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Healthy Pet Care Tips

Knuckling in Puppies: Causes & Ways to Help Your Puppy

Has your puppy been walking or standing on the tops of its feet instead of its paws? This condition is referred to as knuckling and may point to a range of health issues. Here, our PetVet Care Centers member vets define knuckling in puppies and explain how it can be stopped. 

What Does it Mean When a Puppy is Knuckling?

If a puppy is knuckling, this means it's walking on the top of its feet instead of its paws. Dogs may knuckle on one leg or all of them, and they may not do this with every step they take. Your puppy's front legs may be knuckling over, or the same may be happening on a back paw. 

Many different causes ranging from minor to severe can contribute to the condition. These include everything from sore paws to nerve damage or neurological disorders. If you notice your puppy knuckling, we recommend contacting your vet because the underlying condition may be fatal. 

Does your puppy tuck their feet under and drag 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. 

How Can I Tell if My Puppy is Knuckling?

If knuckling is a problem for your puppy, they will be unsteady or have an uneven gait when they are walking toward you or away from you. Have your pooch stand, then lift one paw up at a time and put it down with the knuckle under. If your puppy leaves their knuckle tucked under and does not correct their paw's position, they are likely knuckling. 

Call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment for an exam if your puppy is knuckling. Our PetVet Care Centers member veterinarians diagnose and treat internal medical conditions in pets. 

What Causes Knuckling in Puppies?

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 
  • Poor footing (slippery surfaces)
  • Inappropriate nutrition 
  • 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.  

Can Knuckling in Puppies be Cured or Stopped?

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 such as floorboards (stay on surfaces such as grass, rubber mats and carpet)
  • A Foot Brace (designed for knuckling dogs)
  • Physical Therapy
  • Keep Puppy in Warm Environment (cold weather can worsen the condition)
  • 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.

Contact a PetVet Care Centers member hospital near you to schedule an appointment if you believe your dog is knuckling.

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