weight

Some breeds, including Dobermans and Shar Peis, appear to be predisposed to this condition. Due to their rapid growth, male puppies may be affected more. The condition usually presents itself between the ages of 6 to 16 weeks. While all breeds can be impacted, large breeds tend to be more susceptible to knuckling than small 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 can trigger knuckling.

Therefore, it's recommended not to overfeed rescue pups so they do not become overfed and put on 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

The cause of your dog's knuckling can affect the way this condition is treated, some may be treated with supportive care, other causes may require surgery, and some can't be treated at all and can only be managed.

If your puppy 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 dog has an injured paw you should call your vet so they can treat the wound or tell you the steps you should take.

Other causes of knuckling may require one or more of the following management or treatment methods:

  • Cage Rest
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Laser therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • Toe grips/mobility aids
  • Avoiding putting your puppy on slippery surfaces
  • A foot brace (designed for knuckling dogs)
  • Physical Therapy
  • Keep the puppy in a warm environment
  • Avoiding walks or physical play
  • Surgery

While crating or penning a puppy may seem like a good idea when your pup struggles to walk, it's generally recommended that puppies still move about on the surfaces recommended above. Follow your vet's advice. 

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 to contact your vet to have them diagnose the underlying cause and provide your pooch 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.

Is your puppy showing signs of knuckling? Contact our Vancouver vets to book an appointment for your pup.

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Columbia River Veterinary Specialists is accepting new patients by referral and for emergency services. Our experienced emergency vets  and specialists are passionate about the health of Vancouver companion animals. Ask your vet today about a referral.

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