Weakness in the Rear Legs of Golden Retrievers

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If your golden retriever suddenly can't walk, you may be pretty concerned. After all, this big jolly fellow is known for his bouncy, energetic nature. But certain large breeds of dogs, including goldens, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and German shepherds are prone to a particular bone condition called hip dysplasia. This painful health concern should be brought to your vet's attention so they can determine how advanced the dysplasia is and then form a treatment plan.

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Some larger dogs are prone to a particular bone condition called hip dysplasia.
Image Credit: iagodina/iStock/GettyImages

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Anatomy of golden retriever legs

When a golden retriever can't stand up, one of the first assumptions from breed experts and vets is that the pain could stem from hip dysplasia. This common condition is best understood if you imagine how the hip socket works in both canines and humans. The hip joint is made up of a ball and socket, which normally should nest and glide together, one inside the other. But in golden retriever legs, the ball and socket don't develop correctly and are misaligned. The result? A rubbing or grinding of the bones that causes the joint to break down and become painful.

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Signs of hip dysplasia

Golden retriever legs can seem to work properly for years, but this situation can be misleading since the damage that's taking place due to hip dysplasia is typically slow and gradual. In fact, it can be years before you notice any outward signs of this degenerative illness. That said, weakness and pain are the usual symptoms of dysplasia, along with limping, a swaying gait, loss of thigh muscle mass, and an unwillingness to climb stairs or play as intensely or as often.

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Dogs with dysplasia may also have larger shoulder muscles because they're using them more in order to protect their painful hindquarters. Some of these signs can be noticed when your dog is a young puppy but it's more common to spot them when your pet is around one or two years old.

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Causes of leg and hip weakness

As mentioned, when a golden retriever can't stand up, genetics are often the go-to culprit since this kind of hip pain is seen more often in big dog types. But the rate at which your dog grows, the nutrition he ingests, his weight, and the quality and quantity of his exercise regimen can also play a role. For large breeds of puppies, eating the correct type of food is important since excessive growth can impact the hip joints and increase the likelihood of hip, leg, and elbow pain. And too little exercise can result in a chubby pup, which in turn puts pressure on already weakened hip joints and makes a case of dysplasia more painful.

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Diagnosis and treatment of dysplasia

Make an appointment with your pet's vet so they can physically evaluate your dog's leg range of motion and assess his pain. The doc may also draw blood and perform an X-ray, as this is the most definitive way to pinpoint hip dysplasia in golden retriever legs. As for treatment, there are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can be prescribed as well as certain nutritional supplements and injections to ease the pain.

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Moderate exercise and keeping your pup from jumping around can also help, as can a weight loss goal, if necessary, and a physical therapy plan. If medications aren't working well, surgery may be considered, depending on your dog's health and age. Interested in alternative medicine for your pet? Acupuncture, stem cell treatments, and traditional Chinese medicine therapies have varied, but encouraging, results. You can and should discuss all of these options with your dog's vet.

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